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Turmoil at the top

Injuries, pathetic defenses and a rookie QB have altered NFL landscape

Posted: Tuesday November 2, 2004 11:08AM; Updated: Tuesday November 2, 2004 12:32PM
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Check out Peter King's original Monday Morning Quarterback, a closer look at players that have emerged from the bench to become heroes -- Mewelde Moore, Reno Mahe, Randall Gay and the Red Sox's Dave Roberts.

Time out.

Before I tell you what we learned in Week 8, let me share an Election Day anecdote. And everyone who follows the NFL and plays in it should know the story of veteran Detroit defensive tackle Kelvin Pritchett, who thinks voting is so important that when his Florida absentee ballot didn't arrive in Detroit in time for him to vote Monday, Pritchett got on a plane in Detroit and flew to Jacksonville so he could cast his ballot.

Kelvin Pritchett is my player of the week.

"It's very important, simply because so many people have lost their lives and they fought for the right to vote," Pritchett said. "Your grandparents, your forefathers, didn't have that right. In order to gain that right, they fought for it. I feel like it's up to me to carry on that tradition."

That's a $1,100 vote, by the way. That's about the cost of the cheapest Detroit-to-Jacksonville round-trip ticket bought so close to flying time without staying over a Saturday night.

I'm not speechless. But it's close. This is the man the NFL should be holding up as a role model, the man who should be doing commercials.

OK. Sermon over. So what did we learn in Week 8? Four things, I would say.

1. The Patriots are mortal.

2. The Steelers are better than any of us thought, and Ben Roethlisberger is off to one of the best starts by a quarterback in NFL history.

3. The Chiefs might be a darned exciting team right now, but there's no way Kansas City, Indianapolis or Minnesota will win a Super Bowl playing the defense they're playing right now.

4. The Eagles take everyone's best shot and make enough plays to win every week.

I'm going to focus on the Chiefs and Colts for a few paragraphs, but before I do, let me make a few points about the other things.

New England has faced some teams with major injury problems during its 21-game streak, so it's only fitting the Patriots get a taste of their own medicine. Corey Dillon has a bad thigh and foot, and he's questionable for Sunday's games at the Rams. No word from the Patriots injury gulag about Ty Law yet, but he looked pretty iffy limping off the field in Pittsburgh with a foot injury. Their fourth and fifth tackles finished the Steelers game. Bottom line: We've been hearing so much (I admit, some of it from me) about how good Patriots' scouts and coaches are at finding bottom-of-the-roster guys and getting them ready to play. Let's see now if the backups can help win a big game on the road.

You know what I really like about Pittsburgh? The Steelers can beat you in so many ways. Duce Staley's one 100-yard game short of his all-time Eagles high.

Roethlisberger is a 73-percent third-down passer, and a 76-percent fourth-quarter passer. Those are the pressure times, and this guy's just a phenom. I remember spending time with him in training camp, and seeing how the Steelers veterans respected him because he knew how to act and he knew how to play. The Pittsburgh defense got a little lucky Sunday when the Patriots fell behind 21-3 and immediately started throwing all the time. New England couldn't capitalize on the loss of Steelers run-stuffer Casey Hampton, done for the season after injuring his knee. But what a voracious D it was. Joey Porter played his best game since getting shot in the backside 14 months ago, and maybe his best ever.

One of my e-mailers wrote me Monday afternoon and said, basically, call me crazy, but you see like you're becoming more and more a Terrell Owens fan. Well, we're not going out for cheesesteaks anytime soon, but I acknowledge greatness when I see it, and Owens has been an absolutely great player and pickup for the Eagles. He's a difference-maker this year. Ask any scout who watched him last year and you hear the same thing: Too many drops, alligator arms, whining. But you can't play the position better than he's playing it right now. He's making the play or two or three a game the Eagles never made last year.

Now for the Chiefs and Colts. Sexy game for the stat freaks. Depressing game for playoff hopes. As Chiefologist Bob Gretz, my longtime friend who now does radio in Kansas City, pointed out, both the Chiefs and Colts have given up some alarming numbers in their last two games. In eight quarters, the defenses, combined, have allowed 149 points, 19 touchdowns, a 67 percent completion rate ... with only four negative plays in the two games -- two interceptions and two sacks. Now when two decidedly non-fleet quarterbacks fade back to pass 140 times, and they get sacked twice and picked twice, that's a dreadful job by the defense. But you knew that. The Chiefs at least had two three-and-outs, and two more four-play stops, so they were a little better than last year. But I'm not throwing a defense any bouquets for allowing nine yards per play. That's obscene. There's nothing very complicated about this. You might win one 45-35 game in the playoffs, but you won't win many. And I can guarantee you Dick Vermeil didn't toast that game Sunday with some that delicious Cabernet his vineyard is producing out in Napa.

THREE QUESTIONS WITH ...

Seattle running back Shaun Alexander, whose 195 yards keyed Seattle's 23-17 win over Carolina Sunday:

MMQBTE: Mike Holmgren tells me he was really mad at you guys during the week. Did you feel any of that anger?

Alexander: Nah. I'm sort of his favorite nephew. I can see when he's upset, and I feel his pain. I just try to keep us loose when he's like that. I know how far to push the envelope.

MMQBTE: You carried it only 28 times in the last two weeks, both losses, and 32 against Carolina. Do you need to touch the ball more for this team to win?

Alexander: I don't know. We have to have a good balance to win. This offense is at its best when everything is running smoothly and you don't even notice the play selection. Whether it's run-pass, or run-run-pass-pass-pass, it shouldn't matter. Our offense is good enough that whatever we run should work.

MMQBTE: So what happens when it doesn't work?

Alexander: We start forcing things. The way this offense is, we should always be able to find something that works against any defense.

FROM THE E-MAIL BAG

So many topics, so little time.

A BUSINESS QUESTION. From Steve P., of New York: "So let me get this straight: Bob McNair and Dan Snyder -- two incredibly wealthy and business-savvy men -- took on a substantial amount of debt to buy their way into the NFL and now they want to change the rules of revenue sharing (rules they knew existed when deciding how much to bid for a franchise) to their benefit, and we're supposed to feel sorry for them. Please. And if the current revenue-sharing hurts the teams with the outdated stadium deals by pushing up the salary cap why are the teams with the fancy new stadiums the ones complaining?''

MAILBAG
Peter King will answer your questions each week in Monday Morning Quarterback: Tuesday Edition.
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No, no, no, Steve. The NFL Players Association wants to change the revenue-sharing rules, not McNair and Snyder. If the rules are changed to include all income, then they won't be able to use the extra money garnered from the new stadium to pay down their massive debt. That income will all be put into the salary-cap pot, not into their own pockets. That doesn't seem fair to me. What seems fair is to find a formula that would allow owners with new stadia to pay debt service with some of the new revenue they're producing. Regarding your second question, I think all of the owners have some sort of beef here. The old-stadium owners fear the cap will be pushed way up because of the revenue-boost from new-stadium teams, but the old-stadium teams won't have more cash in pocket to handle the cap increase.

COOL BREES. From Aron in San Antonio: "Do you think anyone in the San Diego front office is wishing the Chargers had used that first-round pick on a Roy Williams or top defensive player instead of a quarterback?''

Excellent question. Maybe there are still some holdouts who don't think Brees, long-term, will be a stud. But I'm sure a bunch of Chargers people are starting to get that sick feeling, like, "What have we done? And who could we have had?'' They just won't admit it.

 WHAT ABOUT TERRELL DAVIS FOR THE HALL OF FAME? From Todd Nettleton of Bartlesville, Okla.: "Have Terrell Davis' chances of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame disappeared with the success of Denver backs since his injury?'' That's a factor, but a small one. The big issue for me has always been that he didn't play long enough. If you had such a short career, you'd better have the impact on the game of a Gale Sayers, and I don't think Davis did. He was a very good back, not a Hall-of-Famer.

ALL WE ARE SAYING IS GIVE VICK A CHANCE. From Kawanis Sutton of Athens, Ga.: "I like your view on Mike Vick. What is wrong with the media and the fans? This is a great player who just needs some time to develop.''

Couldn't have said it better, Kawanis.

THIS ISN'T A VERY TOUGH QUESTION, SAUL

From Saul of New York: "Where would the Giants be if they had stuck to their guns and selected Big Ben Roethlisberger with the fourth pick in the draft last April?

Saul, Tom Coughlin opened the job last summer and Kurt Warner won the competition, because neither player played very well and Coughlin hesitated to go with a struggling kid. Might as well go with the struggling vet. And Warner has played well. My feeling is Roethlisberger would have won the job in training camp, and the Giants would be 6-1 right now instead of 5-2. They'd have beaten Detroit, but still lost to the Eagles in the opener.

TWO (FOR TUESDAY) THINGS I THINK

1. I think the guys I feel sorriest for on the Dolphins after watching that pathetic display in the Meadowlands are Chris Chambers and Randy McMichael. Great players stuck on an offense with a quarterback running for his life every single game.

2. I think about 10 teams in this league, had they watched that game, should be saying to themselves today: "Why didn't we try hard to deal for LaMont Jordan at the trade deadline?''

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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