Two veterans of past wars met near midfield at Foxboro Stadium
on Sunday, just after high noon. During a midweek interview,
Patriots coach Bill Parcells, 55, had given the needle to his
old NFC East buddy and nemesis, 36-year-old Redskins cornerback
Darrell Green. "He's older than I am," said Parcells, who as
coach of the Giants from 1983 through '90 was routinely
victimized by Green's stellar play.
So here came Green on Sunday, feigning anger. "Hey, Coach!" he
said. "You know you're six months older than me!"
Once the game started, however, Green was his old tormenting
self. So were the Redskins, who, with their 27-22 victory over
New England, have now won five straight. People look at 5-1
Washington and talk about what a great job the young guys are
doing (29 of the players on the 53-man roster have fewer than
four years of NFL experience). But against the Pats it was Green
and his aging partner in prime, 35-year-old wideout Henry
Ellard, who played the biggest roles in one of the biggest
victories of coach Norv Turner's three-year tenure. After
feasting on a quartet of cream puffs (Bears, Giants, Rams and
Jets), Washington needed to beat a toughie, and the showdown
with streaking New England, in hostile Foxboro, was a good test.
October 20, 1996
The Skins were on top 24-16 late in the third quarter when Green
made a play for the ages. Patriots back Curtis Martin broke into
the clear near midfield, and Green, despite getting knocked down
early in the play, was in hot pursuit. "I looked behind me, and
I had about five yards on him," Martin said. "I was in the open
field, so I started to put it in another gear. By the time I got
in gear, Darrell was on my back." Green caught Martin at the 24.
Four plays later, Adam Vinatieri clanged a 43-yard field goal
attempt off the right upright. New England never caught up.
Green is a physical marvel. As a rookie, in 1983, he ran the 40
in 4.33 seconds. Last year he ran it in 4.28. "I've learned how
to train," he said after Sunday's game. "You're looking at a
most humble guy, a grateful guy who looks at what he's doing and
says, 'Hey, this is not normal.'"
Nor is Ellard. A quiet sixth on the NFL career receiving list
with 742 catches, he had 152 receiving yards on eight
receptions, including two fourth-quarter grabs that put daggers
into New England's heart. The Patriots had pulled to 24-22 when
the Redskins took over at their own 20 with 5:33 to play. After
Washington picked up two yards on its first two plays,
quarterback Gus Frerotte found Ellard for 40 yards. Five plays
later, on third-and-nine, Ellard leaped high to make a 15-yard
reception, dragging both feet just in bounds. The drive
culminated with Scott Blanton's 24-yard field goal with 56
"We're 5-1, but I still don't know how good we are," said
defensive coordinator Ron Lynn. With games remaining against the
Giants, the Cardinals (twice) and the Buccaneers (combined
record 5-13), the Redskins look good enough to be a playoff team.
The Eagles wouldn't part with an unconditional first-round draft
choice for embattled Seahawks quarterback Rick Mirer before last
week's trading deadline, and based on Ty Detmer's performance in
his first NFL start, that looks like a smart decision. Operating
with a conservative game plan, Detmer was almost flawless on
Sunday in a 19-10 win over the Giants.
Coach Ray Rhodes had wooed the free agent Detmer from Green Bay
in the off-season with the understanding that Detmer would get a
shot at the starter's job. Rodney Peete held on to the position,
but after he suffered a season-ending knee injury on Sept. 30, a
lot of people in and out of the organization began wondering
whether Detmer, a fifth-year veteran, could lead the team over a
At 6 feet and 190 pounds, Detmer likely isn't the most durable
quarterback in the league, which is why the Eagles went almost
exclusively to the short passing game against the Giants. But he
is regarded as an intelligent player, and almost every decision
he made was right. Detmer completed 18 of 33 passes for 170
yards. He threw no touchdown passes, but he also had no
MORA, MORA, MORA
The 2-5 Saints may be a lousy team, but they certainly aren't
playing out the string. Nine days after coach Jim Mora suspended
running back Ray Zellars for cursing him on the practice field,
Zellars returned to the lineup on Sunday and ran for a
career-best 174 yards in a 27-24 win over the Bears. "He was
like a runaway train out there, and we got beat up [by the
offensive line]," said Chicago linebacker Vinson Smith.
Mora was also at his best. With his team trailing 17-7 at the
half, he gave one of the most impassioned speeches of his
11-year tenure in New Orleans. "This team was driven by Jim
Mora's rage," said offensive coordinator Carl Smith.
The NFL levied a one-game fine, which came to a hefty $87,500,
on Bears middle linebacker Bryan Cox last week for the vulgar
finger gesture and verbal abuse he directed at field judge Bill
Smith during an Oct. 6 game against the Packers. The league hit
Cox hard because it was the seventh fine against him in his
six-year career. But Cox, who instructed his attorney, Mike
Baird, to sue the NFL, makes some sense in his rebuttal.
"The penalty doesn't fit the crime," says Cox, who signed with
the Bears as a free agent in the off-season after five years
with the Dolphins. "I get fined a game check. Steve Wisniewski
[the Raiders guard fined for unnecessary roughness during a
Sept. 29 game against the Bears] gets fined $10,000. Where's the
balance? Where's the uniform fining system? It's O.K. to try to
end a player's career, but a finger costs me a week's pay?"
THE BONO WATCH
Heading into Thursday night's game against the Seahawks, the
Chiefs had lost two straight, and quarterback Steve Bono's
ability to lead Kansas City to the Super Bowl was coming into
question. When Kansas City won 10 of its first 11 last season,
Bono was at his best, throwing 17 touchdown passes and only
seven interceptions. But the Chiefs are only 7-5 in their last
12 games, and Bono has thrown 13 TD passes and 11 interceptions
during that span.
"We're still solidly behind Steve," club president and general
manager Carl Peterson says. "You've got to look at our injuries.
He's throwing to a whole new set of receivers."
Kansas City's top five receivers from last season--a group that
accounted for 87% of the receiving yardage gained in '95 by the
team's tight ends and wideouts--either have left the team or
have been injured. The rundown: Willie Davis signed as a free
agent with the Oilers; Webster Slaughter was waived and later
picked up by the Jets; Lake Dawson is out for the year after
undergoing knee surgery in September; and Keith Cash and
Tamarick Vanover have missed a combined five games with knee and
rib injuries, respectively, although both were expected to play
against Seattle. Replacement wideouts Danan Hughes and Chris
Penn and tight end Reggie Johnson don't pose much of a threat to
That might explain why Bono is saddled with a game plan so
pathetically conservative that Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas
erupted in frustration over the team's offensive woes after a
17-7 loss to the Steelers on Oct. 7.
The Lions hadn't won on the road against a team with a winning
record since last November, and on Sunday in Oakland they fell
behind 34-0 before losing to the Raiders 37-21. The Lions'
ineptitude on the road could jeopardize their playoff chances.
Now 4-3, they still must travel to Green Bay, San Diego, Chicago
and San Francisco. Their habit of falling far behind doesn't
help, because then their best player can't help them much.
Running back Barry Sanders handled the ball only three times on
Detroit's 45 second-half plays against the Raiders....The
Packers are close to signing executive vice president and
general manager Ron Wolf to a contract that will keep him with
the organization into the next century....Defensive tackle
Warren Sapp is having a breakout season with the Buccaneers
under coach Tony Dungy, who is letting the second-year player
flood the backfield and harass the quarterback. He's second
among NFL defensive tackles with 5.5 sacks and had 1.5 on Sunday
as the Bucs gave Dungy his first NFL win, a 24-13 decision over
the Vikings. "He [Dungy] implemented a system to let me thrive
and be the player that I know I can be," Sapp says....The
Steelers are 5-0 since inside linebacker Chad Brown moved
outside to replace the injured Greg Lloyd. In a 20-10 win over
the Bengals on Sunday, Brown had 4.5 sacks, 11 tackles and an
interception....By virtue of their 21-17 loss to the Jaguars,
the Jets became the first team to lose to both expansion teams.
They lost to the Panthers 26-15 in October '95.
THE END ZONE
The Dolphins went to Buffalo on Sunday for the first time in six
years without Bryan Cox, but Bills fans haven't forgotten the
guy who, after hearing taunts and racial slurs, gave them the
finger before a '93 game. One sign read WE STILL HATE BRYAN COX.
FREE AGENCY AT ITS BEST--AND WORST
Even after four years of playing the unfettered free-agent
market, a lot of teams still don't know how to invest wisely.
There has been some classic waste--the Raiders' signing of
cornerback Larry Brown (right) for $12 million and the Jets' $27
million commitment to tackles Jumbo Elliott and David
Williams--and there has been some wise spending, too, notably
the thrifty manner in which the Broncos built a defense. For
$3.6 million a year, a little more than the Falcons paid for
linebacker Cornelius Bennett ($3.4 million), the 5-1 Broncos got
the free agents who have made the biggest impact in 1996: middle
linebacker Bill Romanowski and defensive end Alfred Williams,
who signed similar five-year, $9 million deals. Williams is tied
for fourth in the AFC with 5.5 sacks; Romanowski's three
takeaways and eight tackles keyed a 30-20 win in Seattle on
Sept. 8. Here are the best and worst free-agent signings.
THE TOP FIVE
Player Team Avg. Salary Comment
1. Bill Romanowski, LB Broncos $1.8m Spurred Broncos'
rise in total defense from 15th in 1995 to fourth so far in '96
2. Alfred Williams, DE Broncos $1.8m Best pass rusher
this season west of the Bills' Bruce Smith
3. Will Wolford, G Steelers $2.4m Another brilliant
plug-in for a team hit hard by free-agent defections
4. Dixon Edwards, LB Vikings $2.5m "Biggest Dallas loss
in free agency," says Eagles coach Ray Rhodes
5. Keenan McCardell, WR Jaguars $1.5m With 34 catches
he's the NFL's most productive free-agent wideout
Honorable mention: Troy Vincent, CB, EAGLES, $3.3m; BOB DAHL, G,
REDSKINS, $2m; WESLEY WALLS, TE, Panthers, $1.3m; Santana
Dotson, DT, PACKERS, $1.6m; Chris Doleman, DE, 49ERS, $2.5m
THE BOTTOM FIVE
Player Team Avg. Salary Comment
1. Larry Brown, CB Raiders $2.4m Has had trouble
learning new schemes; perhaps the worst free-agent signing ever
2. Darren Mickell, DE Saints $1.7m On a four-game
suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy
3. Elliott-Williams, T Jets $5.5m Poster boys for
megabucks gone mad, they're too worn down for such big money
4. Leslie O'Neal, DE Rams $3.2m Far too little impact
(two sacks in six games) for a player with such a great resume
5. Michael Brooks, LB Lions $1.8m Brought in to replace
Chris Spielman, he was released after four games
Dishonorable mention: Steve Walsh, QB, RAMS, $1m; Marco Coleman,
DE, CHARGERS, $3.2m; Charles Jordan, WR, DOLPHINS, $866,666;
NEIL O'DONNELL, QB, Jets, $5m; ANDRE RISON, WR, Jaguars, $3.9m