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Original Issue

Inside The NFL

Grin and Bear It
The plays that Terrell Owens makes on the field more than offset
the headaches he gives the 49ers off it

Last week, as the Cardinals prepared for their biggest game in
four years, fiery coach Dave McGinnis analyzed the midseason
battle with the 49ers for first place in the NFC West by saying,
"We've won some baby games, but we haven't won a big-boy game.
This is a big-boy game."

If you want to win the big-boy games, your big-boy players had
better play at the highest level. That didn't happen for Arizona
on Sunday, when the pivotal moment of the game came with one
minute left in the first half. Trailing 24-7 and driving deep
into San Francisco territory, Cardinals quarterback Jake Plummer
floated a pass into the end zone short of tight end Freddie
Jones. It was intercepted by 49ers safety Ronnie Heard. A
half-minute later San Francisco quarterback Jeff Garcia wriggled
out of a defender's grasp and tossed a short slant pass to
wideout Terrell Owens. The 61-yard catch-and-run, which gave San
Francisco a 31-7 halftime lead, was all Owens. The 6'3"
226-pounder beat safety Kwamie Lassiter, catching the ball at the
Niners' 45. Ten yards into his gallop, he juked safety Adrian
Wilson and cornerback David Barrett, then outran them both down
the left sideline. Garcia said he watched the play "in awe."
Niners consultant Bill Walsh said, "Two defensive backs had the
angle on him, and he simply outran them."

It's because of such plays that the 49ers tolerate Owens's
occasional immature behavior and incessant whining about not
getting the ball more than he does. "What he does [outside the
sidelines] has no impact on this locker room," defensive tackle
Dana Stubblefield said after the Niners finished off the
Cardinals 38-28. "He can take a Sharpie and sign whatever he
wants. You think we care? The stuff between him and coach [Steve]
Mariucci, that's between them. It has nothing to do with us. What
we care about is the fact that he can take over a ball game. You
saw that today. He can drive a stake through the heart of the
other team."

Nevertheless, Owens's end zone autograph session after catching a
touchdown pass against the Seahawks on Oct. 14 was bush league.
The 49ers came off as parents who look the other way when their
spoiled child misbehaves, but it turns out that their response
was calculated. "I think our relationship with Terrell is better,
and it's highlighted by how we handled the Sharpie incident,"
general manager Terry Donahue said after Sunday's game. "We
talked to Terrell about it, but we didn't overreact and upset our
chemistry. There wasn't a confrontation. A year ago there might
not have been the same kind of dialogue."

The Niners know they'll have to fight brushfires with Owens, just
as Bill Parcells fought them with Lawrence Taylor on the Giants.
When you have a player who makes the difference in the big games,
you learn how to put up with the incendiary stuff.

Plaxico Burress Comes of Age
In His Third Year, Steeler Arrives

Steelers wideout Plaxico Burress hopes that quarterback Tommy
Maddox never returns to the bench. In the 17 quarters since
Maddox replaced an ineffective Kordell Stewart, Burress has
caught 26 passes for 385 yards and four touchdowns. Before the
switch he had only six receptions and no scores in 11-plus
quarters. "I've been working hard to become a better player, and
with Tommy in there, people are seeing what I'm capable of," says
Burress, who scored twice in the first half of the Steelers'
31-18 victory over the Ravens on Sunday but missed the second
half after being ejected for tangling with cornerback James
Trapp. "All I have to do is get open, and the ball is going to be

While Burress is quick to praise Maddox--a former first-round pick
of the Broncos who was out of football from 1996 through 1999 and
was MVP of the XFL before signing with Pittsburgh last
year--Burress deserves some credit himself for helping to ignite a
once-stagnant offense that has carried the Steelers (4-3) to four
wins in their last five games and into the AFC North lead. He has
matured in his three NFL seasons, but it's only now that people
outside of Pittsburgh are noticing.

The eighth selection in the 2000 draft, Burress was considered
aloof, selfish and lazy, a poor man's Randy Moss. He had a
disappointing rookie season (22 catches), dropping too many
passes and not studying his playbook enough. Then two events
altered his perspective.

First came 9/11, which made Burress appreciate how quickly life
can change. He had 66 receptions for 1,008 yards last season.
Hitting even closer to home was the death of his 49-year-old
mother, Vicki, seven months ago. She died from complications
following surgery to amputate her left foot. "That changed my
whole perspective," Burress says. "Now I leave everything on the
field when I play, which is something I couldn't say about myself
before. If I die tomorrow, I want to leave a positive impression
of Plaxico Burress."

Teammates now praise him for his discipline in running routes and
point out that he keeps his head in his playbook. He has become
more vocal on the field and in the locker room. Burress even
revealed a humble side after Sunday's game, apologizing to the
team for not being available in the second half following his

"His actions [against Baltimore] don't indicate how much he's
grown," says Steelers tight end Mark Bruener. "When he came into
this league, he didn't know what it took to succeed. But he's
learned a lot, and now we all feed off his ability."
--Jeffri Chadiha

Saints' Hand Takes the Blame

Two years ago, after a 31-22 loss to the Raiders, Saints
defensive tackle Norman Hand was so disgusted that he didn't even
take off some of his uniform before heading home from the
Superdome. On Sunday, after the Falcons ripped New Orleans for
446 yards (including 260 on the ground) during a 37-35 win, Hand,
the key to his team's run defense, sat in uniform at his locker
for 45 minutes after the game, staring straight ahead or at the
stat sheet. "The Falcons did whatever they wanted, whenever they
wanted," he said. "We couldn't get them off the field. It's all
on me. I didn't play disciplined [football]." But don't blame it
all on Hand: Atlanta had runs of 32, 27 and 56 yards. Where were
the linebackers and safeties?...After returning to the starting
lineup and leading the Redskins to a 26-21 win over the Colts on
Sunday night, quarterback Shane Matthews refused to deliver an
I-told-you-so about coach Steve Spurrier's benching him first for
Danny Wuerffel and then for rookie Patrick Ramsey. "I'm just
happy we won," said Matthews, who had zero turnovers after Ramsey
had seven in the previous two weeks. "I want to do what I can to
help the team win. I'd love to have the arm that Patrick has, but
I don't. He just needs some experience.".... The Patriots, 3-4
and facing three consecutive road games (Buffalo, Chicago and
Oakland), are perilously close to falling out of the playoff
race. "We're never going to push the panic button, but we are
pushing the urgency button," said wideout Troy Brown, after New
England dropped its fourth straight game, a 24-16 decision to the

Read Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback every week at

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Owens was a handful for Arizona, hauling in eight balls for 132 yards and two scores.

COLOR PHOTO: HEATHER HALL/AFP Burress has a better grip on himself, and he has the statistics to show for it.