They come out of nowhere. They emerge from the mist. They make you scratch your head and wonder why no one has seen fit to make use of their services—until now. I'm talking about the lowest subs on the roster who suddenly get their chance and then make all sorts of things happen. Specifically, I'm talking about Kelly Holcomb and Fred Lane. Say who?
Kelly Holcomb, Colts quarterback. Cut four times by the Buccaneers last year after he joined them, spent and exhausted from a season with the Barcelona Dragons of the World League. Number 3 on the Colts' depth chart, he became No. 2 when Jim Harbaugh got into his jam with Jim Kelly, and then No. 1 on Sunday when Paul Justin severely dislocated the middle finger on his left hand less than five minutes into the game against Holcomb's old team, Tampa Bay.
He'd never taken a snap in a regular-season NFL game, but he completed 19 of 30 passes for 181 yards and led the winless Colts to 18 unanswered points and, well, we'd like to say, led them to victory, except a botched fourth-quarter handoff deep in Bucs territory ruined that dream. But the point is, the guy injected some life into a dying club, and, yes, I think the Colts are sufficiently juiced to beat the Bengals and collect their first W of the season. I'd like to believe that Holcomb will be the pitcher of record, but that call is up to coach Lindy Infante, who has less romance in his soul than yours truly.
The Fred Lane story is happier because there's a win attached to it. Undrafted free agent out of Lane ( Tenn.) College. Third-string tailback for the Panthers. Inactive for three out of the four games before Sunday's 38-14 thrashing of the Raiders. Got the call five plays into the game when Tim Biakabutuka bruised his ribs and Dom Capers, on a hunch, went with him over Anthony Johnson.
Then it was strictly "Oh, my!" Did you like his numbers, 28 carries for 147 yards? Did you like his three touchdowns? And how about the way he got that second one, 18 yards of churning fury? "Freddy, Freddy!" yelled the crowd. Capers hugged him after each score, and center Frank Garcia compared him, in all seriousness, to Walter Payton. Do the Panthers love this kid, or what? The brawl near the end of the game, which got two Oakland linemen ejected, was started because the Carolina linemen thought the Raiders were taking cheap shots at Freddy.
Now comes the harsh light of a new day. The next opponent is Denver—at Mile High. Capers loves the running game, and what better team to run against than the Broncos, who are without starting defensive linemen Michael Dean Perry and Neil Smith? I thought Seahawks coach Dennis Erickson might be thinking along those same lines on Sunday, but before Steve Broussard broke the 27-yard run that set up Seattle's first touchdown, only three of the Seahawks' 18 plays had been rushes.
Nope, Erickson wanted to turn the game into a Warren Moon- John Elway shoot-out. Elway doesn't lose many of those, and he didn't lose this one. The Broncos compensated for their shortage on the line with an imaginative blitz package, which should be even more inviting for a heavy Carolina ground game. Can the Panthers, with the Miraculous Freddy, pull off this upset? Well, the same handicapper who felt that the Panthers would succumb to the Raiders has not learned from experience. Denver's the selection.
I can't believe I'm picking Alex Van Pelt to beat Drew Bledsoe when the Bills host the Patriots, but what I'm really picking is Rich Stadium. The last two games there have been weather games, and no place is as merciless on quarterbacks. I like Buffalo in another low-scoring affair.
The Dolphins are fighting for their lives, the Jets are winning ugly and marveling over their division lead. Miami can't run the ball, and Dan Marino has a bad ankle. This is all the more reason for the Dolphins to reach down for that extra something and pull one out for the home folks.
Here's why Detroit should beat Washington: Barry Sanders against the NFL's 29th-ranked run defense. Here's why Washington should beat Detroit: The Lions have never won in Washington. They're 0-18. Here's another reason: The Skins are 5-1 this year when Terry Allen's been their starting tailback, 0-3 without him. He's back, and in a win over the Bears he ran for 125 yards. That's two reasons to one, so the choice is Washington.