Great coaches don't look so great when their quarterbacks aren't so great. Name the three best coaches today. Tough question, but you could do worse than the Broncos' Mike Shanahan, the Jets' Bill Parcells and the Sea-hawks' Mike Holmgren. Before the season each was considered a good bet to take his team to the playoffs. Now each has a quarterback problem, which is a big reason why the three teams have combined for one victory: Seattle's 14-13 squeaker in Chicago.
Shanahan is nursing second-year signal-caller Brian Griese through post-Elway syndrome. Holmgren thinks that young Jon Kitna is his quarterback of the future, but Kitna missed Sunday's game with turf toe; the backup in Seattle is Jets reject Glenn Foley. Parcells lost his Super Bowl ticket, Vinny Testaverde, to a season-ending Achilles injury in New York's opener. Now the Jets are rolling the dice with the well-traveled Rick Mirer (chart, page 36).
Impatience is at an alltime high. We say it every year, and every year we get more examples of how the NFL is the most what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league on the planet. Before the season Browns coach Chris Palmer said he wouldn't have a short leash on starting quarterback Ty Detmer, but he yanked Detmer for first-round golden boy Tim Couch (page 90) after three quarters of Cleveland's opener.
In Philadelphia, coach Andy Reid picked a peculiar time to give rookie quarterback Donovan McNabb his first significant playing time: the second half against Tampa Bay's stifling defense. This occurred despite Reid's having said a couple of weeks earlier, "Those young quarterbacks who've made it had time to learn. They weren't thrown into the mix right away." Maybe Couch and McNabb should be playing, but you can't blame players and fans for looking askance when their coaches run reverses like that.
Teams are extending contracts for their own looming free agents before the players hit the market, leaving a questionable crop for other teams to pursue. Take the Raiders (page 38). They've hit on a couple of players who have helped dramatically. Running back Tyrone Wheatley failed trials with the Giants and the Dolphins before finding a home. And how would we have known that kamikaze outside linebacker K.D. Williams would emerge as one of the Raiders' best defensive players? The Rams may have guessed right on former Arena League quarterback Kurt Warner, who was pressed into service after Trent Green went down in the preseason with a knee injury. The Cowboys hit on behavioral nightmare Alonzo Spellman as a replacement for Lett. Who knows if Spellman will remain a valued player or blow up tomorrow? But that's the point. The first two weeks have been remarkably unpredictable.
Which brings us to the Broncos, the month's biggest mystery. "This is basically the same team as our championship team—minus one guy," befuddled owner Pat Bowlen said on Sunday, after the toothless Chiefs beat Denver 26-10. Though Griese was pulled for Bubby Brister in the second half, he has played passably as Elway's replacement. Everything else is off-kilter. Terrell Davis has run for a pedestrian 140 yards, largely because the line isn't meshing as it did last year when Davis ran for 2,008 yards. "Nobody's been able to stop our run in the past, and now they've stopped us the past two weeks," says left tackle Tony Jones. "I've got worries, concerns, questions."
And perhaps a problem on the other side of the line. Right tackle Matt Lepsis, who replaced free-agent defector Harry Swayne, was flagged for four false starts on Sunday. Making matters worse, Denver's defense was run over by the Dolphins and the Chiefs. "We've got to get used to people getting sky-high for us, because we're two-time Super Bowl champions," says Shanahan, who is at the end of his motivational rope. Now the Broncos' opponents will smell desperation: Only two teams—the '93 Cowboys and the '96 Patriots—have reached the Super Bowl after starting 0-2.
So who's the Super favorite now? Blink and it might change, but our call is the Dolphins, who finally have a semblance of the running game that a championship team needs. Miami has a strange story of its own. After defensive end Dimitrius Underwood, Minnesota's first-round pick, went AWOL from Vikings camp and was subsequentiy released, the Dolphins picked him up. Underwood practiced for a week and then separated a shoulder in his first preseason appearance. Miami coaches think he'll be healthy and in the defensive-line rotation in two weeks. "He's been unbelievable," Dolphins assistant head coach Dave Wannstedt said last week. "He's in early every day for treatment. And when he practiced, I saw as natural a defensive lineman with his hand movement as any I've ever seen. What happened in Minnesota is a mystery to us."
Dimitrius Underwood, poster child for the first two weeks of the season? It is shaping up as a strange year.