Inside The NFL

Oct. 29, 2001
Oct. 29, 2001

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Oct. 29, 2001

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Inside The NFL

Busting Loose
Jerome Bettis showed he has plenty left in his tank as the
Steelers rolled over the Bucs

This is an article from the Oct. 29, 2001 issue Original Layout

The NFL's hottest player was also perhaps its hungriest one night
last week. Jerome Bettis, mind you, does not like to leave dinner
unattended for long. Still, there was a point that just had to be
made before he dug into his turkey-and-provolone hoagie in a side
booth at Peppi's on Pittsburgh's North Side. He didn't say it to
rip any of the quarterbacks he has played alongside. He said it
almost as a plaintive cry.

"Look at my career," the 255-pound Steelers running back said.
"I've gained 10,000 yards now, and when did I ever have a
quarterback to take the pressure off me? Emmitt Smith's one of
the alltime great backs, deservedly so, but he had two other
great players, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, with him in his
prime. Every game I've ever played, I've faced eight in the box.
Every game I've ever played, the defense has said, Stop Bettis
and we win. Peel the onion back, really study it, and I don't
think any back in NFL history has been in the situation I've been
in and succeeded the way I have."

The man has a point. Since they acquired Bettis in a 1996
draft-day trade with the Rams, the Steelers have been 27th, 23rd,
29th, 26th, 29th and, this season, 30th in the NFL in passing.
Pittsburgh's corresponding rankings in rushing: second, first,
seventh, 10th, fourth and, this year, first. "So," Bettis went
on, after taking a big bite of the hoagie, "it's pretty
frustrating that I'm never, ever talked about as one of the great

After a fourth consecutive command performance, he should be. In
Pittsburgh's dominating 17-10 win over the Bucs in Tampa on
Sunday, Bettis had his fourth 100-yard game in a row--17 carries
for 143 yards, with backbreaking runs of 46 yards (for a
touchdown) and 29 yards in the third quarter. He threw in a
32-yard second-quarter touchdown pass on a halfback option to
tight end Jerame Tuman. Add an eight-yard reception, and Bettis,
arguably the best big back in NFL history, had a nice, tidy
183-yard day while having a hand in both Steelers touchdowns.

Before this fall Bettis didn't seem to be the player he'd been.
He'd had good seasons in 1999 and 2000, rushing for 1,091 and
1,341 yards, respectively, but he wasn't making people miss the
way he used to. In 654 carries over those two seasons he had but
one rush of more than 30 yards. Pittsburgh handed him a six-year,
$30 million deal last March, but with only $6 million guaranteed,
it was far from the contract of a superstar runner; in fact, it
seemed a sort of gold-watch gesture. Then again, could you blame
the Steelers? Bettis had been playing on a bad left knee, and
last February he underwent arthroscopic surgery to clean out the
debris around the knee.

In training camp this summer he felt like the old Bettis, the one
who could elude tacklers, not just run them over. He had a nimble
48-yard run against the Bengals on Oct. 7, a 30-yard scamper
against the Chiefs on Oct. 14 and the two long dashes against the
Bucs. "I haven't seen him make cuts like this since 1996," coach
Bill Cowher said after Sunday's win, Pittsburgh's fourth straight
after a season-opening loss.

"The last two years," Bettis said, "I basically gained those
yards on one leg. I never felt right. Now you watch me, and the
telltale sign that I'm back is my feet. I make people miss."
Moving quickly through the hole on the right side between the
guard and the tackle during his touchdown gallop on Sunday,
Bettis juked past linebacker Derrick Brooks, and in the last 30
yards Brooks couldn't gain on him. We forget that Bettis really
can run.

We also nearly forgot what it's like for Pittsburgh to have a
love affair with a Steeler. "This is football heaven," Bettis
says. "They don't revere quarterbacks in this town. They revere
defensive players and hard-hitting backs. I couldn't be in a
better town."

Tim Carey, the Steelers' merchandise manager, says Bettis has had
the top-selling jersey in the city for five years. "People in
Pittsburgh see Jerome as an offensive player with a defensive
mentality," Carey says.

Now for the matter of how history will judge him. Bettis is 29.
He's the only back weighing more than 240 pounds to have gained
more than 10,000 yards. On Sunday he passed Ottis Anderson and
moved into 13th place on the alltime rushing list, with 10,354
yards. "I'm unique," Bettis says. "I don't think Earl Campbell
[who played at 235 pounds] or Christian Okoye [260] had the
quick feet or the moves to make people miss the way I do."

If he stays healthy, it isn't a stretch to think that Bettis
could wind up fourth or fifth on the alltime rushing list. (Eric
Dickerson is fourth, with 13,259 yards, 520 ahead of Tony
Dorsett.) After all, Bettis is averaging a career-best 5.9 yards
per carry this season. "Some guys get to 10,000 yards and feel as
if they're at the end of their rope," Bettis says. "I'm at
10,000, and I feel that I've got three good years left. I mean,
really good years."

2002 Financial Forecast
AFC Central Trio Has Work to Do

Recent AFC Central powers Jacksonville, Tennessee and Baltimore
will be 1-2-3 in the league in cap calamity in 2002. According to
salary information obtained by SI, they're the teams that will
have to cut the most money from their rosters early next year to
get under the salary cap, which is estimated to be about $72.4
million for the 2002 season. The Jaguars, who already had to do
major surgery to get under this year's cap, will be $23.3 million
over the 2002 limit. The Titans will be $18.3 million over and
will have decisions to make about a trio of valuable defensive
linemen--Josh Evans, Jason Fisk and Joe Salave'a--who will be
eligible for free agency. For the Ravens ($16.8 million over),
defensive backs Duane Starks and Corey Harris could be testing
the free-agent waters.

At the other end of the spectrum the Cardinals, with $27 million
in cap room, will have the most money to spend. Next up are the
Bears, surprise leaders of the NFC Central, at $24.6 million, and
the Eagles ($20.2 million). Lest you think these teams will steal
what has become a thinning crop of free agents, remember that the
Texans will have the entire $72.4 million to build a roster, and
recent expansion franchises have gone hog-wild in free agency in
their first few years.

Patriots' New Quarterback
Brady a Model Of Efficiency

With New England facing first down at its nine-yard line midway
through the second quarter of Sunday's game in Indianapolis,
Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis sent in a gutsy call
for his green quarterback, Tom Brady: a pass play with several
options, one of which was to throw deep down the left side to
speedy wideout David Patten. When he saw Patten getting single
coverage, Brady, the find of this young NFL season, never
hesitated. The ball arced high into the air and settled, more
than 40 yards downfield, into Patten's hands. He never broke
stride. The 91-yard touchdown was the longest play from
scrimmage in the Pats' 42-year history.

On New England's next play Weis called a double pass, in which
Brady would lateral to Patten on the left flank, and Patten would
fling the ball downfield. It is a mark of the 24-year-old Brady's
surprising maturity that when he entered the huddle after a TV
timeout, he told his mates with a big smile, "Guys, I think
Charlie's going a little crazy. He's calling the double pass."

Brady's toss to Patten was perfect, as was Patten's throw to
fellow wideout Troy Brown, which went for a 60-yard score.
Another Brady touchdown pass late in the first half made the
score 28-3, and New England was on its way to its second upset of
the Colts in a month. Brady completed 16 passes in 20 attempts
for 202 yards and three touchdowns in the 38-17 win.

"It's nice to know they have the confidence in me to make those
kinds of calls in big spots," Brady said on Monday. Why wouldn't
they? Now 3-1 as a starter while filling in for the injured Drew
Bledsoe, Brady has been the model of efficiency, completing 60%
of his attempts and throwing 131 passes without an interception
while tossing five touchdown passes.

The 199th pick in the 2000 draft, out of Michigan, Brady caught
the eye of New England coach Bill Belichick with his accuracy
(62% in two seasons as a college starter), intelligence and arm
strength. Brady had almost bailed out on the Wolverines, however.
After getting beaten for the starting job in 1996 by Scott
Dreisbach and Brian Griese, then by Griese in 1997, he considered
transferring. "I went in to see Coach [Lloyd] Carr," Brady
recalls. "I was pretty unhappy. He said to me, 'You have to
compete every day of your life, in everything. You compete if
you're sick, if you're injured, if you don't feel like playing.
It doesn't matter.' That's a crucial lesson Michigan taught me.
It's helped me here."

So when Bledsoe was starting, Brady ran the scout team as if he
were playing in the Rose Bowl. Belichick loved what he saw. So
much so that he doesn't burden Brady with minutiae about the game
plan. He trusts his quarterback enough to tell him, "Be a
football player. Make the right decision." On four Sundays, Brady
has done exactly that.

This Sunday, in Denver, Brady faces Griese in a Wolverines alumni
grudge match. A month ago who'd have thought Brady might have the

My Two Cents
Wolf the Man For Redskins

1. I see Ron Wolf in the Redskins' future. For a 3% ownership
stake and a healthy salary, owner Dan Snyder can get the
architect he needs to rebuild. Wolf, in retirement from the
Packers, has settled in Annapolis, Md. He'd love the challenge.

2. The NFL is right to put more of a protective shield around
quarterbacks, which it did earlier this month with a sternly
worded letter to all teams from director of officials Mike
Pereira. In the directive Pereira said quarterbacks should be
left alone when they're clearly out of a play. "If we lose Kurt
Warner for the year, yes, it hurts us," says Rams coach Mike
Martz, "but it hurts the NFL, too. The league doesn't have many
great quarterbacks."

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

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES Bettis (36) was a load for Tampa Bay, running for 143 yards and accounting for two touchdowns.COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Brady has thrown for five touchdowns and, more important, hasn't been intercepted.


The spark plug of the Redskins' first win of the year, a 17-14
overtime victory over the Panthers, sat in front of his locker
on Sunday, his uniform splotched with grass stains, dirt and
blood. Linebacker LaVar Arrington had returned a Chris Weinke
interception 67 yards for a touchdown to start Washington on its
comeback from a 14-0 deficit. This is how leaders perform, even
in the adversity of a lost season. "I'm playing my heart out,"
an exhausted Arrington said. "I hope that's enough, because I
can't play any harder than I am." ...

Last week, Saints offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy felt it
necessary to buck up the confidence of struggling quarterback
Aaron Brooks, whose numbers had been awful since an opening win
at Buffalo. "Don't worry about stats," McCarthy told him.
However, Brooks's woes continued against Atlanta on Sunday. He
played so tentatively and inefficiently that the Falcons crowded
the line in the second half and held running back Ricky Williams
to five yards on eight carries in a 20-13 win. Brooks has
completed 49% of his passes in New Orleans's recent 2-2 run;
McCarthy wants him to be in the 65% range....

The 2-3 Bucs didn't get much respect from the Steelers after a
17-10 loss. "They're paper champions," said Pittsburgh safety
Lee Flowers. "They go to the Pro Bowl because they talk." The
Bill Parcells rumors won't go away in Tampa. One Buc asked
quietly before the game, "What do you hear about Parcells?"
(Answer: If Tampa Bay doesn't go deep into the playoffs, look
for ownership to make a run at Parcells.)... Anyone hoping for
Barry Sanders to come out of retirement can forget it. He's lost
his zeal for the game....

Chargers defensive coordinator Joe Pascale is out for the year
after three back surgeries, and his replacement, linebackers
coach Jim Vechiarella, resigned on Oct. 15 after San Diego had
blown six- and 10-point fourth-quarter leads at Cleveland and
New England, respectively. Enter cornerbacks coach Mark Banker,
who got high marks for his aggressive scheming in a 27-10 win
over the Broncos. "When the fourth quarter came," said
linebacker Sam Rogers, "Mark called the defense the way it's
supposed to be called. You don't want to sit back when you have
a lead."

the football Beat

With 41-year-old Redskins cornerback Darrell Green

SI: Longevity.

Green: Lifestyle. Moral living. Treating this job the same for
19 years as my dad treated his job at Maxwell House for 30
years--like it was really important. If you're an NFL player
burning the candle on both ends, drinking a lot, women on the
side, your career won't last.

SI: Greatest memory.

Green: Playing 19 years. As I get near the end, it seems like a

SI: Favorite interception.

Green: Off Joe Montana. I stepped in front of Jerry Rice [in
1986] at the right time. I had so much respect for both of them.
It was interesting playing against Jerry. With almost every great
receiver I faced--Roy Green, Mike Quick, Michael Irvin, Cris
Carter--we always talked and built camaraderie. There was none of
that with Jerry. I busted him about it once in the paper, and the
next time he saw me, he said, "Man, I'm superstitious about
talking on the field." I don't know--I always played the game for

SI: Joe Gibbs.

Green: One of my heroes. He taught me you can be a strong general
but kind if you need to be. You know what else he taught me? How
to deal with [my wife's] postpartum depression.

SI: Postfootball.

Green: We have a problem in this nation with the poor and how
they're educated. I want to be in on the dialogue when important
issues for the poor are discussed.

SI: Epitaph.

Green: Darrell cared about the purpose of God in his generation.
And he played football pretty good, too.

Saints versus Rams: The NFL's nastiest new rivalry

"I guess we just don't like each other," Rams coach Mike Martz
says. The Saints think Martz runs his mouth too much; in fact,
their players hate Martz. Members of the St. Louis front office
think New Orleans coach Jim Haslett tampered with Rams assistant
John Bunting before Bunting was let out of his contract in
February 2000 and joined the Saints. The teams' three meetings
last season raised chippy play to a new level. New Orleans won
two of the three, including the game that mattered most, a 31-28
decision in the wild-card playoff round. If Marshall Faulk is
healthy enough to play, look for the Saints to go after their old
friend, gimpy right knee and all.

Oct. 31, 1966: Monday Night Football debuts--but not on ABC

NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle was hot for prime-time football,
and he thought Monday was the perfect night, reasoning that it
wouldn't be too inconvenient for teams and was a dead evening for
TV networks. So he persuaded CBS to experiment with a Monday
game, a precursor to ABC's weekly package, which would begin in
1970. In the first trial run the St. Louis Cardinals, with three
interceptions from All-Pro safety Larry Wilson, beat the Bears
24-17. "We were guinea pigs," Wilson, now an Arizona Cardinals
vice president, said last week. "I take pride in having played in
the first Monday-night game, but at the time the players looked
at it as just another game." As did America. One show that was
preempted by the Cards-Bears matchup, Family Affair, averaged a
21.1 rating in November and December. The game earned a 16.3.
Imagine, Mr. French outdrawing Gale Sayers.