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The Football Fanatic

By O.B. Usmen

COLUMNIST

Week 5 in the NFL had a number of key match-ups. Green Bay (now 4-1) faced off with Chicago (2-3) on Monday night. The Bears’ defense couldn’t stop Brett Favre, as he passed for 287 yards and 3 touchdowns in the first half. Winning 34-21, Green Bay now has a comfortable two-game lead in the NFC North.

Denver (4-1) cruised to a 26-9 victory over the previously undefeated Chargers (4-1). The Broncos’ top priority was containing the league’s leading rusher, LaDainian Tomlinson, and they succeeded, keeping him to only 48 yards rushing. Deltha O’Neal also had two interceptions, to help Denver rebound from their disappointment last Monday night.

Oakland (4-0) continues to dominate their opponents; they halted the high-powered Bills (2-3) 49-31. As expected, the game was an offensive explosion with the two teams combining for 974 yards in total offense. In the end, rookie cornerback, Phillip Buchanon, sealed the game for the Raiders with an 81-yard interception return for a touchdown, putting the game out of reach for the Bills in the fourth quarter.

The most anticipated game of the week was the match-up between AFC East rivals Miami (4-1) and New England (3-2). Miami’s defense suffocated the Patriots, holding them to just 26 yards in the first half. The Patriots’ passing game picked up in the second half, but by then it was too late. The Dolphins held on to win 26-13, with Ricky Williams eating up the clock with 36 carries for 105 yards.

New coaches aim to bring change

When Steve Spurrier signed as the head coach of the Redskins (2-2), everyone was excited for him to implement his “fun-’n’-gun” offense in the NFL. Spurrier’s offensive scheme worked for years at the University of Florida, but he’s never faced the problem he’s currently facing in Washington: lack of talent. Having given up on Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel (both played for Spurrier at Florida), Spurrier has handed the starting quarterback job to rookie Patrick Ramsey. It doesn’t matter who’s playing quarterback, though, when you only have one decent receiver, Rod Gardner, and an injury-prone running back, Stephen Davis. In a couple years Spurrier could turn the offense around, but it was unreasonable to think it would happen this year.

Unlike Spurrier’s Redskins, the team Jon Gruden inherited is loaded with talent. For the past couple years, under the tutelage of defensive mastermind Tony Dungy, the Buccaneers (4-1) have smothered teams with their defense. All that was missing was an offense that could keep the defense on the bench long enough to catch their breath. Gruden built a high-octane offense in Oakland, and has tried to install something similar in Tampa Bay. While Tampa Bay’s offense doesn’t have the guns Oakland’s does, Brad Johnson is a solid NFL quarterback, and Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell are a formidable pair of downfield threats. While Tampa’s offense ranks 17th in totals yards, where Gruden is really making a difference is on the scoreboard, as the Bucs rank 10th in points scored. If they can keep up the 25 points per game they’ve scored so far, Tampa Bay will compete with Philadelphia for a spot in the Super Bowl.

J-ville trio looks like league’s best

When the Jaguars (3-1) waived Keenan McCardell, Hardy Nickerson, and Carnell Lake, and allowed Tony Boselli to get away via expansion draft, most people thought they had given up on this season before it began. Apparently, the “big three” in Jacksonville didn’t think so. Quarterback Mark Brunell, wide receiver Jimmy Smith, and running back Fred Taylor look as good as they have since 1999 when they led Jacksonville to the AFC Championship game. In Jacksonville’s four games so far (they had a bye week 3), Taylor has rushed for 387 yards, including two 100-yard efforts in four games. Smith has 288 yards receiving and is averaging 16 yards per catch. Meanwhile, Brunell has been the glue that keeps the offense together, passing efficiently with a 101.2 passer rating and only one interception this season. With their big win over the Eagles 28-25, Jacksonville is playing with a lot of confidence.

Jacksonville may look like a playoff contender for the time being, but I’m skeptical. No team loses as many players as Jacksonville did in the off-season and stays competitive. Taylor has avoided injury so far, but how long will that last? The AFC South is pretty weak, but Indianapolis has their own high-powered trio that has yet to reach its potential this season. So far, Jacksonville has been a nice surprise, but I don’t foresee them maintaining this level of play, not with so many new players.

Fantasy pick of the week: Travis Henry, RB for the Buffalo Bills. With so much attention on Drew Bledsoe, Henry has capitalized on the open running lanes, running for 340 yards so far. Against the Texans this week, Henry should have plenty of room to run.