PLAIN AND SIMPLE
While losing their first two games at home, by a combined score
of 76-17 no less, the Seahawks seemed to forget how brutally
simple football can be. Things were so bad in Seattle you would
never have known that this was an organization that committed
$73 million to new acquisitions in the off-season.
"The media writes about coaches as chessmasters and brilliant
tacticians, and they forget what a simple game this is," Seattle
linebacker Chad Brown said on Sunday after the Seahawks had
reversed their course with a 31-3 head slapping of the Colts in
Indianapolis. Brown, a $24 million free-agent pickup, led the
way with three sacks of battered Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh.
"When you just let players play, like our coaches did today, you
see great football. Making this game plan so simple was a great
Faced with the prospect of a lost season if their team went down
to Indianapolis, Seattle coaches unveiled what defensive tackle
Dan Saleaumua called the simplest game plan he had seen in his
11-year pro career: two defensive fronts and three basic
coverages in the secondary. The front seven ate an inexperienced
Colts line for dinner, sacking Harbaugh eight times, and the
Seahawks held the Colts to 118 total yards. Brown ran circles
around two left tackles; defensive end Michael Sinclair did the
same against the right tackle, Tony Mandarich. Defensive tackles
Sam Adams and Cortez Kennedy overpowered the interior, combining
for two sacks and seven stops. Afterward, in a locker room full
of relieved players, Sinclair howled to linebacker Joe Cain,
"Man, we let the big dogs eat today!"
Considering the amount of money Seattle's front office doled out
in the off-season, it was about time. To acquire 10 free agents
and the team's two first-round draft picks, cornerback Shawn
Springs and tackle Walter Jones, new owner Paul Allen spent
$23.46 million on signing bonuses alone. That's pocket change
for Allen, the Microsoft cofounder who made $934 million one
April day when Microsoft stock went up $7. But as free safety
Darryl Williams, the only member of the starting secondary who
isn't new, said before Sunday's game, "Let's be honest. You go
0-2 after the off-season we had, and some doubts start to creep
Still, Bob Whitsitt, the man appointed by Allen to run the
franchise, didn't seem overly concerned last week. "We're
disappointed, but if you're looking for a hatchet, you won't
find it from me," said Whitsitt, who is also the president and
general manager of the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers (which Allen
also owns). "This isn't the George Steinbrenner regime."
In fact Whitsitt was surprised anyone would even suggest that he
was ready to push the panic button. "If we'd won our first two,
I wouldn't have been any different," he said last week. Of
course a two-game losing streak in the NFL is roughly equivalent
to a 10-game skid in the NBA. No wonder coach Dennis Erickson,
who in his first two seasons was 15-17, appeared shell-shocked
last Saturday afternoon.
"Haven't slept for two weeks," Erickson said, and he looked it.
"I keep playing these games over and over in my head, a hundred
times. But I haven't doubted my ability to coach. Not for a
second. I've been successful everywhere I've coached, and I'll
be successful here."
Beating the winless Colts was nice, but it's no magic cure.
Seattle still has coverage problems on special teams, and the
Seahawks won't thrive with a vanilla defense every week. Then
there's the issue of how long 40-year-old quarterback Warren
Moon can play as if he's 28, as he did in the RCA Dome (24 of 38
for 270 yards, one touchdown pass and one rushing score). But at
least now Erickson should be able to sleep at night.
VIKINGS GOT THEIR MONEY'S WORTH BY SIGNING JOHNSON TO EXTENSION
The Vikings were privately ridiculed in some front offices when
they signed quarterback Brad Johnson to a four-year, $15 million
extension last December. Look who's laughing now. Johnson leads
the league in completion percentage (66.9), and he is the
league's fifth-highest-rated passer (94.5). Not bad for a guy
who couldn't beat out Casey Weldon for the starting job as a
senior at Florida State in 1991.
Johnson's signing was questioned, but how tough a decision was
it to reward a rising quarterback with a contract that didn't
even make him one of the league's 10-highest-paid
signal-callers? "It was never a question to us," Vikings
president Roger Headrick said last week. Nevertheless, Johnson
heard the naysayers, particularly after the Vikings' 40-15 NFC
wild-card loss to the Cowboys only nine days after he signed his
deal. He set out this year to prove he is worth every cent.
"I worked as hard as I've ever worked in the off-season,"
Johnson said last Saturday. "I have a personal trainer and
sports psychologist from Chile whom I met at Florida State, and
he comes to Tallahassee for three months every off-season to
work with me. I know Jerry Rice has an incredible workout, but
no quarterback works out like I do. We have two-a-day workouts
where I drop back in the sand, work with medicine balls and do a
bunch of gymnastics exercises. We work a lot on confidence and
visualizing success. Since I got back up to Minnesota full time
[in May], through minicamp and training camp and the start of
this season, I've been on fire. This offense is just made for me."
With the NFC's best line north of Dallas and tremendous skill
players in running back Robert Smith and wideout Cris Carter,
the Vikings aren't shy about saying this is their best team in
coach Dennis Green's six seasons. It probably wouldn't be if
they hadn't re-signed Johnson.
PACKERS' BID TO SELL MORE SHARES MEETING RESISTANCE
The league office should rule by the end of this month on the
Packers' request to sell nonvoting shares to the public, as the
team did in 1950 to stay afloat. Approval may be difficult to
get, though, because other teams fear the Pack would devote a
chunk of the money to signing bonuses, and that would be viewed
as an unfair advantage.
The Packers say they would use a majority of the proceeds--as
much as $50 million--as seed money for a new stadium, which
would be built around 2015. The Pack doesn't expect the state to
foot the entire bill for the project. "The Brewers had to
contribute about $90 million for their new stadium," says
Packers president Bob Harlan, "and we need to start socking
money away for the day when we have to replace Lambeau Field."
Green Bay does have about $20 million in reserve to try to
re-sign key players who are eligible to become free agents after
this season, including strong safety LeRoy Butler, cornerback
Doug Evans, guard Aaron Taylor and defensive end Gabe Wilkins.
STAT OF THE WEEK
In each of their past two games, against the Jets and the
Chiefs, the Bills have allowed a kickoff to be returned for a
touchdown. That matches the number of kickoffs Buffalo opponents
returned for scores from 1987 through '96.
After the Colts' humiliating loss to the Seahawks, Indianapolis
quarterback Jim Harbaugh looked as if his dog had died. "I
cannot remember ever being this low in 11 seasons in the NFL,"
Harbaugh said....Cornerback Sam Mills III, son of the
38-year-old Panthers linebacker, debuted with a bang in
Montclair (N.J.) State's 28-14 loss to Cortland (N.Y.) State
last Saturday. Little Sam, 19, had eight tackles, two sacks and
two forced fumbles. It's believed to be the first time an active
NFL player has had a son playing college ball....After taking a
victory lap in the wake of the Raiders' stirring 36-31 win over
the Falcons in the Georgia Dome, Oakland quarterback Jeff George
quipped that the stadium should be renamed the George Dome.
What, to honor a guy who's 31-56 as a starter?...Scratch the
Colts as candidates to move to Cleveland. The organization is
working with the city of Indianapolis to restructure its
unfavorable lease on the RCA Dome. The only viable candidate to
move to Cleveland in time for the 1999 season? The Vikings.
They're all but certain to leave Minneapolis if the Twins get a
new stadium, and the state legislature is working with the
baseball club on a stadium financing plan. The Vikings believe a
dual-purpose facility is the best solution, but their
recommendation appears to be falling on deaf ears....Andre Rison
never ceases to be amazing. He gets a Super Bowl ring last
season in Green Bay, professes his love for Mike Holmgren and
Brett Favre, and now, with the Chiefs, says, "I felt like a
stepchild in Green Bay. Here, I'm a part of the family. This is
the best situation I've ever been in. This is the best
relationship I've ever had with a quarterback, the best
relationship I've ever had with an organization, the best
relationship I've ever had with myself."
THE END ZONE
McDonald's recently introduced a burger in the Carolinas. The
Rocket Burger is named after Panthers wideout Rocket Ismail.
Rocket says the burger is made from the "primest choice cut of
beef," but the sandwich does contain 30 grams of fat. Says
Ismail, "Make sure you take a McJog afterward."
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG Chris Warren carried nine times for 61 yards as Seattle averaged a gawdy 6.1 yards per rush.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Westbrook soared for two scores. [Michael Westbrook in game]
THE HOT LIST
THE BUZZ AROUND THE ELAGUE THIS WEEK
1. THE BUCS The only other time Tampa Bay was 3-0, in 1979,
coach Tony Dungy was a 49ers defensive back. What a superb
architectural job by Dungy and personnel czar Jerry Angelo. The
defense is scary, and by drafting Mike (Larry Csonka) Alstott in
'96 and Warrick (Barry Sanders) Dunn this year, the Bucs have
taken much of the pressure off quarterback Trent Dilfer (chart,
page 59). With the emergence of the Bucs and the Jaguars, Jimmy
Johnson's Dolphins are the third-best team in Florida.
2. DUH BEARS Chicago is 0-3 for the first time since 1969.
Quarterback Erik Kramer was benched for Rick Mirer during
Sunday's 32-7 loss to the Lions. Running back Rashaan Salaam is
out for the season with a broken leg. With road games against
the Patriots and the Cowboys looming, it's looking more and more
like an 0 for September. Even with three years left on his
contract, coach Dave Wannstedt can't be feeling too comfortable.
3. ROD WOODSON He's finished all right. With the first
four-turnover game of his 11-year NFL career (three
interceptions and a fumble recovery in a little more than a
half's work against the Saints), the Steelers turned 49ers
cornerback added to his Canton resume.
4. PATRIOT (HEAD) GAMES Bill Parcells apparently took Patriots
Poise down I-95 when he defected to Jetsville. New England may
be 3-0 after Sunday night's 27-24 overtime trimming of the Jets,
but what was with those 11 penalties, most notably the 15-yarder
Drew Bledsoe got for popping Jets strong safety Victor Green?
And what about first-year man Derrick Cullors's fumble on a
kickoff return--he shouldn't have even taken the ball out of the
end zone--late in regulation that should have cost New England
the game? Great teams don't do this intramural stuff.
5. MICHAEL WESTBROOK The third-year Washington wideout, who
doubled his career touchdown total with a pair of scores against
the Cardinals, enabled the Redskins to climb off the canvas with
his acrobatic game-winning reception in overtime. But how do you
explain those 2,000 or so empty seats for the inaugural game at
Jack Kent Cooke Stadium?
THE BUCS' ABOUT-FACE
The Buccaneers, who haven't finished with a winning record since
the strike-shortened 1982 season, are 3-0 and, after their 28-14
win over the Vikings on Sunday, the only undefeated team in the
NFC. But Tampa Bay's turnaround actually dates back to last
season, when the Bucs won five of their final seven games and
embattled quarterback Trent Dilfer started producing,
particularly on third down. "I'm determined to be the best
third-down quarterback in the NFL," he says. Through three weeks
Dilfer has the league's third-best quarterback rating on third
down. Here's how Dilfer's numbers as a starter have changed
since the Bucs fell to 1-8 with a 13-10 loss to the Bears last
W-L Pct. TDs Int. QB rating
THE OLD DILFER 8-19 .522 10 33 57.0
THE NEW DILFER 8-2 .607 10 6 78.6
Send your NFL questions to Peter King, and read more Dr. Z at