With Tim Rattay putting 28 and 31 points on the board in two of his starts and the 49ers offense playing respectably, it could be a while before 2005 No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith plays quarterback for San Francisco (1-2). Not exactly Smith's vision of an ideal rookie year. "My biggest fear," he says, "is accepting being Number 2." After Smith's poor showing in the preseason--20 completions in 44 attempts for 179 yards-- coach Mike Nolan gave Rattay (right) the starting job and told him not to worry about getting yanked at the first sign of shaky play. At the same time, Nolan has been adamant in professing his confidence in Smith. "He's working so hard at it," Nolan says. "The other day, at about nine at night, I was walking through the [team's] facility and saw someone watching film. I looked in the room and it was Alex. I have no concerns that he'll accept being the backup."
In 2003 the Raiders were the most penalized team in the NFL, with 134 flagged infractions. In '04 they led the league again with 134 penalties. After three games this year Oakland has 36 penalties and is on pace for an NFL season-record 192. The 1998 Chiefs set the standard with 158.
HEAD TO HEAD
San Francisco versus Arizona in Mexico City
At 95,000-seat Estadio Azteca on Sunday, the Niners and the Cardinals will play the first regular-season game ever held outside the U.S. "It promises to become a milestone in the NFL's history as a global sport," said commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Well, maybe. What the game really promises to do is draw about 50,000 more people, paying $60 per seat, than would have gone to watch these teams (combined record: 1-5) at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. The Cardinals will get the usual home share of the gate receipts.
1. I'm confounded by the Lions' decision to stick with terminally shaky Joey Harrington (52.3 passer rating, 52.3 completion percentage) and rookie Dan Orlovsky at quarterback while Jeff Garcia's broken leg takes four more weeks to heal. Detroit should stop tiptoeing around Harrington's fragile psyche and sign a veteran--even Jeff George, who was brought in for a look last week despite a checkered career and his not having played since the 2001 season. At least George can throw a good deep ball.
2. Saints owner Tom Benson will have a fight on his hands if he tries to make San Antonio, a Cowboys stronghold, his team's permanent home. Other NFL owners would rather have a fourth California team, in Los Angeles, than a third in Texas--especially with San Antonio only the 37th-largest TV market in the country. If the Superdome is not usable next year, the league hopes the Saints will play in Baton Rouge as a show of loyalty to Louisiana.