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More than a footnote, Anderson chasing a rare perfect season

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In the quest for kicking perfection, the Minnesota Vikings' ageless Gary Anderson is all alone this week.

When Jason Elam of the Denver Broncos saw his 37-yard field-goal attempt blocked Sunday, it left Anderson as the NFL's only kicker who hasn't missed this season.

The 39-year-old veteran has made all 23 field goals and 51 extra points he has attempted for the Vikings. Counting five field goals he made at the end of last season for the San Francisco 49ers, Anderson has hit 28 consecutive three-pointers and needs three to tie the NFL record.

That the record is held by a former Viking, Fuad Reveiz, speaks to the advantages of playing indoors in a windless dome. Reveiz hit 31 straight between 1994 and 1995.

If Anderson, in his 17th season, is going to break the mark, he'll have to go outdoors twice more to do it. The Vikings play the Ravens in Baltimore on Sunday and, after a home game against Jacksonville, conclude the regular season at Tennessee.

Not only does Anderson have the advantage of home games in the Metrodome, he also has the benefit of the highest-scoring offense in the league. The Vikings, averaging 34 points, passed the Broncos this week with a 48-point binge against the Chicago Bears. Anderson's longest kick this season is 50 yards.

Elam, on the other hand, kicks in the thin air of Denver, which can get nasty in December. Elam was working on a 1998 streak of 18 field goals -- including a record-tying 63-yarder in Denver -- -- when his 37-yard try was blocked by the Kansas City Chiefs' Leslie O'Neal on Sunday.

Neither kicker has had the pressure of a game-winning kick. The 35-31 win over Kansas City was Denver's closest game of the year. With the exception of a three-point loss at Tampa Bay, the Vikings have beaten every opponent by at least seven points.

How rare is kicking perfection? Only one kicker has gone an entire NFL season without missing a field goal. In 1991, Tony Zendejas of the Los Angeles Rams made all 17 field goals he attempted.

A defensive stand

The long-awaited Monday night matchup between the

unbeaten Broncos and Miami Dolphins -- John Elway vs. Dan Marino -- is two weeks away. Unless Miami comes up with an offense, though, it won't be much of a contest.

The Dolphins beat the Oakland Raiders almost solely with defense on Sunday. Twenty-four of Miami's 27 points came off defensive turnovers -- two interceptions were returned for touchdowns. The Dolphins also notched eight sacks, while the offense, playing two backup guards, mostly sputtered.

That's the biggest change in the Dolphins under Jimmy Johnson, even as he tries to force-feed a lame running game. The Dolphins lead the league with 26 interceptions (they had 10 in 1997), and their sacks have risen from 31 to 43.

Miami's undefeated team of 1972 is gearing up in anticipation of Denver's arrival. Hall of Fame fullback Larry Csonka told CBS he had received Johnson's blessing to assemble members of the unbeaten team on the sideline Dec. 21.

By the numbers

Marshall Faulk of the Indianapolis Colts needs 177 receiving ++ yards over his last three games to reach 1,000 for the year and join Roger Craig (49ers, 1985) as the only players to gain 1,000 rushing and receiving the same season.

The Broncos' Terrell Davis needs 346 yards, or an average of 115.3, to reach 2,000 yards. He has been held under 100 each of the past two games.

With 335 carries, Atlanta Falcons workhorse Jamal Anderson needs 73 carries -- an average of 24.3 -- to break the NFL record of 407 set by Tampa Bay's James Wilder in 1984.

The Grbac grab

The Chiefs have a bigger headache than missing the playoffs this season. They have to decide which quarterback they want to play -- and pay -- in 1999. Rich Gannon, who won the starting job from Elvis Grbac last month, can become a free agent after this season. He's 4-4 in a starting role, with 10 touchdown passes and four interceptions, and won't be cheap to sign.

Grbac has three years left on a five-year, $20 million contract. He is due $3.8 million next season, $4.8 million in 2000 and $5.8 million in 2001. He also has roster bonuses and guarantees that make it prohibitive for him to remain as a backup to Gannon.

One scenario making the rounds is exposing Grbac to the Cleveland Browns in the expansion draft, where he'd be reunited with former 49ers executive Carmen Policy. Grbac has given his approval to that move.

Then the Browns could bring Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch along slowly, or take Texas running back Ricky Williams with the first pick in the draft.

Audibles

In a take-no-prisoners mode, the Vikings' Randall Cunningham was throwing deep on the Bears in the third quarter with a 34-7 lead. Replacing Bryant Young with Gabe Wilkins at defensive tackle, the 49ers gave up 203 rushing yards to Carolina, which averaged 72.2 yards going in. New England defensive tackle Chad Eaton bulldozed Pittsburgh's All-Pro center Dermontti Dawson for eight tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble. The Dallas Cowboys have allowed seven pass plays of more than 70 yards their past four games. The New York Giants had 44 take-aways and were plus-25 in turnovers in 1997. This year, they have 20 take-aways and are minus-two.

Best and worst

This week's worst officiating fiasco: Jets-Seahawks. Phil Luckett's crew (of Thanksgiving's coin-toss infamy) blew it again when head linesman Earnie Frantz prematurely signaled touchdown on Vinny Testaverde's keeper to beat Seattle. Testaverde still hasn't gotten into the end zone.

Biggest reprieve: 49ers-Panthers. John Kasay's missed 47-yard field goal in regulation and a fumbled center snap by quarterback Steve Beuerlein in overtime let the reeling 49ers escape Charlotte with a 31-28 win.

Worst giveaway: Dolphins-Raiders. Quarterback Donald Hollas, who came out of obscurity to win four games for the Raiders, retreated to obscurity with six interceptions -- two returned for touchdowns -- in a 27-17 loss to the Dolphins.

Clearest sign of decay: Steelers. It's not just the stadium walls that are falling down in Pittsburgh these days. An uninspired 23-9 loss to their former patsies, the Patriots, left the Steelers on the fringe of the playoff picture.

Best look of destiny: Vikings. Playing without injured running back Robert Smith, injured wide-out Jake Reed and injured quarterback Brad Johnson, the Vikings also lost wide receiver Cris Carter to injury in warm-ups. But still they scored 48 points to trash the Bears and clinch the NFC Central title.

Biggest so-what: Chargers-Redskins. Norv Turner got the first winning fourth-quarter rally of his soon-to-be-ended five-year term in Washington.

Worst blown opportunity: Cardinals-Giants. The Cardinals could have put a stranglehold on the NFC's last wild-card spot against the Giants. Instead, they allowed 200 rushing yards and lost at home.

Best reincarnation: Saints-Cowboys. Employing a version of the Bears' famed 46 defense for the first time this season, Mike Ditka's Saints squashed the Cowboys, 22-3, and held them to 8 yards rushing.

Pub Date: 12/08/98

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