"Right then," said left tackle Lamas Brown, a free-agent signee from the Cardinals, "he reminded me so much of [Arizona quarterback] Jake Plummer."
When Couch took his drop, he saw one of the safeties cheating toward Shepherd, the primary receiver, on the right. "I knew I'd have a chance with Kevin on the left," Couch said. Johnson, a second-round draft pick, was flying down the left side, half a step ahead of Rolle. From the Titans' 46, Couch threw an arcing, 55-yard spiral. A yard from the end line, with Rolle blanketing him, Johnson caught the perfectly thrown pass in stride.
The nurturing of a young quarterback is tricky. Will his confidence suffer if he is thrown into the game too soon and gets pounded? Will he get rusty if he stands on the line holding a clipboard too long? Couch's football I.Q. is high enough for him to play now. Even though he's stuck with the worst collection of skill players an NFL team has seen in years, he can learn much more by playing than by sitting.
Titans running back Eddie George hugged Couch after Sunday's game. "Keep your head up," George said. "You're going to be a great player in this league." But only if Couch can stay on his feet and his bosses can surround him with better players.
Colts Cash In With Bratzke
These days Chad Bratzke can't go to his beloved Little Italy to grab a plate of pasta after practice, as he did regularly during the five seasons he played for the Giants. That's O.K. There are benefits to being in Indianapolis instead of New York. With the Giants, the workaholic Bratzke played in the shadows of defensive end Michael Strahan, linebacker Jessie Arm-stead and cornerback Jason Se-horn; with the Colts, no defender is Bratzke's superior. With the Giants, he was never going to be paid market value; after an 11-sack season in '98, Indianapolis lured Bratzke with a $9 million signing bonus as part of a six-year, $30 million package.
Bratzke, a 6'5", 275-pound defensive end, followed a three-sack opener against the Bills with a four-tackle encore on Sunday in a 31-28 loss to the Patriots. He's one of four new starters—along with end Shawn King, linebacker Cornelius Bennett and strong safety Chad Cota—who have transformed the Colts' defense from a passive group, 29th in the league last year, to an attacking unit under new coordinator Vic Fangio. "Different team, different philosophy?' says Bratzke, a '94 fifth-round pick out of Eastern Kentucky. "This is a defense that will come and get you."
Other than a decline in the quality of the penne, Bratzke has no complaints about relocating. "I love those guys, but I felt overshadowed by Michael and Jessie," he says. "The thing that killed me in New York was that those guys were considered great players, but I was always the over-achiever. For a while that was O.K. By the end of my five years, it was an insult. Why can't I be known as a great player?"
Stephen Davis Hits Stride
Skins Back Fights Back
He is the unlikely centerpiece of the league's most surprisingly potent offense, but Redskins running back Stephen Davis was in no mood for the abundance of compliments that followed his 126-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance in a 50-21 dismantling of the Giants on Sunday. He was quick to laud his line, which dominated New York's front seven all afternoon, and quarterback Brad Johnson, whose eight consecutive completions at the game's outset kept the defense from keying on the Washington running game. Davis humbly countered the effusive praise of both teammates and coach Norv Turner by saying, "I've got a lot of room to get better." While this may be true—and god help the other four teams in the NFC East if it is—what is also apparent two weeks into the season is this: Davis is invaluable to the NFL's highest-scoring offense.