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The NFL
Peter King
October 12, 1998
Long, Hard ClimbThe Jets are discovering how difficult it is to get to the next level
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October 12, 1998

The Nfl

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1. The Broncos stand alone atop the sport. Denver is so good that it can lose first-ballot Hall of Famer John Elway for 13 quarters and still win easily. The Broncos have played 300 minutes this season and have trailed for all of 4:23. Their average margin of victory is 17-8 points. In this ever-changing game, it's rare when the winner of the Super Bowl looks significantly better the next season. Ranking just below the Broncos are the Packers, 49ers, Jaguars, Vikings, Steelers, Patriots, Dolphins and Chiefs, but from there the drop is precipitous.

2. For all their offensive might, the Packers have the least-feared running game in the league. Dorsey Levens (broken right leg) might be out for the year, Travis Jervey has been slowed by a bum hamstring, and off-season free-agent pickup Raymont Harris is not much more than a plow horse. Add to this mix 228-pound tweener Darick Holmes, who was acquired last week in a trade with the Bills after starting just three games over the last three years, and this is some motley crew.

3. Need a pass rush? Look to the 30-and-over crowd. The NFL sack leaders through Sunday—the Panthers' Kevin Greene (nine sacks), the Chiefs' Derrick Thomas and the Seahawks' Michael Sinclair (seven each) and the Packers' Reggie White (5�)—are 36, 31, 30 and 36 years old, respectively. The first four defensive ends or outside linebackers taken in this year's draft (the Cardinals' Andre Wadsworth, the Rams' Grant Wistrom, the Cowboys' Greg Ellis and the Panthers' Jason Peter) have combined for five sacks.

4. The once proud Eagles have disintegrated. They're winless, having dropped their first five games by an average of 17 points. Philadelphia coach Ray Rhodes and defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas, two admired defensive minds, watched on Sunday as the Broncos piled up 28 points and 242 yards in the first 14 minutes. "Bubby [Brister] was all happy he threw four touchdown passes," Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe said after the Eagles had absorbed a 41-16 beating. "Hey, I told him, I could have thrown three against that team."

Jermaine Lewis
Many, Many Happy Returns

Last year 29 punts or kickoffs were returned for touchdowns in the NFL; through five weeks this season, 15 had already been brought back for scores. One of the more scintillating return men has been the Ravens' Jermaine Lewis, who has two touchdowns on 10 punt returns (and a 23-1-yard average), giving him four in his last 24 punt returns.

Lewis, a 1996 fifth-round draft pick out of Maryland, put himself through a clever off-season regimen, fielding about 200 balls a week fed into a punting machine by Baltimore special teams coach Scott O'Brien. "It's so important for a return man to feel confident," O'Brien says. "Jermaine would catch one ball, put it [under his arm]; catch a second one, put it away; catch a third, put it away; and then catch a fourth. He'd have all these balls in his arms and keep trying to catch more. He got so confident catching and taking off by making it hard on himself in practice."

Dispatches
A Rough Go For Rams' Bruce

Rams coach Dick Vermeil says wideout Isaac Bruce is the best player he has ever coached, but team officials are frustrated by Bruce's chronically sore hamstrings, which have caused him to miss six of the 20 games that St. Louis has played under Vermeil....

As the Oct. 13 trading deadline approaches, you'll hear rumors that the Eagles are trading running back Charlie Garner to the Chiefs, but mat won't happen unless Kansas City is willing to part with a second-round draft pick....

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