Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Bucs, Raiders are among mighty clubs to fall in '03

Gannett News Service

Put your nose in the air at the halfway point of the NFL season. Know what you're smelling? Trouble. In a lot of places not expecting it.

We have here a list of last year's 12 playoff teams. Let's start checking off those who are ready to stick their heads in a fan.

The Oakland Raiders? Most certainly. From Super Bowl to a 2-6 record, and mutiny in the locker room. The coach, Bill Callahan, has lost control of his team. Or so one voice has claimed lately to any camera that had its red light on. "It's no secret at this point," cornerback Charles Woodson said Sunday.

The world champion Tampa Bay Bucs have played four games at home and lost three of them. This last gem included six turnovers, a month's ration in one Sunday afternoon against the unimposing New Orleans Saints. Pittsburgh is 2-6. So are the New York Jets. Atlanta is 1-7 - imploding so badly without Michael Vick the owner sent a letter of apology to the fans. Last week, embattled coach Dan Reeves fired his entire secondary and started four new defensive backs.

The result? Donovan McNabb, the lowest rated passer in the NFC, threw for 318 yards against them.

Cleveland, San Francisco, Green Bay, the New York Giants. Know what they all have in common?

They are among the nine playoff teams from last season who don't even have a winning record at the moment. Nine. Of 12.

This is not parity, it's an epidemic. A reminder that life in the NFL is as volatile as hydrogen. Especially when your quarterback goes south.

Speaking of the Raiders. Rich Gannon was MVP last year. This season, his game has been MIA.

He is currently injured. So the Raiders started Marques Tuiasosopo, who had thrown 10 passes in 2 1/2 years. Then he got hurt. So the Raiders turned to Rick Mirer, who had not thrown a pass since 2000. Next week, Joe Namath?

Good thing the Raiders escaped Cincinnati and San Diego, by a field goal each, or they'd be 0-8. Among the titans they did not escape are the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears. Cliff divers don't plummet this fast. It is the worst Raiders' start since 1964.

When Al Davis gets this unhappy, he usually calls his lawyer. But has an owner ever sued his own team?

Meanwhile, the champion Bucs are 4-4 and on a Ferris wheel. They lose, they win. Every other week.

The injury list is long, but that is still no alibi for six turnovers in one game. "Inexcusable," fumed coach Jon Gruden.

The Jets' troubles can partly be traced to quarterback Chad Pennington's broken wrist. He returned last week, threw four touchdown passes. The Jets lost anyway, to the Giants, in overtime.

The Steelers, with preseason Super Bowl thoughts, have dropped five straight. "I don't think any of us could have imagined it," said quarterback Tommy Maddox, whose magic has ebbed. "But that's where we are."

Meanwhile, the Giants try to forget two games thrown away by special teams' disasters that had the natives howling for Jim Fassel's head. The 49ers flirt with a quarterback controversy, after Tim Rattay's stirring relief of Jeff Garcia.

Coaches in peril. Quarterbacks in peril. Teams in peril. The lesson here is that the good times seldom last.

"It's desperation mode right now," Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter said, and he was speaking for a lot more than the Steelers.

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