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the NFL


What an electrifying Sunday, with the Rams and 49ers combining for 34 points in the last 13 minutes of a game the Niners won with one second to play; the Dolphins routing the Bills while holding Buffalo's vaunted offense to 10 points—in Buffalo; and the Raiders just (barely) winning, baby, over the Giants. Then there were these four highly improbable comebacks:

•Vikings 21, Bears 20. Minnesota scored the final 21 points, all of them in the fourth quarter. It was the biggest lead the Bears had ever blown under Mike Ditka. The transformation of the Vikings seems complete now. No longer is this a team of whining all-stars. Now it's a clutch-play, hustling-to-the-end group that won't give up. Entering the game Minnesota had lost 30 of the last 31 games in which it trailed going into the fourth quarter. "In the past," tackle Tim Irwin said, "when things got tough, we'd turn on each other. Today we turned on the Bears."

And what about the play of Viking quarterback Rich Gannon? He's a 79% passer in the last two weeks, and went 8 for 8 for 118 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Chicago. "Nobody could have played the fourth quarter any better than Rich did," said Minnesota offensive coordinator Jack Burns. "And I mean nobody."

•Cards 27, Redskins 24. Phoenix scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to erase a 24-6 deficit. Fourteen points came courtesy of the $3 million-a-year right arm of Washington's Super Bowl MVP quarterback, Mark Rypien. He threw two interceptions to embattled Cardinal cornerback Robert Massey, who returned both of them for TDs in the first seven minutes of the final period.

The Cardinals broke up their steady offensive line 14 months ago when they dealt guard Derek Kennard and a fifth-round choice to the Saints for Massey, a trade that Phoenix tackle and team leader Luis Sharpe has publicly criticized. Before Sunday, Massey's career with the Cardinals had included five starts, no interceptions and, last season, a bout with viral hepatitis. "He'd been frustrated for two years about the trade," said Phoenix safety Tim McDonald. "He told me, 'I wanted to make the Cardinals look good for making the deal.' " The win was the first for Phoenix in 350 days.

•Colts 24, Bucs 14. Indianapolis scored the last 17 points, and Tampa Bay coach Sam Wyche saw it coming. He went ballistic three days before the game, after the Bucs had a lackluster practice. "It's going to be embarrassing Sunday," said Wyche. "They're just watching themselves melt into oblivion. We could lose 45-3."

Said Tampa Bay quarterback Vinny Testaverde, of what was then a 3-1 start by the Bucs, "We've been reading too much about how good we are." How good you are! Are you kidding? With wins over the Cardinals and Packers at home and the toothless Lions on the road?

Now, Indy quarterback Jeff George, he's good. Playing in his first game since straining ligaments in his right thumb in the preseason, George threw two interceptions in his first three attempts but then rallied the Colts with two second-half touchdown passes.

•Broncos 20, Chiefs 19. Denver scored 14 unanswered points in the final two minutes. Kansas City nosetackle Dan Saleaumua, crestfallen after the game, walked up to Bronco quarterback John Elway amid the delirium at Mile High Stadium and said, "You did it again. What's new?" Canton, here he comes.

Don't give me this stuff about how Elway hasn't won the Big One. This was a big one, with the AFC West lead on the line, the Broncos without a touchdown in their last 12 quarters, Kansas City stifling the Denver offense for 58 minutes and 10,000 fans headed for the parking lot with five minutes to go. "It can't happen," Chief corner Kevin Ross said after the game, recalling his thoughts in the fourth quarter. "It won't happen. Even the fans know it won't happen. They've all left."

But Elway threw TD passes of 25 yards and 12 yards, the latter with 38 seconds remaining. It was Elway's 21st fourth-quarter comeback victory in his 10-year career. "We had a dim light at the end of the tunnel," said Denver defensive end Ron Holmes. "It was John Elway."


The Patriot casualty report after Sunday's 30-21 loss to the Jets: Vice-president for public relations Pat Hanlon quit; coach Dick MacPherson had to step between feuding offensive linemen Pat Harlow and Eugene Chung on the sidelines after Harlow started chewing out Chung for blowing his blocking assignments; and defensive end Ray Agnew and Harlow spent halftime screaming and throwing their helmets around the locker room.


•San Francisco quarterback Steve Young has 228 yards rushing this season. The Colts have 226.

•Warren Moon has thrown for 50,052 yards as a pro in Canada and the U.S. That's 2.2 miles longer than a marathon.

•The Bears have allowed more points (100) in second halfs this year than each of 20 teams has given up all season.


The Cowboys have drafted shrewdly since owner Jerry Jones and coach Jimmy Johnson took over four years ago, but there's one pick Jones would love to have back. "We made a mistake in not getting Rocket Ismail last year," says Jones. He isn't saying that Dallas should have taken Ismail instead of defensive tackle Russell Maryland with the first pick of the '91 draft; Ismail's asking price was silly, and he had to go to Canada to get it.

Jones means the Cowboys should have chosen Ismail, the wideout/return specialist out of Notre Dame, with one of the other six selections they had before the Raiders used their fourth-round pick (No. 100 overall) to get Ismail. L.A. retains the rights to Rocket, if he ever decides to try the NFL. Says Jones, "We could have used him, maybe not for ourselves but to bargain with."

Eagles at Chiefs, Sunday. Philadelphia and Kansas City have met only once before—the Eagles won 21-20 in 1972—but there's no better time than now to renew the acquaintance. Both teams might be better this season than they have been in years. "It should be a great game," says K.C. vice-president of player personnel Lynn Stiles, who, as Philly's personnel director in 1985, persuaded the Eagle hierarchy to draft Randall Cunningham. "We're actually more like an NFC East team than an AFC West team." Translation: The Chiefs hug the ground and have a huge defense.

A crew of Navy skydivers carrying a Charger banner was dropped from a helicopter above San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium before the Chargers' kickoff against the Seahawks. They were supposed to land at midfield, but the one with the banner came down in the parking lot. "That's what you get," said San Diego guard David Richards, "when you cut back on defense spending."



Ernie Jones had a key catch in Phoenix's game-winning drive.




After George warmed up, he pitched the Colts to a win over the Bucs.



Like many Raiders, Howie is Long in the tooth.


The worst thing you can call the swaggering Raiders is "mediocre," but this season they're obviously just another member of the NFL pack. With Memorial Coliseum less than half full on Sunday, they won their first game in five tries this season, 13-10 over another team that has slipped into mediocrity, the 1-3 Giants. The win was hardly a cure-all for a proud team that has had one playoff victory in eight years and a 51-52 record since 1986. Here's why L.A. has lost its luster:

•Aging players are spread all over the depth chart—the Raiders have a league-high 19 veterans who are 30 or older—and heirs aren't apparent. This year's grandmaster off-season move, the acquisition of Eric Dickerson, 32, hasn't panned out, and yet promising back Nick Bell sits on the bench, an example of how hard it is for a young player to make it on this team.

•The rest of the league has caught up to Raider boss Al Davis, who built a great franchise by going his own way. Fifteen years ago he could get an edge somewhere by outworking half the guys in the NFL. But in the league today, if you don't work 14-hour days, you're as good as fired. Also, Davis has made some awful trades: quarterback Steve Beuerlein to the Cowboys for a fourth-round pick; tackle Jim Lachey and five picks to the Redskins for quarterback Jay Schroeder and a second-round choice.

•The Raiders have become sloppy. In their first 20 quarters, they have 16 turnovers.

Still, the most pressing task for L.A. will be to inject new life into the roster, which is among the league's five oldest in the last decade.