STEELERS STILL SEARCHING FOR FIRST WIN
After four games, it's still not too late for the Pittsburgh Steelers to get back into the AFC North race.
Still, it's getting close to ``must-win'' time for the league's reigning champions as they welcome Kansas City to Heinz Field on Sunday.
``We don't really have a lot of time,'' says Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward, who has taken over from the retired Jerome Bettis as the team leader and spokesman.
``To start the season 1-3 coming off a Super Bowl, I don't think anybody would have ever thought of that. But we're playing too inconsistent for whatever reason. We've got to find a way to turn this thing around, some way, somehow.''
The Steelers still trail the Ravens and Bengals by two games in the loss column and have already lost at home to Cincinnati. More disturbing, perhaps, is the fact that Ben Roethlisberger threw his sixth and seventh interceptions in last week's 23-13 loss in San Diego and has yet to throw for a touchdown.
If he continues, Kansas City (2-2) will be no pushover, even in Pittsburgh.
Damon Huard, filling in for Trent Green, rallied the Chiefs from a 14-point deficit to a 23-20 win in Arizona. He currently ranks second in the NFL in passer rating at 107.4 - 66 points higher than Roethlisberger.
``Everyone believes in a guy who's managing a game like he's managing it,'' Herman Edwards says of Huard. ``I'm very pleased. He's done a great job of managing the game. The guys around him are getting more comfortable with him.''
The Chiefs expect to have Larry Johnson back after what looked like a scary neck injury after he was grabbed by the facemask at the end of the 78-yard screen pass that set up Lawrence Tynes' game-winning field goal.
In other games Sunday, Buffalo is at Detroit; Houston at Dallas; the New York Giants at Atlanta; Seattle at St. Louis; Tennessee at Washington; Carolina at Baltimore; Philadelphia at New Orleans; Cincinnati at Tampa Bay; Miami at the N.Y. Jets; San Diego at San Francisco; and Oakland at Denver.
Chicago is at Arizona on Monday night.
Indianapolis, New England, Green Bay, Minnesota, Jacksonville and Cleveland are off.
For the NFC West lead.
Seattle had a week off to recover from the 37-6 thrashing administered by the Bears in Chicago. Shaun Alexander is still out and will be replaced by Maurice Morris.
The Rams beat Denver in the opener, then had the good fortune to run into cupcakes Arizona, Detroit and Green Bay. Still, they beat the Cardinals and Packers largely because of late fumbles by Kurt Warner and Brett Favre.
On the line: Marc Bulger's string of 214 passes without an interception.
Steve McNair and the Ravens' offense could struggle again against the Panthers, who are without middle linebacker Dan Morgan, out for the season with a concussion. Carolina's three-game winning streak coincides with Steve Smith's return to the lineup. Smith has 23 catches in his three games and Keyshawn Johnson, who has 27 in his five, has been the alternative the Panthers didn't have last season.
McNair led two late touchdown drives to beat Cleveland and San Diego before throwing three interceptions in the cold rain of Denver. He would be helped if Jamal Lewis could return to form, but Lewis, averaging around 3.5 yards per game in his last 20 starts, may have hit the running back wall, even if he is just 27.
The Eagles are favored in this road game, an indication that there remain doubts about the Saints. Still, Reggie Bush's 65-yard punt return for the winning touchdown against Tampa last week demonstrates why this is a different team than the one that won just three games last season while in exile from Hurricane Katrina.
The Eagles have to avoid a letdown after their 38-24 win over Dallas in Terrell Owens' return to Philadelphia. Owens' absence has had a positive effect on Donovan McNabb, who has 11 touchdown passes and just one interception and is an early MVP favorite.
The Giants, who have the NFL's toughest schedule, seem to be on a rollercoaster. After a dismal loss in Seattle, they returned from their bye last week and shut down the Redskins 19-3, playing by far their best all-around game of the season. Tiki Barber ran for 123 yards, making things easy for Eli Manning, who is playing the way a No. 1 overall draft pick should.
The Falcons come off their bye week. Atlanta leads the league in rushing, but is next-to-last in passing, which doesn't quite fit well against New York, which has far more trouble with the pass than the run. Odd stat: The road team has won the last 10 meetings in this series, dating back to 1979.
The Bears, who have outscored their opponents 156-36, are being given a pass into the Super Bowl and some folks are already combing the schedule looking for a potential loss. The popular picks: at the Giants on Nov. 12 and at the Patriots two weeks later.
But that's premature despite the overwhelming defense and the seeming emergence of Rex Grossman into a top-rank quarterback. Remember that the historically challenged Cardinals were a popular ``sleeper'' playoff choice at season's start. Matt Leinart was impressive in his debut as a starter last week, but might get devoured by a Chicago defense playing against a weak Arizona offensive line.
How many will tune out early from this Sunday night game?
Mike Shanahan, fired by Al Davis four games into the 1989 season, likes nothing better than to crush Davis' lads. Given Jake Plummer's erratic start, a crushing may be a little much for a team that's scored just 49 points in four games. But it's hard to see the Raiders scoring many points. Or any points.
If the Cowboys think this will be a walkover, they only have to go back to 2002, when the Texans, in their first game ever, won the battle of Texas. Those Cowboys weren't as good as these Cowboys, but who knows about the T.O. hangover inside the Dallas locker room.
Are the Texans inching toward respectability? They beat the Dolphins before the bye and David Carr, getting a lot more protection, leads the NFL in passer rating.
A possible trap for the Bengals, a talented but immature team that got its comeuppance from New England before its bye. Marvin Lewis deactivated the troubled WR Chris Henry for that one, then Henry was suspended by the league for two games for violating its policies on conduct and substance abuse.
Bruce Gradkowski was impressive in his debut for the Bucs in place of the injured Chris Simms. But young quarterbacks often regress after impressive debuts after opponents get to watch them on tape.
The Redskins might be wary of this game after the scare the Titans threw into the Colts. Vince Young is the wild card because he can do things that opponents can't plan for.
Washington's offense is erratic. The Redskins ran up 481 yards against what had been a very good Jacksonville defense, then were held to just 164 by the previously leaky Giants.
Joey Harrington appears to be the full-time quarterback for the Dolphins, who probably should have signed Drew Brees rather than trade for Harrington and Daunte Culpepper. Culpepper was bad last season before his injury and now lacks the mobility that served him so well.
Give the Jets at least a one-week pass for their beating in Jacksonville - the Jaguars were riled after losing in Washington. Regardless, neither of these teams seems equipped to challenge the Patriots in the AFC East.
Funny how things change. With Ben Roethlisberger's early-season problems, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning suddenly look like the class of the 2004 first-round QBs. Rivers sure outplayed Ben last week when he was finally turned loose by Marty Schottenheimer in his fourth career start and threw for 242 yards and two TDs against Pittsburgh's tough defense.
Alex Smith is coming along, too, under Norv Turner's tutelage. The top pick in the 2005 draft was 15-of-19 for 165 yards and two touchdowns as the 49ers beat the Raiders for the Bay Area title last week.
The Bills aren't as bad as they looked last week - the Bears crush everyone in Chicago.
The Lions may be as bad as their record. Yes, they're competitive, but they keep finding ways to lose. ``A theme throughout our team is not doing our jobs, understanding our jobs and doing what we are coached to do,'' coach Rod Marinelli says.
By: David Michaels - theSpread.com - Email Us
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