Lost in the chatter surrounding what a great deal it was for Miami to trade for Ricky Williams so that New Orleans could turn to Deuce McAllister is another intertwined feel-good storyline: Tampa Bay and Tony Dungy.
Through five weeks, the Buccaneers' defense has surrendered an NFL-low 53 points. Tampa Bay is 4-1, tied with the Saints for first place in the NFC South. The Bucs play host to Cleveland on Sunday, and Tampa Bay could be 5-1 for only the third time in franchise history (1979, '97).
Meanwhile, former Buccaneers head coach Tony Dungy is doing exactly what Indianapolis hoped: He's implemented a defense to accentuate the Colts' offense. Indy is off to the 16th 3-1 start in club history, and has advanced to the playoffs in 11 of those 15 seasons. The Colts lead the AFC South and hold the head-to-head advantage against Jacksonville.
The fact Tampa Bay's defense is stellar is nothing new; head coach Jon Gruden kept seventh-year defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. The Buccaneers' D has allowed only two touchdowns since a 26-20 overtime loss to New Orleans in Week 1, and just four TDs total. The unit has actually scored as many touchdowns as it's allowed, including three by LB Derrick Brooks.
"We expected to play this way this year," says All-Pro S John Lynch. "We've always said around here that if we stop the run, we are a pretty darn good team. The thing I see from this unit more than any in the past is that we have so many different players stepping up to make big plays."
Indianapolis' defensive turnaround also should not be surprising. Dungy transformed Tampa Bay's long-suffering defense into a unit that ranked among the NFL's top 11 in total defense throughout his six seasons there. Last season after four games, the Colts were ranked 22nd in total defense; this year, Indy is No. 12.
The Buccaneers have allowed only eight trips inside the red zone, holding opponents to one touchdown for a league-leading 12.5 TD percentage. On third downs, Tampa Bay ranks third in the NFL, allowing teams to convert only 30.4 percent (24 of 79) of their third-down opportunities. The unit is ranked second overall in the NFL, allowing 262 yards per game, and is first in the NFC in rushing yards allowed (81.2) and third in passing yards (180.8).
Indianapolis' offensive troika of QB Peyton Manning, RB Edgerrin James and WR Marvin Harrison is galloping in stride. Harrison leads the AFC in receiving yards per game (108.2), James is sixth-best overall in scrimmage yards per game (129.3), while Manning is eighth in passing yards per game (241.8) despite ranking only 13th in attempts per game (34.5).
"The guys are excited about playing for coach Dungy," says Colts TE Marcus Pollard. "He's excited about being here. When you've got the head coach and the players both excited, only good things can happen."
Green Bay @ New England -- 1 p.m. EDT Sunday
Packers QB Brett Favre needs 143 yards to pass Johnny Unitas for seventh all-time. Favre has 298 career TD passes and needs three to surpass John Elway (300) for third most in NFL history.
KansasCity @ San Diego -- 4:15 p.m. EDT Sunday
Chiefs have scored 85 of 171 points (49.7 pct.) in the fourth quarter. Kansas City has won four of the past five vs. San Diego, and seven of the past 10. However, the Chargers have won three of the past four at home vs. the Chiefs.
San Francisco @ Seattle -- 9 p.m. EDT Monday
49ers won the only previous NFC matchup: 37-21 on Sept. 26, 1976. Seahawks are 12-6 on Monday Night Football, while S.F. is 8-2 in its past 10 MNF games. Niners downed Hawks 19-6 in their only MNF meeting (Nov. 25, 1985).
Players to have 10 TDs through five games, including the Chiefs' Priest Holmes. The last player to do it was the Jets' Emerson Boozer (1967).
Percentage of passes completed by Raiders' Rich Gannon in the fourth quarter: 22 of 29 for 355 yards, four TDs and one INT.
Rushing yards for Colts RB Edgerrin James in the past 11 home games (10 100-yard games) with 1,734 total scrimmage yards and 10 TDs.
At this pace, Priest Holmes may catch Walter Payton before Emmitt Smith. Through five games, Smith has 306 yards (61.2 ypg) and is now 234 yards shy of breaking Payton's mark of 16,726. Dallas faces Carolina on Sunday.
There were 312 players who weighed under 200 pounds on opening-day rosters, led Ravens WR Lamont Brightful (160 pounds). By comparison, there were 315 players who topped the scales at 300 pounds or more.
Fashion faux pas
"I think it should be all blue and then all white for the road. We feel when we look good, we play good." -- Bills WR Peerless Price on his teammates voting for an all-blue ensemble at home for the club's new uniforms.
CNNSI.com's Richard Harris points out Eagles RB Duce Staley is getting some goal-line carries, and as a result has three touchdowns in five games. That puts Staley on a pace to score 10 TDs this season, which would surpass his career high by four. Staley is among those players with rising stocks, so check out this week's Tip Sheet for more details.
Julius Peppers, DE, Carolina 2002 stats: 14 tackles (11 solo), 3 sacks
The premier defensive lineman in April's draft, Peppers left the University of North Carolina following a junior campaign in which he won the Lombardi Award as the nation's top lineman and the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation's best overall defensive player. In only three seasons, he ranked second all-time in Tar Heels history with 30 1/2 sacks and also totaled 53 tackles for loss.
Peppers played basketball for the Tar Heels in 1999 and 2000, helping the team reach the Final Four his sophomore year. He was a Parade All-America and named Male Athlete of the Year by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association following his senior year at Southern Nash H.S. in Bailey, N.C. He played tailback and defensive end and also lettered in basketball and track.
Users sounded off on in light of Randy Moss' traffic jam, should superstars receive preferential treatment:
A traffic jam is a minor problem; his cumulative behavior is resulting in a 60-car pileup with the whole team in critical condition. Kathy, Green Bay
A superstar should be given a slap on the wrist and made to go to bed a 10:00 p.m. with no dinner. Give me a break! They put their pants on like everyone else. Do the crime, pay the time! Donald, Wells, Texas
I think people like Randy Moss should be fined and suspended for their actions. These guys are supposed to be kids' role models. Can you image what the world would come to if everyone acted like Randy Moss and Sebastian Janikowski? ... Oh, wait, that is already starting to happen. George, Kansas
Randy Moss gives the NFL and professional athletes a bad name and is a disgrace to sports! He needs to go flip burgers at McDonald's and leave football to real professional athletes. Joe, Louisville, Ky.
By setting different standards for big play-capable stars, you're basically letting them run the show. The coach needs to have total control of his team. Dan, Oakland, Calif.
A superstar's personal life is irrelevant to me. Put the numbers on the board, you athletic freaks, and give me a good show on Sundays. Ian, Calgary
In my opinion, I think his case should be handled just like any other. That is, innocent until proven guilty. Regg, Detroit
[Moss'] emotionless on-field swagger has carried over to the streets. Superstars (is that what he is now?) should be more accountable for their actions, even at the team's expense. John, Ellicott City, Md.
Off the field is exactly that -- off the field ! Does my job control what I do off my job? If I want to drink a beer and party, that's my business! I think what they do is their business! Let 'em play, and leave 'em alone after! Matt, Chanute, Kansas
The only thing more pathetic than Moss' moral character is the pathetic desperation Minnesota showed by not benching him. Chris, Bellingham, Wash.
Why should a player lose his job or get fined? If I did the same thing, all I would have lost was one sick day. Thom, San Diego
This week's topic: Appointed commissioner for a day, what one thing would you change about the NFL?