Mike Ditka left more than his heart in San Francisco this week. He left his whole offense, or what there was of it.
Ditka's New Orleans Saints committed a stupefying eight turnovers in a rock-bottom, 33-7 loss to the 49ers. At 0-3, the Saints have 19 turnovers so far, a number that projects to 101 for the season.
"I've gotten beat worse, but we've never given it away [like this]," Ditka said after the game.
Maybe, but blowouts in San Francisco are nothing new to Ditka. In six career games against the 49ers at the stadium formerly known as Candlestick Park, including his 11-year stint with the Chicago Bears, he is 1-5 as head coach. Worse yet, he's been outscored, 185-47, in those games. That's an average of 30.8-7.8. Overall, Ditka is 3-6 against the 49ers (and been outscored, 225-73).
This one could have been worse. Much worse. The 49ers settled for four Gary Anderson field goals after driving inside New Orleans' 20 each time.
How bad are the Saints? Quarterback Heath Shuler, about to lose his job, has completed 47 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and eight interceptions. He was replaced in the second half by Danny Wuerffel, who has completed 40.7 percent with two TDs and four interceptions.
In other words, New Orleans has a great chance to have a second-generation Manning at quarterback next year. Peyton Manning can only hope he doesn't have to follow in father Archie's shoes, though.
Misery loves company
Meanwhile, things are no less destitute at Ditka's old haunting ground.
The Bears are winless, too. When Chicago and New Orleans meet at Soldier Field on Oct. 5, there's a decent chance they'll both be 0-5.
The Saints have Detroit and the New York Giants before then. The Bears, off to their worst start in 28 years, travel to New England and Dallas in the next two weeks.
Dave Wannstedt, the coach who replaced Ditka five years ago, hit bottom himself with a 32-7 loss to the Lions. He lost his fourth offensive starter -- running back Rashaan Salaam is out for the season with a broken ankle -- and launched the Rick Mirer quarterbacking era.
Mirer, acquired from Seattle for a first-round draft pick, replaced Erik Kramer in the third quarter and had an inauspicious debut. On his first series, Mirer fumbled a fourth-down snap at midfield.
Why the Raiders won't win
What Oakland quarterback Jeff George did after his unheralded return to the Georgia Dome spoke volumes more than anything he did during the Raiders' tenuous, 36-31 victory over his former team, the Atlanta Falcons.
George was booed lustily by the Atlanta crowd, which last saw him cursing deposed Falcons coach June Jones on the sideline in the middle of a game a year ago. Victory -- and football -- in hand, George mocked the crowd with a lap around the dome Sunday.
As usual, he was putting himself ahead of the team. If anyone deserved a victory lap, it was Raiders running back Napoleon Kaufman, who had scoring runs of 61 and 58 yards. George's one touchdown pass came on a spectacular, one-handed catch by James Jett. Talk about going along for the ride.
Look who's back
There were some happy returns in the NFL in Week 3, though:
Denver's Gary Zimmerman abandoned a brief retirement to play right tackle for the Broncos. He'll likely be replacing left tackle Tony Jones before long.
Concussion-prone 49ers quarterback Steve Young was near perfect against the Saints, completing 18-of-21 passes for 220 yards and three TDs. One of the three incompletions was a throwaway. Young also absorbed five sacks without further injury.
Green Bay tight end Mark Chmura was supposed to miss six weeks with a torn knee ligament. But after sitting out one game -- the Packers' Week 2 loss in Philadelphia -- he returned to catch five passes for 57 yards in their 23-18 win over Miami.
Carolina quarterback Kerry Collins wasn't expected to return from a broken jaw until next week at the earliest. But he directed a 26-7 win over San Diego, producing two touchdowns, or twice the number of TDs the Panthers scored in their first two games.
Pub Date: 9/16/97