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Peter King Monday Morning QB

Shining star

Sometimes, the Zuriel Smiths are the biggest players on the NFL stage

Posted: Monday September 22, 2003 11:22AM; Updated: Monday September 22, 2003 12:26PM
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CINCINNATI -- The other day Bob Knight was on the phone with Bill Parcells. "I'll tell you who made the big play against the Giants," Knight said. "Your kick returner, who let that ball go out of bounds."

I can't get last week's Monday nighter out of my mind. Maybe it's because I was there, way up in the upper deck at the Meadowlands, watching my first regular-season game as a fan in 20 years, and got a different perspective on things. A great perspective.

But it was at least as much what Zuriel Smith did -- or didn't do -- that keeps bringing me back to Dallas' victory. This was Smith's first game in the NFL. A product of Hampton (Va.) University, the 6-foot-2, 170-pound (a very thin man, obviously) returner/receiver/special-teamer was picked by Dallas in the sixth round of last April's draft. Draft-room gossip has it that Smith was a Parcells pick, a special-teams selection, the way Dave Meggett was years ago with the Giants. Smith did OK in training camp. He never suffered brainlock on a return, and always seemed to know when to pick it up and when to let it roll. Parcells surprised a few members of the organization when he activated Smith instead of veteran Reggie Swinton for the Giants' game.

Picking this game -- Monday night, national TV, the dreaded rival on the other side, the really big stage -- to stick the kid in for his debut was strange. Why Zuriel Smith? Why now? "He'll be fine," Parcells said beforehand. Little did the audience know, or little did many in the Cowboys organization know, that Smith, during his junior year at Hampton, came north to Giants Stadium to play Virginia State one Saturday, and he returned four punts for touchdowns. Four! One was called back for an illegal block, but that still left him with three -- an NCAA record at any level. And he had done it in the same building, known for its swirling winds, where he was facing the Giants.

Parcells knew Smith would not screw this thing up. All through training camp, Dallas' new coach taught his team that some games this year -- who knew how many ... three? four? -- would be decided on strange, rare plays. So he practiced strange, rare situations every day in camp. He'd stand on the side of the field and yell out a scenario, and he'd test his players on how they'd handle the odd occurrences. It's the little things, Parcells said, that could very well be the difference in three or four games, and we'd better get them right. Think of the little things that happened two weekends ago, little things that determined outcomes of games. Niners wideout Cedric Wilson didn't know to stop the clock while in field-goal range as the seconds ticked off the fourth-quarter clock in St. Louis, preventing San Francisco from attempting the winning kick in regulation; St. Louis won in overtime 27-24. The Bucs weren't able to block the middle of the field-goal and point-after rush teams of Carolina, leading to three blocks of Tampa Bay kicks and a 12-9 Panthers win. The Atlanta blitz protection failed, allowing Redskins linebacker Jesse Armstead to fly in and sack Falcons quarterback Doug Johnson for a safety; Washington won, 33-31.

Little things can become very big things. There are 150 plays, give or take a few, in every game, and sometimes it's one failed blitz pickup or one mental error by a wide receiver or one center not blocking his man on a field-goal try that wins or loses a game -- and makes or breaks your team's season. What if San Francisco goes 10-6 and misses the playoffs by a tiebreaker, and what if the difference between missing the postseason and hosting a home playoff game comes down to Cedric Wilson not knowing he should have fallen to stop the clock? I can guarantee you everyone in the organization will think back to that play, though no one will say it. This Dallas-New York contest came down to a play like that, with a rookie named Zuriel Smith on the field in his first NFL game.

Monday night. Giants Stadium. Eleven seconds left in the regulation. New York up 32-29. Giants line up to kick off. Zuriel Smith is back to receive. He'd had a successful first game, four punt returns for 45 yards, five kickoff returns for an average of 24 yards per return.

"All I was thinking was, 'This team's fate is resting on me,' " Smith told me a few days after the game. "I've got to score on this play. I've got to win the game."

I asked Smith what the stage was like, and what he was feeling on the final play.

"It was pretty big for me," he said of the night. "I took it all in when I ran out there. Monday Night Football. John Madden and Al Michaels upstairs. I mean, everyone in the country watches these games. I watched 'em all the time. And now I'm playing in it. And the crowd. I will never, ever forget that crowd for the rest of my life. So intense. So into it. But, you know, you can't be star-struck. It's football. I definitely was not star-struck."

Here came the kick.

"I figured they'd squib it," Smith said. "They didn't want us to be able to set up a return. But I just figured, 'OK, I've got to return it for a touchdown. It's on me."'

It kept bouncing to Smith's right.

"At first, I'm thinking, 'Pick it up and go! Pick it up!' But it kept bouncing toward the sidelines, and my instincts took over."

Instincts?

"You know you don't want to get stuck picking the ball up if it's going to go out of bounds. Then it's our ball on the 40. No time off the clock. So I let it go. It kept rolling. The crowd's screaming. I swear it went out about the one-inch line."

Out of bounds. Flag on the play. Cowboys ball on their 40. Eleven seconds remaining. Time for one play -- a 26-yard pass from Quincy Carter to Antonio Bryant -- and then the kicker, Billy Cundiff, jogs on the field. His 52-yard field goal ties it. In overtime, Dallas gets another Cundiff field goal to win, 35-32.

I know the Cundiff field goals were huge. But I'm on Knight's side here. The sixth and seventh Cundiff field goals never would have happened if Smith hadn't had the presence of mind to let the ball roll out of bounds inside his own 1-yard-line.

"I knew the magnitude of it. Of course I did. I'm not dumb. You can't be dumb and play for this team," said Smith. "What I'm learning about the NFL is knowing what to do is half the battle. What's that saying? 'The will to prepare to win is more important than the will to win'? That's the story here."

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Offensive Player of the Week

Cleveland QB Kelly Holcomb. I don't care much about the stats (25 for 38, 222 yards, two touchdowns, one interception), because other guys at a bunch of different positions had better numbers in Week 3. I care about having the guts to engineer two length-of-the-field touchdown drives -- 75- and 91-yards long -- with the season on the line (probably; 0-3 in the NFL is Hades) in San Francisco on a day when nothing was going right for the Browns. Holcomb, playing with a significant ankle sprain, hit Andre' Davis for a TD pass at the end of each drive, including an 11-yarder with 29 seconds left, which gave Cleveland the 13-12 upset. Couchniks, you may be seated now. As I watched Holcomb during the mesmerizing fourth quarter of this game yesterday, I thought: Kid, you're in the big leagues now. You've officially arrived. That may not have been Y.A. Tittle with the bloody head, but it was as clutch and gutsy a game as I've seen from a quarterback in a while.

Defensive Player of the Week

Pittsburgh OLB Joey Porter, who had two tackles, a 14-yard sack of Cincinnati quarterback Jon Kitna, and a recovered fumble in his first game since being shot in the parking lot of a Denver sports bar three weeks ago. The Steelers beat the Bengals, 17-10. But the story, obviously, was Pittsburgh's All-Pro returning so quickly from the large-caliber gun shot to his left buttock. The Steelers thought this would probably be a half-season injury. Instead, it lasted a fortnight. "The doctors and trainers did a great job on me, and I pushed the envelope," Porter said after the game. "When they said walk, I jogged. When they said jog, I ran."

Special Teams Player of the Week

Kansas City return man Dante Hall. I think he's going to retire this award. He's a cross between Dave Meggett and Brian Mitchell, a jitterbug with a little bit of power and great speed. His 73-yard punt return in the third quarter against Houston gave the Chiefs a 28-7 lead, putting the game out of reach.

Goat of the Week

The San Diego Chargers, in a collective award. I don't know what to say about this team, other than there's no way it should be a pathetic 0-3 and have trailed by more than 20 points in every game so far this season. Winless is no way to go through life, fellas.

Coach of the Week

Minnesota coach Mike Tice. Got to hand it to you, coach. One trip around the NFC Central, as down as the division may be this season, and you're 3-0. A tough 3-0, too, and that's what I like. The Vikes lost their 1,300-yard back, Michael Bennett, in training camp and plugged the hole with a running back-by-committee. The Vikes lost Daunte Culpepper to a back injury Sunday in Detroit, and plugged the hole with Gus Frerotte. Hey, this division may be football's worst, but a win's a win. And right now the Vikings are three wins better than the Eagles.

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... Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter, who was shot exactly 22 days ago but was back on the field yesterday in Cincinnati:

MMQB: Has being shot changed your perspective on gun issues?

Porter: It's shocking everybody in the country, I think. I've always had anger about [gun violence]. I grew up in the inner city, and so I saw it almost every day. It makes me mad.

MMQB: What's the main problem, in your opinion?

Porter: Kids with guns. Young kids, teenagers. How do they get them? Where do they come from? Why are they so available? And these kids don't just have any guns. They have assault rifles. They have automatic weapons. Do you know the damage they can do? The guy who shot me didn't even have to reload his gun -- that's how quick the bullets come out. It happened so fast that I thought: 'Man, there are two shooters out there.' But there wasn't. There was only one.

MMQB: What do you think should be done about gun violence?

Porter: I don't have an answer for it. I think the government should clamp down on it hard, that's for sure. But I don't have an answer. I really, really wish I did.

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"The Browns are very solid. They don't make mistakes."

--San Francisco coach Dennis Erickson, a couple of days after the Browns allowed Jamal Lewis to steamroll them for a league-record 295 rushing yards, issuing yet another quote that makes you think you'd be better off not listening to what coaches say during press conferences, when every word is carried back to the land of the opponent. Unless, of course, it's Steve Mariucci speaking. He said of Randy Moss in anticipation of playing the Vikings yesterday: "You can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him, huh? Who made that up, Winston Churchill?"

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From Saturday's New York Post, in its New York Fashion Week gossip column:

"A French fashion editor shocked onlookers yesterday when she strolled into the Fashion Television Suite at the Bryant Park Hotel, sat down, opened her Hermes Birkin bag, and lost her lunch into the purse. The editor, who shall remain nameless, then closed the bag and walked out. But it wasn't the vomiting so much as the woman's choice of receptacle that raised eyebrows: There is a notoriously long waiting list to buy one of the Birkins, which sell for upward of $8,000 each.

"'Can you imagine?' said one stunned showgoer.

"'Use the floor!' added another.

"'Or your shoe,' said a third, 'because she is never gonna get a replacement for that bag.'"

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Sight to behold on my Continental flight to Ohio Saturday:

Twentyish woman across the aisle, sleeping, head back on her seat, mouth as open as a manhole cover, snoring lightly, a dog-eared paperback Portnoy's Complaint on her lap, a blue wad of maybe four pieces of some minty gum perched on the precipice of the right side of her mouth. For 25 minutes the gum just sat there. Then, when the flight attendant came by with drinks, the woman woke up. She asked for tomato juice. The blue gum stayed in her mouth while she drank the tomato juice.

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This is probably the first e-mail bag in MMQB history that does not include any letters protesting my rankings of the teams. I fully expected 64 letters asking me why I had a 1-1 team at No. 1. Maybe now you're all coming over to my way of thinking -- one quirky loss should not bring the best team in football down a few rungs. Anyway, on with the mail:

JOSH IS RIGHT. THE PANTHERS ARE GOOD. From Josh DuVall, of Charlotte, N.C.: "Why is it that all the commentary following Carolina's win over Tampa Bay seemed to imply that the Bucs lost the game rather than the Panthers won it? Last time I checked, doing a good job breaking down your opponents' tendencies and then taking advantage of them means you did something positive. And for the record, despite being a die-hard Panthers fan, I still think the Bucs are the best team in the NFC."

I couldn't have said it better myself, Josh. So I won't try.

BEARS FANS ARE OUT OF HIBERNATION, AND THEY'RE REALLY TICKED OFF. From Matt Amundson of Chicago: "Skip Bayless may have predicted a winless season for the Cardinals, but the Bears don't look to be too far behind. Would Dave McGinnis be willing to let bygones be bygones and come back to Chicago? Would Jerry Angelo be interested in him? Or are the Bears destined to hire Nick Saban? And why in the heck is Monty Kiffin ignored for a coaching job? Angelo and Kiffin seem to be a good match."

You're all over the map, Matt. I think Saban will be the Bears' choice to replace Dick Jauron, but the question is whether he'll take the job. Kiffin could have had the 49ers job last winter if he'd wanted it, but he chose the more sane and less famous life of being an assistant to with a high-profile head coach in Tampa Bay ... for about $1.75 million a year, I might add. I can't see McGinnis being Angelo's man as long as Saban is available.

BRADY'S THE PROBLEM, THIS MAN SAYS. From Jeff Habib of Newburyport, Mass.: "The Patriots' offense is geared to play within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage. I think that's because Tom Brady just isn't accurate enough to make throws of 20 yards or more. And this makes the Pats easier to defend. Do you agree with my assessment of Brady, and if so, how are the Pats going to survive this year on offense?"

No, I don't agree with you. You're right in that Brady's not Drew Bledsoe in terms of ability to throw downfield; few quarterbacks are. However, 90 percent of your passing game is conducted within 20 yards of the line. Maybe 95 percent. And entering this year Brady was, was a 63 percent passer with a plus-20 touchdown-to-pick ratio. What Brady needs is not a better arm to complete the 33-yard outs, of which there are maybe one per Sunday. What Brady needs is a running game and a line to keep him clean.

SEAN IS RIGHT ON THE MONEY. From Sean of Ottawa: "Here we go again. One of the greatest finishes in Monday Night Football history, and it happens after 1 a.m. How many people on the East Coast were actually awake to see it? Is it not time to go back to an 8 p.m. start time?"

Sean, you couldn't have said it better. Fred Gaudelli, are you listening?

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1. I think these are my observations from the not-so-cheap seats of a Monday night game at Giants Stadium:

A. Tailgating. Had a few Bud Ices and a burger and a dog, on a cool, misty night, while I was communing with the diehards in the parking lot under the flightpath to Newark International. Some older folks next to us had the Yankees-Orioles game on the radio, fairly loud. Some younger folks down the row from us had AC/DC blaring from the back of a Ford F150, louder. Spent a great 90 minutes talking about Parcells, life, high school sports, the G-men.

B. Fan Loyalty. At a baseball game, there's a constant stream of fans, at all times -- even during rallies -- going for nachos and beers and dippin' dots. If you're on the end of a long row, it's pretty darn annoying having to get up every couple of minutes to let someone pass. But here, in row 12 of section 332, it's shocking to see people get up even during the TV timeouts. Once they're in their seats, they're not going to miss a thing. I loved that. The fans didn't give up when the Giants trailed by double digits as midnight approached. I don't think a single fan in our section left before the game ended.

C. TV Timeouts. ABC, you're killing these poor people. It's not just my former network, either. It's every network. These folks in the upper deck are immune to it, sort of, but it's hugely annoying to sit through three minutes of downtime after a punt, then three minutes of downtime five minutes later after another punt ... four times a quarter. In the press box, I'm always talking to someone or doing some work or going for grub, so the TV timeouts don't bug me as much. But here, in the captive audience, staring out at nothing, they were absolute killers.

D. Verbal Abuse. Not that bad. Not as curse-filled as I would expect, and certainly not as profane as an intense Yankees game. The fellow behind me -- I never turned around to see what he looked like or how old he was -- did have it in for Parcells. After Ralph Brown returned an interception for a Giants touchdown, the man yelled: "How do you like that, Parcells, you fat ass!" He also said, at various times of the game: "Have another donut, Parcells!" "Keep walking, you fat tub!" "We're glad you left, Fat Boy!"

E. The elements. It rained about 60 percent of the game. So what? Fans didn't care. They put on ponchos. This was Giants-Cowboys, man.

2. I think these are my quick-hit football thoughts of the week:

a. Wow. What a loss for the Patriots -- Rosevelt Colvin gone for the season after undergoing hip surgery on Friday. Here's your chance, Dan Klecko. Nothing personal, kid, but I don't see how you and a cast of two others replace this wonderful player.

b. I'm not sure I've ever seen as many fans of the road team at an NFL game as I saw yesterday. A huge banner proclaiming the area "Steeler Nation" cordoned off one entire parking lot across from Paul Brown Stadium in downtown Cincinnati. Inside the building I'd say 35 percent of the fans were Steelers backers. In the section in front of me, Pittsburgh team jerseys outnumbered Bengals uniforms 5-2.

c. I've said this before, but let me reiterate: Bengals wideout Chad Johnson is a great physical receiver. He didn't do much Sunday, but you can just tell how special he is. He's great at catching the ball by the sideline, and he has great hands. Great hands. Now, I didn't say good to any of those descriptions. I said great. Because that's what he is.

d. Looks like I might have been wrong about Falcons QB Doug Johnson. I thought he'd be fine as he stepped in for Michael Vick.

e. Jamal Lewis certainly is the man, isn't he?

f. Of course, Ricky Williams is The Man. At least he was Sunday night.

g. I am getting so tired of announcers triple-using "foootball" in every sentence. I'm a Dave Lapham fan, but the Bengals broadcaster broke a world record yesterday on the radio for using the word "football" in his pregame interview with Marvin Lewis.

h. Speaking of the Bengals, they're more competitive this season. But they're still stuck in Groundhog Day.

3. I think, just for the record, Jim Fassel did leave too much time on the clock last week in the Monday night loss to Dallas. Much too much time. He should have called a timeout with eight seconds left in regulation, not 14 (which would have entailed running one Kerry Collins sneak into the line, then calling his second timeout with eight seconds left). This would have allowed the Giants to snap for the field goal on third down with eight seconds and one timeout left, meaning that if the snap was fumbled or otherwise screwed up, there would have been time to recover it and call the last timeout and try the chip shot again. Matt Bryant screwed up the kickoff, yes. But Fassel was six seconds shy of a load last Monday night. At least the Giants were able to successfully pull off a game-winning field goal in Washington yesterday.

4. I think Dick Vermeil did the right thing yesterday when he took out Priest Holmes midway through the second half in order to preserve the running back for later in the season. Smart. When you have Pedro Martinez, you don't pitch him in the ninth inning when you're up 7-0 on the Devil Rays. (Well, except when you have the Red Sox's bullpen, I guess.)

5. I think one of the things I really like about Jon Gruden as a coach is that he sees how certain guys on his team need to be motivated, and he figures out a way to do it. Take Warren Sapp. I'm not saying you have to pacify the guy, but Gruden figures: Let's take a good big-man athlete, and let's line him up in different places so he stays excited and remains the leader of the locker room and is still thrilled to come to work. Gruden figures out various ways to use Sapp, which keeps the defensive end excited and helps the team. Smart coach.

6. I think these are my personal thoughts of the week:

a. Older daughter Laura continues to "study" in Italy. She called Saturday from some beach via her cell phone. I overheard a friend say she was going for some focaccia while Laura lay in the fry zone. "Dad, this place is so cool! There are no, like, rules!" That's what you like to hear. Your 20-year-old daughter in a foreign country with a few bucks in her pocket, rejoicing over the fact, apparently, that some sort of youth martial law is in effect. Pass the valium, please.

b. Coffeenerdness: On mornings like this, I have to go to the Upper Montclair Starbucks and get a triple venti hazelnut latte from barista of the year Chris Stuccio. Darn good latte this morning, Chris. Do you know what makes Chris different from all the other baristas? He's a diehard Arizona Cardinals fan. He watches his team every Sunday at a sports bar. "Big win against the Pack," I told him this morning.

c. Montclair (N.J.) High Field Hockey Note of the Week: Because of the weird weather surrounding Hurricane Isabel (we weren't badly affected in New Jersey, but the winds were awful), we got in only one game, a 2-0 win at annual rival Northern Highlands (where Jill Parcells, daughter of Bill and Judy, once studied). This is the way we love the see the game start: Montclair takes the opening flick, blasts it downfield and attacks the Northern Highlands zone. Northern's whistled for some violation or other -- who really knows in this game, because, after seven years, I still don't know what half the whistles are for -- and we set up to hit from right outside the goal circle. Senior right midfielder Mary Beth King lines up for the hit and whacks a low line drive (must be low or you get whistled for a high hit) toward the right post. There, junior wing Adair Landy, one of the tallest and blondest players in Montclair history, flicks the deflection into the goal to give us a 1-0 lead ... after 20 seconds. I make fun of it sometimes because of the weird rules, but I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed getting to know the strategy of this game, and watching the game for the last seven falls. I highly recommend it if you have a town with field hockey at the middle school and/or high school level.

d. I really root for Mia Hamm.

e. I see where Tony Shalhoub of Monk won for Best Actor in a Comedy Series last night at the Emmys. Who is Tony Shalhoub, and what is Monk?

f. My best half and I don't often go to the movies during the season, so we were pumped to see the new Woody Allen flick that stars former Montclair resident Christina Ricci, who once babysat for one of the girls on a softball team we coached. (Always on the phone, from what our player, current Tufts soph Jess Fisch, said.) What a disappointment Anything Else was. Dumb title, drawn-out movie. Used to be you could always count on the Woodman to make you laugh uproariously three or four times during a movie (Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, Sleeper). The other night, we politely chuckled three or four times. I guess he's lost it.

g. One more Emmy note: Curb Your Enthusiasm was ripped off. One Emmy? For directing?

7. I think Green Bay is in serious trouble. I'm not sure if Brett Favre feels emasculated or what, but he's not taking over games the way he used to. I think offensive coordinator Tom Rossley lives and dies with Ahman Green in the red zone, and part of that philosophy (the low-risk mentality) can strip your once-vaunted passing game and make it less dependable. All I know is this: the Packers had the NFL's easiest schedule in September, and they're well on their way (1-2, with Chicago on the road next Monday in the Bears' home opener at the new Soldier Field) to throwing that advantage down the toilet and falling so far behind the Vikings they'll never catch up.

8. I think the Bengals are 0-3 for the seventh time in the past 13 years, and though I like what I see as far as toughness and not giving up, this is a team without the talent to compete in a mediocre AFC North. Marvin Lewis has shown he's a fine motivator and organizer and consensus-builder. Now we'll find out if he can draft. Year One was pretty good. No question guard Eric Steinbach, the grinder from Iowa, is a long-term keeper, but where is Dennis Weathersby? I fully expected the third-rounder to be at least a nickel guy in a so-so secondary, but he was inactive yesterday.

9. I think the Bears' new stadium looks like a craft from another planet.

10. I think Steve Mariucci, by the end of the season, is going to have the makings of a pretty good team in Detroit, though a cap-strapped one. Problem is, here are his last three games: at Kansas City, at Carolina, St. Louis at home.

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1. Tampa Bay (2-1): Warren Sapp told me he wanted to make the Pro Bowl as a two-way talent this year. I thought he was kidding.

2. Kansas City (3-0): Is there any team the Chiefs can't steamroll?

3. Carolina (2-0). On his bye Sunday, Julius Peppers rushed the TV. He forgot he was off.

4. Oakland (1-1). AARP Monthly is in Jerry Rice's locker.

5. Indianapolis (3-0). It might just be my imagination, but I would bet this offense isn't clicking right now.

6. Tennessee (2-1). At Pittsburgh and New England the next two weeks. Both winnable. Both loseable.

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7. Denver (2-0). Muster your ground forces tonight, Alex Gibbs and Rick Dennison.

8. Miami (2-1). It's the physical punishment the Dolphins laid on the Bills Sunday night that was so impressive. Maybe the Wannstedts should just let Ricky Williams run it 65 times a game, because when they throw it, bad things happen.

9. Buffalo (2-1). I just thought the offensive line would be better.

10. Seattle (3-0). How cute. Shaun Alexander's daughter was born 28 minutes before kickoff. He was at the hospital. He then made it back to the stadium for most of the game. He and his wife named the girl "Heaven." I must say I never met a girl named "Heaven." I assume her nickname will be "Hev."

11. Minnesota (3-0). Weird scheduling run now: San Francisco at home, Atlanta on the road, then three at home -- Denver, New York Giants, Green Bay. Wow. Does any other team have such a big edge in the homefield-advantage department?

12. Pittsburgh (2-1). If I'm Bill Cowher, I put Jerome Bettis back in the starting lineup and give him 20 carries a game. I like Amos Zereoue, but Bettis showed in Cincinnati that he can get the tough yards, and some quick ones, too.

13. New York Giants (2-1). Despite making the Fine Fifteen, they've given up more passing yards than any team in football. That's worrisome. Good thing Kerry Collins bails them out so consistently.

14. New England (2-1). Players on D continue to drop like flies. Now Ted Washington's gone for a week or two, maybe more. And the Pats' next six games all could be against teams with winning records.

15. St. Louis (1-2). The Rams blew a 23-10 lead in Espressoville. You just can't do that. Bright side: That Seattle defense is punishing, and the Rams moved the ball on it.

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A year ago, the downfall of Brian Griese and the Broncos started against the Raiders in this game ... Monday Night Football, Invesco Field, Rod Woodson picks off a throw and runs it back the length of the field, and the rout is on. Tonight's going to be different, I think. Griese's in Miami, Woodson's in sick bay after recent arthroscopic knee surgery, the teams have changed. But I think Clinton Portis, a fairly big non-factor in the Monday nighter a year ago, rules tonight's game. Broncos, 27-23.

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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