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Peter King Monday Morning QB

Role reversal

Unexpectedly, the D has carried the up-and-coming Seahawks

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Late Saturday afternoon, just off the lobby of the Westin Hotel that served as the Seattle Seahawks' team hotel, I chatted with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck about his club's offense. Wideout Koren Robinson walked up, and the three of us got into a discussion about fantasy football. I'm not much of a player, but I'm in a promotional league this year, and Robinson and Hasselbeck are my franchise receiver and quarterback, respectively.

I asked Hasselbeck: "What percentage of people -- fans, friends, people on the street -- who approach you end up talking about fantasy football?"

He thought for a minute. "Eighty-five," he said. "I get guys calling me from my days in college, guys I really haven't kept in touch with that much. They'll just start talking, and soon I realize the real reason they called is because they've got a fantasy football question. For fantasy football [players], we've got one of the great teams in the league."

"Check this out," Robinson said. "My financial guy called me [Friday] and said, 'I've got to ask you something.' I figured, OK, he has some question for me about my money. He said, 'Should I play McNabb or Hasselbeck in my fantasy league this week?'"

"What'd you tell him?" Hasselbeck asked.

"I told him, 'My man. Play my man,'" Robinson said.

So this is what the first eighth of the 2003 season has wrought. Fantasy players are actually picking Hasselbeck over McNabb to play in these stat-dominated games. People are obsessed with the fact that Seattle's offense has the potential to be as explosive as that of the mid-90s Packers. The Seahawks have put 65 points on the board in two games, and the scary thing is, they haven't really played that well on offense. Quite often, the defense -- thanks to a plus-10 turnover ratio -- has set up the offense. The 'Hawks have won their games by scores of 27-10 and 38-0, respectively, and Robinson, who could become great any day now, has been largely a nonfactor. On Sunday he was benched by coach Mike Holmgren for violating team rules, and so Hasselbeck threw a pair of long TDs to his other wideout, Darrell Jackson.

"And we still haven't played good," Hasselbeck told me after the rout of the Cards at the Sun Devil Stadium kiln Sunday. "That's the amazing part. That excites me about the offense, that we're all sort of disappointed with how we've played. We left points out there today."

Strange as it sounds after scoring 38, Hasselbeck is right. The defense won this game for Seattle. Hasselbeck needs to get back in the groove he was in toward the end of last year, when he led all NFL passers in yards over the final seven weeks. This season he's only 20 of 42 (47.6 percent) for 312 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. "Matt's a pretty emotional player. Each game, he goes off the charts, emotions-wise," said Holmgren. "But with each game, he gets more confidence. He's starting to manage the game well."

Robinson will most likely start this week when the Seahawks host St. Louis. It's a big game. With a win, Seattle would enter its bye week with a two-game lead over the Rams and either a one- or two-game edge over the 49ers.

When I spoke with Hasselbeck a couple of months ago, he predicted that the Seahawks would win the NFC West. He knew -- with the addition of talented young secondary men in Marcus Trufant and Ken Hamlin, and with the authoritative Ray Rhodes taking over the defense -- that this team had a chance to be really good. "We're all attempting to keep our feet on the ground," Holmgren said. The coach has never been this optimistic during his five seasonsin Seattle. Now, if his offense plays the way it did last December, that optimism will result in a playoff berth. And maybe some playoff success.

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Offensive Player of the Week

Baltimore RB Jamal Lewis. The most prolific rushing game of all time breaks down weirdly. Four of his carries went for 216 yards (82, 23, 48 and 63). The other 26 carries totaled only 79 yards. Hmmm. Four carries, 54.0 yards per lug. Twenty-six carries, 3.0 yards per touch. But as Bill Parcells used to say, it's not necessarily the average per carry that counts, it's the number of carries because that shows how you're dominating the clock and, in turn, exerting your will on the other side of the ball.

Defensive Player of the Week

Carolina defensive tackle Kris Jenkins. This is bordering on being the special teams award, but I want to give Jenkins his due for three great things in the upset win at Tampa Bay. One, he was a part of a line that, until the last 10 minutes of the game, was stifling, to say the least. Terrific push upfield, and the Bucs offense could never get in rhythm. Two, with the Tampa up 3-0 in the second quarter, Jenkins knifed through to block a 38-yard field-goal try. And finally, you should be sure to see the highlight of his block on the potential game-winning extra point with no time left in the fourth quarter. Jenkins just caved in the middle of the Tampa Bay line, charging through to block the Martin Gramatica gimme. He also had a deflected pass. Great day for one of the Panthers' lesser lights.

Special Teams Player of the Week

Kansas City return specialist Dante Hall. His 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown wasn't enough. He had to add a 45-yard punt return that gave the Chiefs prime field position for an insurance score in the second half. Nothing this kid does surprises Dick Vermeil anymore, which is why I think you'll see him get more and more chances at playing from scrimmage.

Coach of the Week

Carolina special-teams coach Scott O'Brien. All I know is this: When you block one field-goal attempt by the Super Bowl champs, and they make whatever adjustments they make, and then you block another field-goal attempt by the Super Bowl champs, and they make further adjustments, and then you block an extra point to send the game into overtime, and the cameras catch Jon Gruden on the other sideline muttering "Unbelievable," well, you've really done your job. O'Brien and his crew did their jobs marvelously Sunday. If he ever needs to get hired somewhere else all he has to do is pull out the tape of this game, in which he played a gigantic role in upsetting the Goliaths of the sport.

Stat of the Week

There are two.

1. The Rams have had multiple turnovers in 11 straight games.

2. There were 23 penalties in the first 40 minutes of the Panthers-Bucs game.

Goat of the Week

Philadelphia QB Donovan McNabb. This is either an example of how tough a town Philadelphia is, or an example of how horrible McNabb has been in the season's first two games. In the sixth quarter of the season at the new Lincoln Financial Field -- only the sixth quarter! -- the crowd starting chanting, "A.J.! A.J.!" I wonder if McNabb is Feeleying the pressure. Not sure if this is a good time or a bad time for the Eagles to have their bye, but either way, at least they have two weeks to prepare to face one of the best teams in football, Buffalo, in Orchard Park 13 days from now. I didn't get to watch Philadelphia's 31-10 loss to New England on Sunday, but the highlights showed me that McNabb is throwing as inaccuratly as I've ever seen him. Getting the QB back on track is the biggest puzzle Andy Reid must crack this week.

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Last week, USA Today reported that New Millenium Press is paying a six-figure advance to that professional fraud of a journalist (and I use that word loosely), Jayson Blair, who disgraced the pages of the New York Times before resigning May 1. As you may remember, Blair cheated, lied and deceived the Times for months before his past caught up with him.

And now some publishing company is going to hand this bum what I hear is well over $200,000 so he can spew some more of whatever it is he'll spew; any self-respecting human being should never find out what it is he writes, because you're a fool if you buy what this charlatan is selling.

New Millenium publisher Michael Viner called Blair "one of the best writers in the country today." Fiction writer, perhaps. Then Viner made the lamebrained statement of the year. He called Blair "very honest."

All readers of this column, I will ask you only one favor over the course of this season: Promise me you won't buy this liar's load of crap.

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Have you ever noticed, when flying, the verbal shortcuts the flight attendants take, making it virtually impossible for you to understand them? They are so used to spewing out the same thing flight after flight that they think you understand their little linguistic gibberish.

On the flight to Arizona the other day, the America West flight attendant said something like this: "Lays and gemman, if you are seatedexrow, you must beyellta perform the emergcy duties in the event of an unschejuld landing. If you fell youcknot perform these duties, please inform a fliattendant and we will reseachu."

Maybe they give these folks too many announcements to make, I don't know. But being uncommunicative is a very strange way to communicate.

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... Noted author John Grisham, who stopped by the HBO studios last week to be interviewed by Bob Costas, and with whom I had a gee-whiz encounter. I've read every one of his books except Skipping Christmas. I highly recommend his 2001 novel A Painted House. Grishman's latest book, Bleachers, is a fictionalized story about high school football in a small southern town. Grisham himself was a backup high school quarterback who, by his own admission last week, didn't have a very good arm, didn't like the contact very much and wasn't big enough.

MMQB: What NFL team do you root for?

Grisham: I like Green Bay. I used to like Bart Starr a lot. When I got a little older, I drove a truck for my father, and I used to have to go to Green Bay pretty often. I enjoyed the people there. I really like their quarterback now. But I've never been to a game there.

MMQB: What is it about Favre that you like?

Grisham: Just that he's a larger-than-life figure. He was in a car wreck before his junior or senior year at Southern Miss, then had major surgery, then played maybe six or seven weeks after the accident. He was all Southern Miss had. When he came back before anyone ever thought he would, you just had to pull for a guy like that. He's sort of Curt Schilling wild, which I like. He just finds a way to beat you.

MMQB: You're really into youth baseball, and you've built some fields for yourself near your Virginia home. How fun has that been?

Grisham: I'll tell you what's most fun: taking care of the fields. I like to mow the grass myself. I don't take my cell phone to the field, and no one can get in touch with me. I like that a lot.

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You readers range far and wide this week, as you often do.

Helloooo? TV folk? From Scott King of Sellersburg, Ind.: Is there was a rule that says announcers always have to push for the rookie quarterback even though he has no shot at playing? At halftime of last week's Bengals game, the men in the booth were calling for Carson Palmer. First of all, Shane Matthews is the backup. Secondly, IT WAS THE SECOND HALF OF THE FIRST GAME! Are announcers supposed to be idiots?

Not to my knowledge. I didn't hear the comment, but it will be the first of many, believe me. The Bengals will stink, and there will be cries to play Palmer the kid, and Marvin Lewis, wisely, will ignore them until he feels the kid will (not could, but WILL) execute what offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski lays out for him. I say that will be around Thanksgiving.

See What Happens When You Ignore Faulk? From David Hanlon of Houston: If the Rams don't give Marshall Faulk the ball around 50 percent of the time, they'll lose no matter who plays quarterback. Give Kurt Warner a balanced attack and he will win.

Not when he fumbles six times, David.

Now Here's Some Advice We All Can Use. From Mike of Plymouth, Minn.: Regarding your comments last week about new contraptions in bathrooms: The Hooters in Albany, N.Y., has these "touchless" paper towel dispensers. I've been to Hooters about five to seven times during the last year and only after my most recent visit did I figure out how the stupid things work. I tried waving my hands in front of it, under it, over it, inside it. Nothing. So I gave it a swift simultaneous hit on both sides, and surprise, paper towels came out. Maybe you could help define what "touchless" means.

Imagine how much money it cost Hooters to install those stupid machines. What ever happened to the good old, el-cheapo, Mobil-station-bathroom-on-the-interstate paper-towel units we all grew up with?

I Think This Guy Wants the Eagles to Go Get Terrell Owens, But I Have Bad News for Him: Terrell Owens is not an Andy Reid Kind of Guy. From Paul Imbesi of Ocean City, N.J.: Why won't the Eagles go out and get a big-time receiver? Why do they continue to pass on top-notch free agents and go with James Thrash?

First, I wouldn't put it past the Eagles to pursue a great wideout like Owens after the season -- especially if their passing game looks as dire as it has in the first two weeks. (Owens might be a free agent if the Niners choose to let him roam, though the 'Friscans would almost surely try to extract a draft pick or picks for him.) The volatile Pro Bowler is not a Reid kind of guy, to be sure, but Andy may have no choice if his team falls short again. Philly, of course, can do nothing of substance in terms of adding a wideout during the season, unless a lousy team makes a good receiver available. I'll tell you what I'd do if I were Eagles president Joe Banner and the Bengals are winless a month from now: I'd call Cincinnati GM Mike Brown and offer a first-round pick in 2004 for Chad Johnson, who is an underrated receiver.

It's Getting Ugly in Bearsville. From Brad Brown of Savanna, Ill.: How many blowouts can the Bears take this year before coach Dick Jauron and/or offensive coordinator John Shoop get their walking papers? Do we have to suffer until the end of the season?

Good question. If the Bears go 1-10 or 2-9, I could see Greg Blache or Gary Moeller (both assistants on the current Chicago staff) act as passable interim coaches.

Lawyer Milloy is No Roger Clemens. From Scott Berry of Boston. Milloy equals Clemens? Peter, Milloy was willing to take some sort of pay cut, just not a 33 percent one. Milloy played and worked hard, he refused to take a lower salary, but he didn't demand a raise, and was let go. There's a big difference between that and Clemens signing with Toronto after saying he wanted to be closer to his home in Texas!

Scott, what I meant was this: Patriots fans are going to boo Milloy because now he plays for the enemy, just the way Fenway fans have have consistently booed Clemens since he left town. I stated in the column that both sides are wrong, and I never said I thought Milloy was dumb for not taking the pay cut. I just said that he'll now have to live with the consequences of not taking it because he can no longer be a New England icon. That may be right, it may be wrong, but I just know the booing will come.

You're Welcome. From Carl Birkmeyer of Baltimore: I just want to thank you for the tip on Anquan Boldin, who, based on your recommendation, I picked up in my fantasy football league. This almost makes up for last year, when I foolishly followed your advice and picked up Randy Moss, Danny Wuerffel and Jerome Bettis. Now, how about a tip on a tight end?

Moral of the story: You should only heed one out of every four suggestions I make. Regarding the tight end: Take Teyo Johnson of Oakland, sit on him for a couple of weeks, and around Week 5 or 6 you should start seeing some results.

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1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of the NFL weekend:

a. I am shocked to write this, but I truly wonder if we're seeing Kurt Warner crash and burn before our very eyes.

b. Say what you want about the troubles of the Rams, but that offensive line stinks. I thought Marc Bulger was going to get planted in the fake turf a few times Sunday.

c. Rams quarterbacks have fumbled eight times in the first six quarters of the 2003 season. Inexcuseable. Gotta be smarter than that.

d. I know this is going to sound insane, but while the Chiefs and Steelers put up a combined 47 points in the first half Sunday, they also played some great defense. Consider that 21 of the points came on returns (two interceptions, one kickoff).

e. Ladell Betts is a better back than I ever thought he'd be.

f. Bills 69, Foes 17 through two weeks. Look out.

g. Arizona had four turnovers in four possessions in the first 16 minutes against Seattle. Those Cardinals really know how to open the Emmitt Smith Era.

h. And on the fifth possession, not to nitpick, a wide-open Anquan Boldin dropped a third-down conversion pass near midfield. I mean, these guys just can't win.

i. Forgot to tell you this last week, but Lawyer Milloy really wanted to sign with Seattle. So much so he would have taken less to play there. But the Seahawks, who talked to agent Carl Poston about Milloy, are in good secondary shape and never were in Buffalo's financial ballpark of four years and $15 million. Reggie Tongue is good enough for Seattle to get by with at strong safety.

j. It's late, I know, but I want to weigh in on the Joe Jurevicius touchdown catch in the Monday nighter last week. "That's the best catch I've ever seen," said Boomer Esiason on the radio that night, and while I wouldn't go that far, having the presence of mind to tip the ball over a defender to himself, while making sure he didn't step out of bounds, was a tremendous feat.

k. Pregame Moment of the Week: On ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown, intrepid journalist Michael Irvin said he called Warren Sapp during the week and asked the Bucs defensive tackle, basically, what he wanted to say to America through his good friend Michael Irvin. Message to Michael: You're getting good at this TV thing. Someday, you may be really, really good. But you are not a player anymore. Repeat after me: "I am not a player anymore."

l. The ESPN show does seem to have a harder edge this year. Tom Jackson said the Patriots locker room "hates" Bill Belichick. I'm not sure of that. I think some New England players do detest the coach, but I doubt it's the majority. But is hating the coach that rare? How many Saints players hate Jim Haslett? How many Browns hate Butch Davis? But good for Jackson for throwing it out there.

m. Props to two peers for their work Sunday. ESPN's Ed Werder reported that Mike Martz had made up his mind to go with Bulger after this weekend, almost regardless of what happened in the Rams game against the 49ers, which was really a good tidbit, the newsiest on-field event of the pregame, as far as I'm concerned. And CBS' Jay Glazer broke the story about Maurice Clarett asking the NFL to change its early-out prohibition so he could enter the 2004 draft. Hats off to those reporters. They had the stories of the day.

n. That Oakland offense is a great example of why NFL teams never seem to be able to pick up where they left off the previous year. The Raiders look old. And they look like they miss Jerry Porter more than they'd want to admit.

o. Washington has what I thought would be its death spiral coming up in the next five weeks -- Giants, Patriots, at Eagles, Bucs, at Bills. But now, at 2-0 and with Steve Spurrier managing quarterback Patrick Ramsey superbly, the Redskins are a threat to win any of those games.

p. Sympathy to the family of Ron Burton, the first player drafted in Patriots history, who died over the weekend of bone cancer. Burton was a salt-of-the-earth guy who knew what it was to be kind to others and to sacrifice personal wealth to make the world a better place. It's fitting that Belichick gave a game ball in Burton's memory Sunday.

q. Skip Bayless of the San Jose Mercury News predicted an 0-16 season for Arizona, which sounds ridiculous on its face. But not if you saw saw the team's travesty of a performance Sunday.

2. I think all you Patriots fans waiting for the other shoe to drop won't feel the hit this season. It won't happen until next year, but the waiving of cornerback Ty Law will come to pass. He's due to count for $9.6 million against the salary cap next year, and you don't generally pay good cornerbacks 13 percent of your cap. Re-do the deal, you suggest? "Ty has talked to me a couple of times, wondering the if the Patriots have called to ask about renegotiating, and they haven't yet," Poston said. "But he's told me he won't take a penny less if he re-does the deal, and he's told me that more than once."

3. I think, watching the early games in the Cardinals press box Sunday, I was very impressed with Tory Holt and Hines Ward. Both receivers have such great hands and such a great knowledge of where they are on the field at all times. Late in the first half of Rams-Niners, when St. Louis had no timeouts left, Holt caught a short cross just inside the right hash and, instead of heading upfield for what he knew would be something short of a touchdown, he sprinted to the left sideline until he got out of bounds. Sometimes, time is more important than yardage, and Holt executed that play perfectly. As for Ward, whenever I watch him play I think: What a perfect football player. Tough as anything, great ability to get open, never drops anything.

4. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. I don't know why, but I have started collecting bobbleheads. It began with the Ichiro mini-bobblehead that came in boxes of Grape Nuts last year, and it has spread to my two latest acquisitions, John Fox and Craig Counsell. See, I don't like really famous bobbleheads. The more obscure the better. When I saw the Counsell one this week on closeout for $9.99 in Phoenix, well, I just had to have it. Some are springier than others, I've noticed, and when our Golden Retriever Bailey comes bounding into the family room, Fox nods aggressively. Mark Dalton, the assistant PR man with the Bills, has the best collection I've seen, including a Buffalo that is the mascot of the University of Buffalo teams. Now that's a gem. People out there have some imagination, I'll tell you that.

b. Despite Boston losing two of three to the Chisox, every Red Sox fan is excited at the prospect of being the wild-card team and playing Oakland or Seattle in the first round. Every Red Sox fan, however, is petrified about a 4-4 eighth-inning tie in Game 5, with Scott Williamson jogging in to face Miguel Tejada with the go-ahead run on second. You can substitute Scott Sauerbeck and Eric Chavez if you'd like. Doesn't matter. The bullpen makes Red Sox Nation sweat.

c. Coffeenerdness: I know it's odd, and probably pretty disturbed. But what did I do Saturday when I first landed in 101-degree Phoenix? Got a grande hazelnut latte. A hot one.

d. Montclair (N.J.) High School Field Hockey Note of the Week: In rain that alternated between a mist and a steady drenching, the Mounties opened the defense of their Northeast Jersey Field Hockey League championship with a 7-0 win at Hackensack Saturday morning. Things are starting to shape up for the girls, who won 1-0 and 4-0 scrimmages at Randolph and Passaic Valley during the week before Saturday's tilt. Inner Katie Joyce, a junior, led teh way with four goals. It'll be interesting to see how the team handles the first obstacle thrown in its way. The Mounties will play the first month on the road exclusively because our FieldTurf surface -- promised by the contractor to be ready on Aug. 15 -- is still not ready. The girls are ticked off about it, which they should be, but I've told Mary Beth King, co-captain and right midfielder, to not let anyone use it as an excuse, at any time. Some coach told me once to worry only about the things you can control. Actually, 68 coaches have told me that. The good news is when I said that, Mary Beth did not roll her eyes.

e. I hereby name Sharon Osbourne Embattled Mom of the Week. She told ABC that at the same time her son, Jack, was entering a rehab facility for his substance problems, she briefly left husband Ozzy because of his alcohol and prescription-drug abuse. During this period, Jack also contemplated suicide, depressed over his mom's cancer. Now that's a wonderful family story, isn't it?

f. Wow. So sad about John Ritter. It's time for me and my middle-aged colleagues to get heart-healthy.

g. Lord, watch over Laura King , who is spending her Tufts junior-year fall term abroad in Florence. The ATM ate her banking card the other day, and what will she do without Euros while a replacement is being sent? She might have to study. Be careful, Laur. Wolves lives in Florence.

5. I think the Falcons, 1-1 with Tampa Bay coming to town this week, made a very smart gamble in the offseason when they tendered Doug Johnson a one-year, $1.35 million contract, which meant if some team wanted Johnson it would have had to surrender a first-round draft choice in exchange for him. "We were very, very fortunate no one came after him," said Falcons VP of personnel Ron Hill. "Obviously with Michael Vick you need a good backup, and we knew we had one on the offseason in Doug." In eight days, Johnson has won an emotional opener in Dallas and proven to his old mentor, Spurrier, that he can play at this level. "He's got a lot at stake, as does the team," Hill said, meaning he could make a boatload in free-agency after the season if he keeps it up.

6a. I think Koren Robinson is a good guy for the Clarett camp to fact-find with, now that Clarett has decided to investigate challenging the NFL's rule on when college players can enter the draft. Robinson, in his third pro season, would be a rookie right now if he played his final two years at North Carolina State. Instead, after two seasons and a redshirt year, he entered the draft in 2001 and got picked in the first round by Seattle. I asked Robinson what he'd tell Clarett if he had the chance to talk to him. "I'd tell him it's different for a running back than a receiver," Robinson said. "I think a running back, if he's physically mature, could come in and play right away. He'd just have to get used to the speed of the game, because it's definitely faster. As a receiver, I would not advise a guy to come out of high school, or after a year of college. There's too much to learn. That's what held me back early on. A running back, all he's doing basically is finding the hole and running downhill." I would disagree with that, at least the last part of it. Ask William Green about his freshman year in the NFL, and he'll tell you how much he struggled because he didn't have the confidence of knowing what he was doing early. You have to have confidence and the knowledge of the X's and O's of your position to perform at your best.

6b. I think, and this is just a gut feeling, that the NFL will eventually lose this case. For better or for worse, a 19-year-old kid will be in the NFL sometime in the next three or four years.

7. I think Jamal Lewis and Edgerrin James ran with so much confidence and spring in their steps Sunday that I now believe the adage that a player is never fully recovered from an ACL tear until the second season after the injury. It's also great testimony to anyone who ever tears an ACL and thinks he/she will never be the same. Heck, Lewis never, and I mean never, ran the ball like he ran it on those highlights I saw.

8a. I think Arizona's attendance woes are startling. It's hard to judge the figure of 23,127 (the second-smallest paid crowd in Cards history) fairly Sunday, because it was 98 degrees under a cloudless sky at kickoff, and the seats are all metal bleachers at Sun Devil Stadium, and you have to be some sort of brave soul to sit though a game there. But I met a guy Saturday who told me he and his wife had bought 40-yard-line seats low in the upper deck on the less-sunny side of the stands -- primo seats -- this summer for the Packers game next week. And, he said, he also bought two on the 50-yard line in the eighth row on the sunny side for the Nov. 2 game against Cincinnati, when the temperature should be about 80 to 85. Eighth-row NFL tickets, not part of a season-ticket package, procured as a single-game ticket buyer at the last minute. Wow. One of the Cards' front-office guys told me Sunday that playing at Sun Devil Stadium is like a church holding services in a school lunchroom while it waits for a new facility to be built. The Cardinals have three more years in this purgatory until they move into their new stadium in a suburb of Glendale.

8b. I think I can only imagine what Emmitt Smith is thinking right now. On Sunday, after coach Dave McGinnis finished speaking to the team, Emmitt butted in and said he had a few things to say. Basically, he said what you thought he'd say -- everyone has to look in the mirror and play harder. Only he said it in a fire-and-brimstone, this-is-BS kind of way. He also told his mates they were playing for a great coach, because he knew what a great coach was, and they should bust their rear ends playing for this coach because you never know who or what is around the bend in the coaching department. Poor McGinnis. Excellent coach. Better person. And I don't know how long he can survive with his folding tent of a team giving up 38 a game to the likes of Detroit and Seattle.

9. I think it's interesting that Sports Illustrated quoted a scout as saying Giants right tackle Ian Allen was "awful" in our football preview magazine, and Allen and the Giants got all upset about it, and then he went out in the first game against St. Louis and apparently was awful, and the Giants spent the week thinking about whether to replace him tonight, perhaps with second-year guy Jeff Hatch. Allen's a nice guy; I spent a half-hour with him in the preseason. But unproven tackles should probably be seen and not heard, even when they're being attacked.

10. I think I would be remiss if I didn't tell you my one story involving Johnny Cash, the country legend who died at 71 last Friday. In 1989, my first assignment for SI was to tag along on a private plane for a fact-finding tour of potential World League of American Football sites with NFL bigwigs, led by former Cowboys president Tex Schramm. It was a slightly bawdy trip, with a few drinks at every stop. Well, we landed in Nashville, the six or seven of us on the plane, and I was the first to deplane, and as I began walking down the steps, I saw a man dressed in black waiting at the bottom. My God, I thought. It's Johnny Cash! And it was. In the dead of summer, he was dressed in black jeans, a long-sleeved black shirt, black cowboy boots and a black belt with a big silver buckle. I guess he would have been 57 at the time, but his road map of a face made him look 70. So I started thinking during my final four or five steps down the ramp: What in the world am I going to say to Johnny Cash? "Hey, I loved, I Walk the Line?" Turned out I didn't have to say anything. Looking up at me as I walked the last couple of steps, he said, "Hiah. Ahm Johnny Cash. Welcome to Nashvul." I jut said "Thanks very much," and Tex, right behind me, slapped Cash on the shoulder and started gee-whizzing about what a great town it was. Cash and the Nashville contingent then went into a room at the airport and started selling Nashville to Schramm. Didn't work. They never got a team. But it was pretty impressive to me that Cash thought enough of his town to help the mayor and the local officials try to woo the NFL. I'm not a country fan, but I liked Cash a lot after he teamed with Bob Dylan on Nashville Skyline.

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1. Tampa Bay (1-1): A brief refresher: The way I rank my top teams is by asking myself: If two teams met on a neutral field in Wichita tomorrow, who would win? And even though the Bucs lost Sunday, and probably deserved to, I still think they're the best team in football. Hence the top designation.

2. Kansas City (2-0): Paul Zimmerman, you were right, and I was wrong about these guys. The Chiefs' defense made some vicious hits, it harassed Tommy Maddox all day and in the first 31 minutes of the game, it held the Steelers to just seven rushing yards.

3. Buffalo (2-0): Owner Ralph Wilson on his new toy at safety: "Best Lawyer we ever had in this organization."

4. Carolina (2-0): There are very few times when one of my picks looks good after a couple of weeks, but this is one of them. The Panthers will be playing games in January.

5. Oakland (1-1): Never thought I'd see Rich Gannon in a commercial, and certainly never with that star of the Great White Way, the ponytailed Chris Hovan. But there they were Sunday, noshing on pizza with Michael Strahan, in a spot for Pizza Hut.

6. Indianapolis (2-0): Talk about a great statement win. Beating the Titans like that, with Edgerrin James returning to form as one of the great backs, is about as good a day as Tony Dungy could ever hope for.

7. New York Giants (1-0): Snoop Dogg's latest video, debuting after tonight's game: "Tiki Gone Wild."

8. Tennessee (1-1): That there's your mulligan, Jeff Fisher.

9. Denver (2-0): Concussed after a Sunday bell-ringing in San Diego, Jake Plummer heads home for his first game at Invesco, and though I understand the natives have been a bit restless with their new mistake-prone QB, it's mind-boggling to think that he'll probably get booed the first time he throws three incompletions in a row. Help the guy, fans. Don't tear him down.

10. Miami (1-1): I admire the Dolphins' offensive game plan: Give it to Ricky until he pukes.

11. Minnesota (2-0): But how do you judge Minnesota after it beat the Bears?

12. Seattle (2-0): You had to be here to see how bad the Cardinals were. You really did. Having said that, wins of 27-10 and 38-0 are not to be sneezed at in this league.

13. San Francisco (1-1): For all the times I've criticized Terrell Owens, I owe him this: If not for his 50-yard sprint across the field and subsequent tackle late in the first half at St. Louis after a Jeff Garcia pass was picked off, the 49ers would have been behind at the half 14-10 instead of ahead 10-7.

14. Washington (2-0): Don't look now, Jets, but Laveranues Coles is on pace for a 128-catch, 2,288-yard season.

15. (tie) St. Louis (1-1): I have no idea at all what this team is.

            New England (1-1). Tom Brady rebounds. Good thing he does, or he'd be wastin' away in McNabbville.

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This game is significant to me for one reason, and it isn't because it's Bill Parcells' homecoming. For the first time in my 20 years covering the NFL, I'll tailgate before a regular-season game, then climb to the upper deck and watch as Joe Fan. There I'll be, in section 322, thanks to a freebie from that tireless talk-show caller, Mike (from Montclair) Goldstein. Should be fun. I expect to have a St. Louis-based beer, maybe two, at the game.

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Now, on to the winner. I have a distinct memory from the offseason -- seeing Giants defensive line coach Denny Marcin while we were both in transit to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. This was Marcin's time, Marcin's combine. He told me that, during the playoff game in San Francisco last year, the one in which the Giants blew a 24-point lead and lost, he had a couple of guys playing on the line who really had no business being on the field in crunch time during an NFL playoff games, and now he had to go find some new blood. A few pints of it. And so last week, in the first game of the season, the Giants defense held the potent Rams offense to three-and-out, three-and-out, and a field goal on the first three possessions. On the fourth, here came the rousing Giants front, and rookie first-round defensive lineman William Joseph slamming into Kurt Warner and forcing a fumble in the end zone, and linemate Kenny Holmes recovering it for a touchdown. The Giants never trailed thereafter.

Now, will this happen every week? No. And tonight, Quincy Carter won't do what Warner did and make the same dumb mistake of holding the ball too long. But the Giants' defense should be too suffocating for Dallas to get anything done. Unless special-teams coach Bruce DeHaven comes up with a few tricks for the Cowboys, the Giants should come out on top. Giants, 21, Dallas 12.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King covers the NFL beat for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com. Monday Morning Quarterback appears in this space every week.

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