Special Team
A Trent Green-Bud Carson parlay put the Rams back on track

Room 928, Newark Airport Marriott, last Saturday night: Rams
coach Mike Martz, on the couch in his modest suite, fidgeted as
he pondered the next day's game against the Giants. Both teams
were 7-2. His once invincible club had lost two of its last three
games, and his two most valuable players, quarterback Kurt Warner
and running back Marshall Faulk, would sit this one out with
injuries. "The Giants are where we were a year ago, winning all
the games they're supposed to win, and they're sky high," Martz
said. "I don't think our players, or our coaches for that matter,
knew what a big laser would be on our foreheads as Super Bowl
champs every week. Now we feel it. This game is huge for us
psychologically."

Football is America's favorite spectator sport, in part because a
team's fate can change so dramatically from one week to the next.
A month ago the Rams were off to a dreamlike 6-0 start, which
fueled talk of a perfect season. Then after losing Warner (broken
right pinkie), the 1999 MVP, and Faulk (right knee injury), the
early favorite for the honor in 2000, and with a defense that had
lost all its aggression, St. Louis looked like anything but a
repeat Super Bowl champion.

Two men instrumental in resuscitating those championship hopes on
Sunday weren't on the radar screens of many Rams fans in
mid-October. Quarterback Trent Green was on the bench, and
defensive guru Bud Carson was on a beach in Sarasota, Fla.
Against the Giants, however, Green looked Warneresque in putting
up 38 points against the league's seventh-rated defense, and
Carson used an aggressive strategy to breathe fire into the St.
Louis defense.

Befitting an era of transience in the league, Green and Carson
will likely be gone after the season. The 30-year-old Green is
expected to be traded in the off-season because the cap limits
the Rams' ability to pay two quarterbacks big money. (Warner
signed a seven-year, $46.5 million contract last summer, and
Green got a four-year, $16.5 million deal in February 1999.) The
69-year-old Carson, a consultant in title but the de facto
defensive coordinator, will go home to Florida because his
fragile health prevents him from holding a long-term coaching
job.

But what a team the two were on Sunday. In his third straight
impressive start since Warner was injured in an Oct. 22 loss to
the Chiefs, Green threw touchdown passes to four different
receivers and ran 18 yards for a fifth score in leading the Rams
to a 38-24 rout of New York. With Carson in the booth upstairs,
the defense turned in its third consecutive respectable
performance. The Rams intercepted Kerry Collins three times,
sacked him twice, forced four fumbles and stopped the Giants on
10 of 12 third-down attempts.

Under low-key coordinator Peter Giunta, the defense was a passive
unit that played multiple schemes. For his first game back, on
Oct. 29 against the 49ers, Carson, under whom Giunta had worked
in 1997, simplified the plan and reemphasized the blitz. "Bud saw
the problem right away," says cornerback Dexter McCleon, who on
Sunday had an interception, a sack and a fumble recovery. "And we
respect him so much that whenever he walks in the room, everyone
gets quiet. Everyone listens."

Carson is an unlikely savior--a frail man, who has had an
angiogram and two angioplasties this year alone. But he helped
craft Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain defense of the '70s, and he
proved to be the perfect tonic for struggling players, even
those young enough to be his grandchildren. "It's pretty strange
coming back to Giants Stadium," Carson said last Saturday. "I
never thought I'd be back at this stadium, or any other one for
that matter."

Carson has Direct TV's NFL Sunday Ticket beamed into his Sarasota
home, but he wasn't watching the games. "I had weaned myself from
the habit," he says. "Sunday afternoons had become time for
friends, boating and the beach. My friends would ask me who I
thought would win the games, but I'd tell them, 'Believe me, I'm
the last one you should ask.'" However, when the Rams appealed to
Carson, he got the itch again. He says his doctor okayed his
return for the season--provided Carson kept stress to a minimum.

On Sunday, Green saw to it that Carson had a relatively
stress-free day. After New York cut the lead to 14-7 early in the
second quarter, the 78,174 at Giants Stadium roared as Green
faced third-and-eight from his own 44. He took the snap and
glanced at wideouts Torry Holt and Ricky Proehl, who were covered
as they ran routes up the middle. Green's third option, wide
receiver Isaac Bruce, was running a 10-yard comeback along the
left sideline against the one Giants cornerback the Rams
respected, Jason Sehorn. Green saw a sliver of daylight and hit
Bruce for nine yards. The crowd fell silent. Eight plays later
Green connected with Proehl for an eight-yard score. "I don't
mean to sound arrogant," Martz said, "but we don't worry about
who's covering our receivers, no matter who it is. Isaac's better
than Jason."

Green is also better than most quarterbacks in the league. After
four years with the Redskins, he was signed as a free agent in
1999 at the urging of Martz, who had joined the St. Louis staff
as offensive coordinator after two seasons as Washington's
quarterbacks coach. Green completed 28 passes in 32 attempts
during the '99 preseason before a knee injury K.O.'d him for the
year. Warner took over, and the rest is history. In the 3 1/2
games since Warner was sidelined, Green has completed 63% of his
passes for 1,218 yards, with 11 touchdowns and three
interceptions. Nevertheless, Rams general manager Charlie Armey
acknowledged last week that the club will likely deal Green in
the off-season.

Warner is expected back for the Nov. 26 game against the Saints.
In the meantime Green will try to keep St. Louis rolling while
auditioning for potential suitors. "It feels weird and
frustrating," says Green. "I was brought here to run the offense
at a playoff level, and that's what I'm doing. As much as I wish
I could control my fate, I obviously have no say. I know I'll
probably be traded. I just hope the Rams send me somewhere that
will be a good situation. Until then, I'd like to think I'm
putting to rest any doubts about my ability."

Moe in the Motor City
Lions Know Who's in Charge

The shock felt in Detroit when Lions coach Bobby Ross abruptly
retired on Nov. 6 was followed almost immediately by disbelief
when the team announced it had signed assistant head coach Gary
Moeller to a three-year contract to replace Ross. Moeller, who
resigned under fire from his last head-coaching job, at Michigan,
five years ago and whose primary role in Detroit was working with
the linebackers, seemed an appropriate interim choice--but three
years? "It had to happen that way because it said to the players
that I am the guy," Moeller said last Saturday, on the eve of his
debut against the Falcons. "It gave me the authority I needed in
that locker room."

The Lions, at 5-4, were in the middle of the NFC playoff race
when Ross stepped down, but they had lost two straight games. It
was the 23-8 defeat to the Dolphins on Nov. 5 that led to Ross's
surprise decision. Conscious of signs that the players had quit
on his exacting predecessor, Moeller immediately sought out
veterans, such as wideout Herman Moore and defensive end Robert
Porcher, to say that he expected them to be more prominent
leaders. For effect, he harkened back to his days at Michigan. "I
told them that as my upperclassmen--I think they liked it when I
said that--this was their team, and they had to get their attitude
right," Moeller said. "I don't know if Coach Ross lost them. I do
know that they are human beings, and human beings have mood
swings over [the course of] a season. But it's their team, and
they needed to focus."

In light of Detroit's 13-10 win over Atlanta, it was apparent
that by going straight to the players, Moeller had won them over.
"I talked to Coach Moe more this week than I did to Coach Ross in
his [three-plus years] here," says the outspoken Moore, who
clashed with Ross over his diminished role. "A lot of guys here
like having a communicator, and Coach Moe did that. He opened
lines of communication with us, took the initiative to involve
the team. That's priceless."

After a week of noticeably more inspired practices, wide receiver
Johnnie Morton was also sold. "Football is fun [again], and when
it is, it's easier to play," says Morton. "Before everyone was
afraid to make a mistake. Now, it's more relaxed."

After asking Moeller for a bigger role in the offense, Moore
caught a team-high five passes for 76 yards against the Falcons,
with three receptions coming on an opening drive that gave
Detroit a 7-0 lead. Moeller's inspiration was apparent in the
play of his defensive veterans as well. Porcher had two sacks,
doubling his season total. His lack of production had upset Ross,
who had watched Porcher stage a lengthy preseason holdout before
signing a four-year, $25 million deal.

One of the sources of Ross's frustration was still evident in the
victory over Atlanta. After its 66-yard opening drive Detroit's
offense was typically anemic, mustering only 156 yards in the
rest of the game. Quarterback Charlie Batch, while missing
injured wideout Germane Crowell (broken left foot; not expected
back until the end of this month), was awful. Batch completed 12
of 27 passes for 128 yards and threw one interception.

Despite the underwhelming win, Moeller was all smiles. Indeed, he
seems particularly happy that this opportunity came in Detroit.
Five years ago his highly publicized arrest after an altercation
at a suburban Detroit restaurant led to his resignation at
Michigan. (He pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct.) He
resurfaced a month later as the Bengals' tight-ends coach, then
moved to the Lions in '97 as Ross's linebackers coach and
confidant. He added the assistant head coach title before this
season, and according to a source familiar with the situation,
Lions management and Ross had settled on Moeller last January to
succeed Ross, probably at the end of this season.

"Gary showed a great deal of courage coming back here," says
Detroit executive vice president Chuck Schmidt. "We all make
mistakes, but his is in the past. He's a man of character, and
he's here to stay." --Josh Elliott

Corey Dillon's Future
Bengal Sitting On a Gold Mine

Cincinnati running back Corey Dillon still seems embarrassed
about breaking Walter Payton's NFL single-game rushing record.
Dillon ran for 278 yards against the Broncos on Oct. 22,
bettering by three yards the mark Payton had set in 1977. As he
sat at his locker recently at Paul Brown Stadium, he searched for
the right words to describe how he felt. "Sad? No," he said.
"It's like, I shouldn't have that record. That's Walter Payton's
record. He's the greatest running back of all time, or one of the
top two or three. I just thought it would always be his. He's so
great."

So, too, is Dillon. Even with a poor supporting cast that rarely
gives him the chance to pile up yards in the fourth quarter,
Dillon still is on pace for his fourth 1,100-yard rushing season
in as many years. He also figures to be a rich man in the near
future.

After an acrimonious preseason holdout, Dillon signed a one-year,
$3 million contract that includes one significant clause:
Cincinnati cannot slap its franchise-player tag on him after this
season. Carrying such a designation would have forced another
team to send the Bengals a pair of first-round draft picks or
some other agreed-upon compensation if it wanted to sign the
25-year-old Dillon. Cincinnati can still make him its transition
player and match any offer, but it's doubtful the Bengals would
hand him a signing bonus that figures to be in the $12 million
range. Also, with another club having to give up only first- and
third-round selections to sign Dillon, the compensation wouldn't
be that stiff, especially for a team that will probably be
picking in the second half of Round 1--the Packers, the Chiefs or
the Bills?--in next April's draft.

Dillon, who ran for 94 yards in a 23-6 loss to the Cowboys on
Sunday, says he hasn't ruled out returning to the downtrodden
Bengals. "I want to be part of the solution," he says. "But I
also want to win. After the season, I'll have some options. I
want to see what's out there."

Send your pro football questions for Peter King's mailbag and
read more from Paul Zimmerman at cnnsi.com/football.

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Holt, who caught eight passes for 86 yards, was one of four St. Louis receivers to find the end zone. COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES The rejuvenated Moore got the Lions going with three receptions on their opening touchdown drive.

Dispatches

Last week the Patriots gave their leading receiver, wideout
Terry Glenn, a six-year, $50 million contract extension, but the
deal is deceiving because only the $3.9 million signing bonus is
guaranteed, with the balance coming from annual salary and
incentives. Glenn, an underachieving former first-round draft
pick who since the start of the 1999 season has fewer catches
and yards than Bears wideout Marcus Robinson (a former
fourth-round choice), will probably average about $4 million a
year when the smoke clears. The best part of the contract from
New England's standpoint is that the deal will have relatively
little impact on its salary cap this year and next....

The expansion Houston franchise will probably hire its coach
this winter, a year and a half before its first game. Top
candidates: University of Miami coach Butch Davis and Jaguars
defensive coordinator Dom Capers....

To help appease teams that will be forced to change divisions
when the league is realigned into eight four-team divisions for
2002, the NFL is considering moving the visitor's gate proceeds
into the revenue-sharing pool, to be divided equally among all
teams. The visiting team now gets 40% of the gate, and the
Cardinals, for example, would figure to lose significant money
if they are shifted out of the NFC East, because they would no
longer be guaranteed annual dates at Dallas, New York and
Washington....

With 93, 109 and 99 yards rushing in his last three games,
rookie Jamal Lewis has become the horse the Ravens desperately
need.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)