GOLDBERG ON FOOTBALL: Saints are far from divine Print
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Monday, 17 September 2007 10:39
NFL Headline News

 When the New Orleans Saints lost 41-10 in Indianapolis on opening night, it was disheartening but not unexpected.
The Colts and Peyton Manning can do that to teams, even Super Bowl caliber teams.
However, a 31-14 loss to what was supposed to be an ordinary Tampa Bay side on Sunday put the first defeat in perspective. It was one of a number of losses that highlighted how bad some NFL teams have been the first two weeks.
Following a fairy tale 2006 season in which the Saints reached the NFC championship game for the first time in their 40-year history, some thought they would reach the Super Bowl.
After being outscored 72-24 in two games, these are the current thoughts:
-How do you plug the defense?
-How do you re-start start an offense with Drew Brees at quarterback and the explosive running back tandem of Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister?
New Orleans isn't the only team with question marks. Consider:
-The Cincinnati defense. How do you give up 51 points to a Cleveland team that was the first ever to trade away its quarterback after one week? Derek Anderson (Derek Anderson?) threw five touchdown passes for the Browns and Jamal Lewis ran for 216 yards. That's the same Jamal Lewis who averaged 3.4 and 3.6 yards for Baltimore the past two seasons, defying the rule that almost every back who starts sliding never regains his form.
-Denver. Yes, the Broncos are 2-0. But they were lucky to win their opener with a last-second field goal in Buffalo by somehow scrambling their kicking team onto the field. On Sunday, they would have lost in overtime to Oakland (2-14 last season), but a last-second timeout negated a field goal by Sebastian Janikowski, who then hit the upright on the re-kick. The Broncos aren't going to get close to the Patriots or Colts in the AFC that way.
-The New York Giants defense. It made Tony Romo look like his idol Brett Favre in the opener. Then it made Brett, playing with a bunch of youngsters, look like Brett, circa 10 years ago. The Giants have a leaky secondary, only one linebacker (Antonio Pierce), plus a good defensive end who looks lost at linebacker (Matthias Kiwanuka). A franchise historically known for its defense has allowed 80 points in two games. Even with Eli Manning emerging - he played with a very bad throwing shoulder Sunday - Tom Coughlin is probably gone unless he fixes the defense. And he doesn't have the players to do that..
-San Diego. The Chargers went to New England and got pasted by a team that might be even money to go unbeaten without the need of illegal intelligence.
It wasn't the loss as much as the lifeless manner in which the Chargers fell behind 24-0. Philip Rivers, playing against two of the better defenses in the NFL - Chicago and New England - has a passer rating of 73.7 compared to 92.0 last year when the Chargers went 14-2. That has allowed opponents to key on LaDainian Tomlinson, who (gasp!) has just 68 yards in 35 carries, a 1.9 average. Contrast that to Derrick Ward of the Giants, never heard from until last week, who has 179 yards and a 6.4 average with a stinky defense. Or Jamal Lewis, supposedly on his last legs.
Some of the problems around the NFL were expected, like the Giants and Bengals defenses, although not to the extent they've shown themselves.
The Saints and Chargers are another story.
``A couple of Tampa Bay guys came up to me after the game and they said that it's going to be tough, that everybody is gunning for you now, and you guys are going to be marked,'' New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita said after their game Sunday.
``I came into this season liking that feeling. I always wanted to be at the top and have people gunning for us. Whatever it is, we have to get our focus.''
The Chargers also knew they would be marked. No one but New England goes 14-2 two straight seasons.
``I know that if this football team's 11-5, it's played pretty damn well, and that doesn't mean we're not going to have a better record than that,'' new San Diego coach Norv Turner said before the season. ``I understand, but you've got to handle each step at a time.''
Is Turner the problem?
If there was an assistant coaches' Hall of Fame, he'd be in it. He's a brilliant coordinator who as recently as last season turned around Alex Smith in San Francisco. And he's also a good guy.
Still, Turner is now 60-84-1 as a head coach with the Redskins, Raiders and Chargers. If Marty Schottenheimer was fired for failing to win in the playoffs, Turner has the onus of even getting there with a team considered extremely talented.
San Diego lost not only Schottenheimer, but both coordinators to head coaching jobs - Cam Cameron to Miami and Wade Phillips to Dallas (Phillips beat Cameron 37-20 on Sunday). Shawne Merriman had two sacks Sunday night, but other than that, the Chargers got no pressure on Tom Brady and Randy Moss and Wes Welker ran loose in the secondary.
Next week, the Chargers travel to Green Bay and in a couple of weeks Houston comes in. Last April, when those games were posted, they looked easy. Now both teams are 2-0, the Packers have won six straight since last season and Favre is back in form, looking like he could play until he's 45.
Yes, it's early, but the Saints, Chargers, Giants and Bengals were all second week stinkers.
It won't get better for the Giants.
It might not for the others either.
 

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