By numbers, foot soldiers carry load


It is more glamorous to have a quick-strike passing game in the NFL, but the surest path to victory is traveled on the ground.

That indisputable fact was apparent once again in Week 5.

No fewer than 12 of the 22 teams that played on Sunday failed to rush for 100 net yards. Ten of the 12 lost.

Of the 10 teams that went over the century mark, nine won. San Diego, which had the third-best rushing total of the day (152 yards) in a loss in Indianapolis, was the lone exception.

That's why the New York Giants are struggling to regain their 1997 form -- they can no longer run the ball.

That's why the Denver Broncos are still the NFL's best team -- they've got the best running back in Terrell Davis.

That's why the Green Bay Packers are going to miss injured Dorsey Levens -- eventually, Brett Favre is going to need some help.

On Sunday, the running game, or lack thereof, figured prominently in the week's three biggest surprises. The Chicago Bears held Detroit's Barry Sanders to 28 yards on 14 carries in a 31-27 win, while rushing for 125 themselves.

The Miami Dolphins' new-found running game vanished (34 yards on 15 carries) against the 27th-ranked rush defense of the New York Jets. The Jets' Curtis Martin ran for 108 yards and the Dolphins' Karim Abdul-Jabbar ran for 16. The Jets won, 20-9.

Then there were the Buffalo Bills, who pounded the ball 38 times for 115 rush yards in a 26-21 upset of the San Francisco 49ers. Porous defense and four turnovers doomed the 49ers, but their feature back (Garrison Hearst) ran to darkness (12 carries, 28 yards).

Fall from grace

There are a number of free-agent busts this season, among them three millionaire defensive linemen -- Dana Stubblefield and Dan Wilkinson of the Washington Redskins, and Sean Gilbert of the Carolina Panthers.

But another is beginning to surface with the 49ers: Former Ravens cornerback Antonio Langham is on the verge of losing his starting job, at least temporarily.

In the loss in Buffalo, Langham was penalized three times and surrendered seven receptions worth 109 yards and a touchdown.

In four games this year, Lang- ham has been flagged seven times and given up three touchdowns.

Defensive coordinator John Marshall suggested this week that the 49ers might turn to rookie cornerback R. W. McQuarters until Langham can regain his confidence. If injured Marquez Pope were available, Langham already would be out of a job.

Wise young head

Confronted with his alter ego in Ryan Leaf this week, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said he hasn't come close to blowing up at reporters this season, despite some difficult times. But then, he had an excellent role model in his father, former New Orleans quarterback Archie Manning.

"I've always treated the media like part of the job, like lifting weights or watching film," he said after the Colts' 17-12 win over Leaf and the Chargers.

"I watched my dad when I was growing up, and he did a lot of tough interviews after losses with the Saints."

Stat of the week

This is how inept the Dolphins were in their loss to the Jets: In the second and third quarters, Miami ran 17 plays and gained a total of 3 yards. That's 6.4 inches a play.

At that rate, the Dolphins would have needed 57 plays to make a first down.


The Dallas Cowboys have outscored division rivals Arizona, New York and Washington by a count of 100-27.

The Panthers have allowed franchise highs of 37 and 51 points in their past two games.

The AFC swept four interconference games this week for a 15-5 lead over the NFC. That includes the AFC West's 10-1 domination of the NFC East.

The Philadelphia Eagles, going nowhere, have lost 12 straight road games.

Backup quarterbacks Bubby Brister (Broncos) and Jason Garrett Cowboys) have completed a total of 30 of 41 passes for 349 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions against the Redskins.

Quick count

Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino threw his 68th career touchdown pass against the Jets this week -- most against any team -- but also was held to 121 passing yards, his career low against them. Arizona defensive end Andre Wadsworth has four sacks in his last two games. Sanders' 28 rushing yards were his lowest career total against the Bears. Dave Wannstedt, who has done a commendable job keeping the outmanned Bears

competitive, may get a break now; four of the Bears' next five games are against teams with losing records. The Cowboys, meanwhile, can take control of the NFC East with games against Carolina, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Best and worst

Best spin move: Henry Thomas of the Patriots. The 277-pound defensive tackle did a nifty 360-degree spin to elude a tackler rTC and complete a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Saints.

Worst revolving-door move: Redskins. After committing more than $57 million to defensive tackles Dana Stubblefield and Dan Wilkinson, the team has given up five 100-yard rushing games -- two in a 31-10 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday.

Best gesture: Saints. They contributed $114,907 in ticket revenues collected Wednesday through Sunday to United Way's relief fund for Hurricane Georges.

Second-best gesture: Danny Kanell. The Giants' quarterback apologized to his defense after a 10-for-27 performance produced 83 yards and three interceptions in a 20-3 loss to the Bucs.

Worst misuse of talent: Lions coach Bobby Ross. Even with Chicago using an eight-man front, Barry Sanders has to get the ball more than eight times in the second half, especially when the Lions have a 17-point lead. Sure, there will be lost-yardage plays, but Sanders makes up for it with those 50-yard breakaways.

Best first win: Bears. After losing four heartbreakers, they wiped out a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Lions, 31-27.

Biggest mismatch: Broncos vs. Eagles. The Eagles, probably the worst team in the league, gave up 28 points and 242 yards on 27 plays in the first quarter to the Broncos, probably the best team in the league.

Best kick-start: Atlanta's Tim Dwight. The 5-foot-8 rookie returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for the Falcons' first touchdown in a 51-23 demolition of Carolina.

Pub Date: 10/06/98

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