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The Football Fanatic

By O.B. Usmen

COLUMNIST

The last undefeated team fell this week (to a winless team no less), leaving the NFL without a clear favorite in either conference. The Raiders (4-1) proved they were fallible, losing to the hapless Rams (1-5) 28-13. Third-string Rams quarterback Marc Bulger looked sharp and Marshall Faulk rushed for 158 yards in the contest to deliver the Raiders their first loss. Rich Gannon threw for over 300 yards for the fourth straight game and the ageless Jerry Rice hauled in 7 passes for 133 yards, but Oakland had trouble finding the end zone. Still, St. Louis has too many problems to turn the season around completely without Kurt Warner taking the snaps.

In the big thriller of the week, Miami (5-1) barely got by Denver (4-2) 24-22. With less than a minute left in the game, Jason Elam booted a 55-yard field goal that looked to be the game winner. Miami didn’t think so. Orchestrating a five-play, 39-yard drive that spanned 39 seconds, Jay Fiedler put the Dolphins in a position to win the game with a 50-plus-yard field goal of their own. Olindo Mare’s kick from 53 yards away cleared the uprights, and Miami came away with the victory. The stunt marked the first time in NFL history that two field goals of over fifty yards were kicked with under a minute left in the game.

Looking ahead already

When Detroit (1-4) and Minnesota (1-4) took the field on Sunday, neither team was really focused on this season. Both teams lack the talent to compete, so instead they are looking to groom their young players for a turnaround next season. With little at stake, the Lions and Vikings put on a pretty good show, which included a quarterbacking duel that could be a vision of things to come. Daunte Culpepper led his Vikings to a 31-24 victory with an efficient 295 yards in passing. For the Lions, Joey Harrington passed for a Lions rookie record of 309 yards, but came up short with an interception in the end zone at the end of the game.

Both Culpepper and Harrington look to have productive careers ahead of them, but their teams have problems in a number of areas. Minnesota needs a running back badly, but Michael Bennett is developing slower than they had hoped. On defense, Minnesota lacks a play-maker, and will continue to suffer unless they pick up quality players in the draft or through free agency.

There is a little more hope in Detroit. Harrington looks like the franchise quarterback he was drafted to be. The front seven on defense is respectable, with decent depth on the defensive line and speed in the linebackers. The secondary has good young talent in Chris Cash and Andre Goodman. The big weakness is on offense, where injury-prone receivers and undersized offensive lineman will spell doom for Coach Marty Mornhingweg’s offensive scheme. It will be a couple years before they are competitive again, but for now at least they’ve finally got something to root for in Harrington.

The T.O. way

Before Monday night’s game against the Seahawks (1-4), 49ers’ (4-1) receiver Terrell Owens promised his financial advisor an autographed football if he scored a touchdown. With the game tied 21-21 in the fourth quarter, Owens made a fantastic catch and scored a 37-yard touchdown to put San Francisco ahead for good. Known for his unique brand of touchdown celebration, Owens fulfilled his promise. He procured a pen from his sock, signed the football, and handed it to his advisor, seated in the front row.

After the game, many Seahawks players and coaches vilified Owens’ s action, calling it unsportsmanlike and inappropriate. Though the NFL refrained from taking disciplinary action, I think Owens is more of a distraction than Randy Moss. While Moss gets in trouble off the field, he rarely causes a stir with his actions on the field. From a football fan’s perspective, I think Owens’ attitude is more harmful to the league. Belittling the opposing team cannot be tolerated, and it reflects badly on your team as a whole. Neither receiver acts commendably, but at least Moss keeps it off the field. What’s worse, a bad personal life, or a bad sportsman?

Fantasy pick of the week: Curtis Conway, wide receiver for the San Diego Chargers. QB Drew Brees is only getting better and it will be a shoot-out with Oakland. Conway has to have a big game for the Chargers to stay with the Raiders.