The Jets knew what was at stake against the Eagles. "It's a measuring-stick game," wideout Rob Moore said last Friday. "This is the week a lot of people—including ourselves—will find out what this team is all about."
We, and they, found out quite a lot. We learned that though the Jets lost 35-30 at Giants Stadium, their offense is as explosive as any in the league, and they are capable of beating anyone. We also found out that they have a propensity for making costly mistakes. We found out a few things about the Eagles, too. Namely, that they are the league's most resilient team. With the Jets ahead 21-0 early in the second quarter, Fred Barnett, the Eagles' top wideout, was hit after catching his third pass of the day, tearing ligaments in his right knee. He's out for the rest of the season. Later in the quarter Philadelphia quarterback Randall Cunningham was sacked hard and carried off with a broken left leg. He's gone for two months.
So what happened? The forgettable Bubby Brister took over at the controls after Cunningham's exit and engineered what Philly coach Rich Kotite called "the best victory I've ever been associated with." That's saying something, considering that the Eagles have rebounded from deficits of 10, 11 and 21 points in their last three games. At 4-0, they are one of only two undefeated teams (the Saints are the other) in this young season.
As for the Jets, they went as far as their golden-haired, golden-armed quarterback could take them. Boomer Esiason threw four TD passes to his tight ends, including three to the emotional Johnny Mitchell. Esiason loves throwing to his tight ends, even mouthy ones like Mitchell, who don't run precise routes. In their 45-7 rout of New England a week earlier, New York was shredding the Patriot secondary, but second-year man Mitchell felt that Esiason wasn't looking his way enough. "Gotta get mine!" Mitchell said in the huddle. "C'mon, give me mine!"
So Esiason did. And Mitchell dropped the ball. Back in the huddle Mitchell, to the astonishment of many veterans, kept up the chatter. Esiason looked at wideouts Chris Burkett and Rob Moore. "Chris." Esiason said, "how long you been in the league?"
"Nine years," Burkett said.
"Rob?" Esiason said.
"Four," Moore replied.
"You guys ever beg for a ball, then drop it?" Esiason said.
"Nope," they answered in unison.
Esiason glared at Mitchell, who shut up. Esiason did throw to him again, but the point had been made. "It's Boomer's huddle," Moore says. "If you want the ball, you had better do your job."
Evidently Mitchell got the message. He was all over the Eagles, catching seven passes for 146 yards, and showing the power and quickness of a player destined for the Pro Bowl.
The Jets were in front 30-28 when Esiason threw a ball behind Burkett midway through the fourth quarter near the Eagle goal line. Cornerback Eric Allen picked it off and zigged and zagged 94 yards for the winning score. "I take full responsibility for the loss," Esiason said.
Now 2-2, the Jets have scant margin for error if they hope to be a playoff team; narrow losses to Denver and the Eagles have shown that. Esiason must be a mistake-free leader if this team is to be alive in January. "Good teams don't blow 21-point leads," said Eagle safety Wes Hopkins. That's the Jets' lesson for the week.
TURN HIM LOOSE
When New Orleans traded outside linebacker Pat Swilling to Detroit for two draft picks on draft day, the wise old owls in NFL front offices shook their collective heads. There are so few great pass rushers, they whispered. Never trade one with tread left on his tires. The Saints planned to move 1990 first-round selection Renaldo Turnbull to Swilling's right outside spot. With the Lions' two picks, New Orleans acquired tackle William Roaf in the first round and running back Lorenzo Neal in the fourth. Surprisingly, one fellow who thought highly of the swap was Swilling's former partner in mayhem, linebacker Rickey Jackson. "I thought it was a good trade because I knew Renaldo could play," says Jackson. "And I thought by getting a big old offensive tackle like Roaf we'd have a chance."
From the Saints' perspective the trade has turned out to be the best of the year in the NFL. After a fine debut Neal fractured his ankle against Atlanta on Sept. 12. Roaf has started from Week 1 and could become one of the best right tackles in the game. And the 27-year-old Turnbull is a major factor in New Orleans's 5-0 start. When he pounded Ram quarterback Jim Everett into the Anaheim Stadium turf in the Saints' 37-6 win on Sunday, Turnbull got his league-leading eighth sack of the year. The Saints are tops in the NFL in sacks, with 21.
Born and raised on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, Turnbull began playing organized football as a high school sophomore. Road trips were by plane, to other schools in the island chain and to Puerto Rico. "A football career was the furthest thing from my mind," he says. "Athletics didn't mean much there; nobody thought about being an American professional athlete. But when a college recruiter from West Virginia came down to scout a basketball player on St. Thomas, he saw me."
Turnbull set the Mountaineers' career sack record, with 22, and he has blossomed in his fourth year with New Orleans. He's better against the run than Swilling was, though not as quick off the mark when charging the quarterback. Turnbull, however, is still fast enough to sprint around most left tackles. In Week 2 he rushed wide around Atlanta's All-Pro tackle Mike Kenn and stripped quarterback Bobby Hebert of the ball, a play that led to the winning field goal. "I rush the passer 25 times a game," he says. "I would hope at least once I'd get a sack."
HOW'S THAT AGAIN?
On Sept. 21, the day after Kansas City beat Denver 15-7 in a Monday night game amid a raucous din in Arrowhead Stadium, retired Army major Johnny Kai reported to league officials: "Those players couldn't produce. They were disoriented." Kai runs a company called Paradigm Training Institute, which studies the impact of loud noise on human functioning, and is consulting with the NFL on crowd noise. During that Chief-Bronco game Denver had seven false-start penalties—John Elway's linemen could only guess at his snap counts—and both teams played poorly. "The noise ruined our concentration," says Denver guard Dave Widell. "imagine trying to do an intricate task with people screaming in your ear at the top of their lungs. That'll affect you."
Kai agrees. "The practice field doesn't resemble what players are going to experience in battle," he says. "When you're in a stadium and the noise is bigger than life, it consumes you, and you can't concentrate on your task."
In an attempt to rectify the situation, the league is experimenting with a device called the Audiblizer. Invented by a Californian named Randy May, who specializes in rock-concert acoustics, the system incorporates a wireless microphone built into the quarterback's helmet and four large speakers placed at each 15-yard line on either sideline. The quarterback activates the mike by pressing a button on his face mask, and his voice is transmitted to the speakers, which boom it out to the players on the field.
The league experimented with the Audiblizer in three preseason games and was pleased with the result. The new system differs from one tried as recently as the '92 preseason, which involved placing a transmitter in the quarterback's helmet and tiny speakers in his teammates' helmets. That setup bombed because the NFL couldn't get clear frequencies. During a preseason game in Minnesota some years back, a quarterback tried to broadcast his signals, and his teammates heard nothing but doctors and nurses being paged in a hospital near the Metrodome.
The next experiment with the Audiblizer will be at February's Pro Bowl. If it is successful, the league hopes to have the system in place in time for the opening of the 1994 season. Surprisingly, Widell is among the traditionalists who think the NFL ought to leave well enough alone. "Crowd noise is part of the experience, part of the home field advantage," he says. "I don't want to see technology creep into the game like that."
STATS OF THE WEEK
•The .500 Club: After a 36-14 win over Green Bay, Dallas is 2-2. Coach Jimmy Johnson is 34-34 in the NFL, and quarterback Troy Aikman is 29-29 as a starter.
•The Rams have lost their last 12 games to the Saints and 49ers by an average of 14 points a game.
•A year ago through four games Denver quarterback John Elway had completed 51% of his passes for 573 yards. This year he has converted 67% for 1,093 yards.
•By leading the Buccaneers to a 27-10 win over the Lions on Sunday at Tampa Bay, Craig Erickson became the first Tampa Bay starting quarterback other than Vinny Testaverde to win a game since 1987.
•The leading Raider receivers in Sunday's 24-9 loss to the Chiefs were a Rocket (Ismail, four catches for 75 yards) and a Jett (James, three catches for 74 yards).
•It's no contest: The worst division in football is the NFC Central. On Sunday last year's champ (Minnesota), this year's favorite (Green Bay) and this year's current first-place team (Detroit) lost by 19, 22 and 17 points, respectively.
In a 31-14 upset of San Diego, Seahawk quarterback Rick Mirer threw 40 passes. more than he has in any game since high school. He also ran for a TD. "He's a righthanded Steve Young," says Charger cornerback Donald Frank....
Worried about the future of NFL quarterbacking? Here's another reason to be: The Chiefs, led by 37-year-old Joe Montana, have faced starters Steve DeBerg (39), Warren Moon (36), John Elway (33) and Vince Evans (38) in their four games thus far.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Miami at Cleveland, Sunday. Cleveland is full of memories for Dolphin coach Don Shula. He grew up in suburban Painesville and stayed home to become a star defensive back at John Carroll University. A ninth-round pick by the defending NFL champion Browns in 1951, Shula was the only rookie to make the team. Now, closing in on George Halas's career record for coaching victories, Shula returns to Cleveland Stadium, where he began his career. "I love going back there," Shula says. "To me it symbolizes real football."
THE END ZONE
Detroit linebacker Chris Spielman's all-time favorite movie is Rocky, and his devotion to it has led to a little difference of opinion with his wife, Stefanie. The Spielmans are expecting their first child in March, and Chris wants to name the child Rocky Apollo if it's a boy and Adrian if its a girl. Stefanie is not wild about either one. "We're still negotiating," says Chris, "but let's just say it's not going well for me." And if he loses? "Well, boy or girl, this kid will still bench-press more than any kid on the block."
We're not saying that the Rams, the Bears and the Patriots all made a mistake in dumping quarterback Doug Flutie during his peripatetic NFL career, but he is enjoying remarkable success in the CFL. Since arriving in Canada in 1990, Flutie, the 1984 Heisman Trophy winner, has guided the Calgary Stampeders to two Grey Cup title games (they won last year) and a 12-1 record so far this season. He's a cinch to become the first player to win three straight CFL Most Outstanding Player awards. Here are Flutie's four-year CFL numbers (through Oct. 3) versus the numbers during the same time period for all the quarterbacks on the three NFL teams that once owned his rights.