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Mr. Laz
11-08-2005, 12:21 PM
Four downs: Chiefs have Raiders' number
By Larry Weisman, USA TODAY

1st down: Owning a team
Anybody with a few hundred million dollars can buy a team. It's a little different when one team owns another.

Think the Kansas City Chiefs had the willies Sunday when they trailed the Oakland Raiders? Why would they?

"We are usually able to overtake them in the fourth quarter, and that's what happened again," defensive end Eric Hicks said after a stunning, gutsy finish.

On what would be the last play of the game, parked at the Oakland 1-yard line and down by three points at home, the Chiefs went for not the tie but the victory. Larry Johnson ran it in, and the Chiefs, 27-23 escapees, had beaten the Raiders for the sixth consecutive time.

"If we don't score," Johnson said, "we don't win."

This, then, is the joy of ownership. The Chiefs are 5-3, 2-2 in the competitive AFC West, one game behind the Denver Broncos. The Raiders fell to 3-5 and 0-3, swept again by the Chiefs.

The Minnesota Vikings were feeling it Sunday as well. Not much has gone right for them this season, but the Detroit Lions always provide a safe harbor (sorry). But the Vikings beat them for the eighth consecutive time. It was Brad Johnson's first start in place of Daunte Culpepper (knee) and his first victory as a starter since 2003.

Count the Carolina Panthers in as holders of a majority stake in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Their victory Sunday was their fifth in a row against the Bucs, their third consecutive in Tampa and their fifth in a row this season. Bucs coach Jon Gruden pronounced the Panthers "scary good" and "clearly hot right now."

2nd down: The Century Club

There's always a chicken-and-egg argument about running the ball. Did teams win because they ran, or did they run because they were winning?

A team that is behind generally gets away from the run. A team with a lead will look for balance while growing more conservative as time grows shorter. A team with a 100-yard back probably will win.

So it goes for the San Diego Chargers and LaDainian Tomlinson. He's so dominating a figure for the Chargers that his success and theirs go hand in hand (or football in gut).

Their record when he cracks 100 yards: 4-0. When he doesn't: 1-4. Their record when he carries 20 or more times: 4-0. When he doesn't: 1-4. They're 19-8 over his five seasons when he gains 100 yards, 14-31 when he doesn't.

So what was the focus of his four-touchdown showing in a 31-26 victory against the New York Jets? A reception. A 25-yard catch-and-run in which he had a move that froze cornerback Ty Law in place and had the usually stolid Marty Schottenheimer looking up at the big screen for a peek.

"I was anxiously awaiting the replay. I wasn't sure what I saw actually happened," the coach said.

3rd down: New management

The NFC East knows no ruler but the Philadelphia Eagles. They have won the division title the last four years — the only NFL team with such a streak. They won it before the shift in 2002 to eight groupings of four teams and since that realignment were 16-2 against their division rivals.

Now the Eagles look a little less dominant and their opponents all seem to have made up ground. The Eagles (4-4) are 0-2 in the division with games against the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants next on the horizon. The Cowboys obliterated the Eagles 33-10 three weeks ago, and the Redskins stopped them 17-10 Sunday.

"You never like to say it's a must-win against Dallas, but it's a must-win just to prove to ourselves that we're not the team we're showing people," defensive end N.D. Kalu says. "We can't have two losses in the division; the division is too tight."

Ah, mon frère. You can have two losses. You do have two losses.

As the Eagles slip, the Redskins ascend. They're 2-0 in division play after compiling a 3-15 record in the NFC East over the previous three seasons. Their victory against the Eagles snapped a seven-game losing streak to Philly, just as their earlier win against Dallas ended a run of four consecutive losses.

4th down: From a distance

When he worked in Baltimore as defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan should have grown accustomed to low-scoring games and a scarcity of touchdowns.

Now he's 2,500 miles away, the head coach in San Francisco. Neither his old nor his new team is scoring any touchdowns.

The Ravens are the NFL's lowest-scoring team, with 97 points. They've squeezed into the end zone seven times in eight games, scoring only once on the ground. Says running back Jamal Lewis: "I don't know if frustrating is the word. I can't find a word to describe it."

The 49ers, with 117 points, are the league's third-lowest accumulator of points. They were limited to two field goals in their 24-6 loss to the Giants on Sunday and have gone 122 minutes without a touchdown. Their last seven scores over two games have been field goals.

In a league that loves the forward pass, the 49ers are the only team without an active quarterback who has thrown a touchdown pass this season. Tim Rattay, in his short stint as their starter, passed for five in four games. He was then benched and traded to Tampa Bay. The guys who have succeeded (if that's the right word) him —Alex Smith, Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett— have combined to throw no touchdown passes in their 90 pass attempts.

The 49ers may not have much going for them offensively — they rank 32nd — but at least they are also challenged defensively. Yes, they're last in total defense as well. The Ravens are No. 2.

It's no wonder Nolan finds himself saying things like this about a quarterback situation muddled by injury: "It will be Cody until Ken gets better, or Alex. Alex's situation is still questionable. If Alex is still in that mode, it will be Cody or Ken."