Just as they couldn't contain themselves late Sunday afternoon, calling out to Harbaugh as he walked off the field toward the locker room. Did Sunday's win really change any of their attitudes toward him? "No," Harbaugh said. "But I'm not going to spend any time trying to figure it out. Why should I expend the energy? That's not going to help me win. I believe in myself. I don't take anybody else's word for what I can do."
The Juggling Act of the Week award goes to Packer defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes. After the devastating injury to Brian Noble's right knee—a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a ruptured patellar tendon—in the 20-17 loss to Philadelphia on Sept. 12, Rhodes spent most of his time during the bye week reorganizing his already-suspect inside run defense, overhauling his linebacking corps and saying his prayers.
"I still don't feel comfortable without Brian," says Rhodes, who relied heavily on Noble's toughness and competitiveness as well as his steadying influence on his teammates. "Just his presence was a positive for me. Brian was one of the most physical linebackers in the league. He'd step up and stone guys. He made all our calls, all our checks. I'll miss him dearly."
In the new Packer lineup, left outside linebacker George Koonce moved to Noble's spot at left inside linebacker, a position he hadn't played before. Rookie Wayne Simmons, the highly touted No. 1 pick from Clemson who had been sidelined since late July when he underwent arthroscopic surgery for torn cartilage in his right knee, started at left outside linebacker. Right inside linebacker Johnny Holland took over Noble's responsibility for calling the defensive signals while right outside linebacker Bryce Paup continued to sub for Tony Bennett, who is holding out in a contract dispute.
Clearly, the spotlight is on the 24-year-old Koonce, who has some big shoes to fill. A free agent from East Carolina by way of the World League's Ohio Glory, Koonce led the WLAF in tackles (91) in 1992. At 6'1", 238 pounds, he's not as big or as strong as Noble, which could make it more difficult for him to take on guards, but he seems to have a real nose for the ball. Although he's playing a new position, Koonce prides himself on being a quick study. For extra help he spent an evening last week at Noble's home, picking his brain about the Vikings. Against Minnesota on Sunday, Koonce had a solid game, making nine tackles.
"Things move a lot faster inside," Koonce says. "I have to read different blocking combinations, get the right gap responsibility, take shorter angles to get to the ball and use my pads to bounce the play to unblocked players. Sometimes I'm not supposed to make the tackle."
Says Rhodes, "He has to make quicker reads. There'll be 300-pound guards ready to pound on him. He'll have to step up and take on linemen right away, with a running back right behind them. He has to be ready to attack."
The Tampa Bay Bucs have a Workman compensation problem. Running back Vince Workman, who signed as a free agent from Green Bay in April, is making $1.025 million this season, or $85,416 for each time he has touched the ball. The joke making the rounds in town: Not even the Pentagon pays this much for subs.