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12-20-2004, 12:09 PM
Snap judgments

Johnson pushes his way into Chiefs' future; T.O. injury could be costly

Posted: Sunday December 19, 2004 5:46PM; Updated: Sunday December 19, 2004 6:01PM

•Looks like Larry Johnson definitely has the diapers off in Kansas City. The Chiefs' second-year running back had his second consecutive strong game in place of the injured Priest Holmes, and at this point he has doubtless played his way off the trading block and into Kansas City's long-term plans.

With Holmes being 31 and iffy on the health front the past two years, and Derrick Blaylock headed for free agency, Johnson could end up being the lead back in K.C. as early as 2005. That'll mean he covered quite a bit of ground since being inactive for most of the first half of this season.

Oh, and this just in: That Kansas City offensive line is pretty good. I do believe I could finish in positive yardage behind the Chiefs' great wall.

•All season long it has been bugging me, but now we know how Philly finds a way to lose another NFC title game. Other than quarterback Donovan McNabb, there is no other more irreplaceable Eagle than difference-making receiver Terrell Owens. For Andy Reid and the entire metropolis of Philadelphia, let's hope it's just a sprain and not a ligament tear for the irrepressible Owens.

•It's too late for Julius Peppers to earn my defensive player of the year vote, but, wow, if there was an athletic performance of the year honor, Peppers would get the unanimous nod for his boffo showing Saturday night at Atlanta. Run, catch, block, pass rush, Carolina's versatile defensive end looked like he could do anything he wanted out there against the Falcons. Including return punts and place kick.

•Call me an old softie, but it's kind of nice that Marty Schottenheimer got to clinch his most surprising division title ever in the snow at Cleveland. Kudos to the bespectacled former Browns head coach who could never quite get his Cleveland clubs over the hump and into the Super Bowl.

And while we're on the topic, how is it that a team from sunny San Diego handles a snowy day with aplomb, while the rust-belt Cleveland Browns mail in yet another performance looking like they can't wait to get in from the cold? And speaking of precipitation, Terry Robiskie now officially has a snowball's chance in hell of being named the Browns' permanent head coach.

I know I've been giving Chargers quarterback Drew Brees the nod for Comeback Player of the Year since about Week 9 on, but there are two others who at least deserve to be mentioned: Buffalo running back Willis McGahee (whose NFL career almost never got started due to that devastating knee injury at the University of Miami) and sentimental pick Mark Fields. The Carolina linebacker has rebounded nicely this season after an almost year-long battle against Hodgkin's Disease.

•Who gets to be the lucky stiff to remind Denver head coach Mike Shanahan that Brian Griese is playing a whole lot better these days than Jake Plummer? You have to be questioning at this point if Shanahan has lost his touch with quarterbacks. Or was that all John Elway to begin with?

•If the Panthers miss the playoffs this season by one game -- and pay no attention to the repeated ramblings of the ESPN Sunday night crew who claimed that Carolina (6-8) had to win at Atlanta to stay alive -- they will replay that Michael Vick fourth-and-goal touchdown run in their minds all offseason. Playing things out, the Panthers might have come an inch or so away from making the playoffs, or as close as Vick's knees were to grazing the turf and ending his game-tying 12-yard desperation scoring run.

•If I'm Bill Cowher, I'm riding Jerome Bettis as far as he'll take me from here on out. No offense to Duce Staley, who has been a great pickup for the Steelers this season, but Bettis should be option No. 1, and Staley No. 2 as the weather turns colder and the Pittsburgh ground game turns even more pivotal to its success. You can almost see the fear in the eyes of defenders as Bettis rumbles into the secondary, especially on a cold afternoon like Saturday's game at Giants Stadium.

"Even when it's warm, they don't want to see me, trust me,'' Bettis said, following Pittsburgh's 33-30 win over the Giants, in which he had 140 yards on 36 carries. "I try to make it as difficult as possible for those guys and as painful as possible every time they tackle me. So late in the game, in the fourth quarter, that's when you start getting those big runs, because they don't want to come up and tackle you.''

•I consider it God's sense of humor that Baltimore head coach Brian Billick, with his rich offensive pedigree, has a team dominated by its stellar defense, and Indianapolis head coach Tony Dungy, with his impeccable defensive background, has the offense of Billick's dreams. Do you think a trade could be arranged: Peyton Manning and Co. to Baltimore in exchange for Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and the rest of the Ravens' D? What's that you say, Baltimore already has had something taken away from it by Indianapolis? Via Mayflower, as I recall.

•Not to go all Deion Sanders on you, but it didn't seem to me like the Giants had quit on the season, at least judging from their effort against the Steelers on Saturday.

•Look for Nick Saban to be wearing aqua and orange by the time Santa starts coming down chimneys next Friday night. And it's a move that Miami will be glad it made.

•Denzel Washington was on the sideline at the Jets-Seahawks game at Giants Stadium. Wearing a green Jets cap. We already know the man can coach. Because we remember the Titans. Just saying.

•With that sixth win in the bag, Houston head coach Dom Capers can legitimately claim progress for his third-year Texans. With nary a snicker to be heard. Houston went 4-12 in 2002, 5-11 last season, and is sitting 6-8 with two games to go in 2004. Sure, things went quicker for him in Carolina, where the Panthers reached the NFC title game in their second season, in 1996. But look how that one turned out.

•Seattle couldn't have played less impressively on defense against the Jets if it tried, but let's show a little respect for Mike Holmgren's beleaguered bunch. After all, that's your soon-to-be 2004 NFC West champs we're talking about -- by default.

Don Banks covers pro football for SI.com.

Mark M
12-20-2004, 12:12 PM
It was all John Elway ...


Skip Towne
12-20-2004, 12:24 PM
Yep, all Elway.

Mr. Laz
12-20-2004, 12:30 PM
go marty!!

12-20-2004, 12:31 PM
•Who gets to be the lucky stiff to remind Denver head coach Mike Shanahan that Brian Griese is playing a whole lot better these days than Jake Plummer? You have to be questioning at this point if Shanahan has lost his touch with quarterbacks. Or was that all John Elway to begin with?

Hey I thought the rat was you know real smart or something is that not what tacofan has always led us to think....oh and they still have a chance at the playoffs...........don't think so, more like two and out for the finish.

Bob Dole
12-20-2004, 12:31 PM