NFC notebook



When Arizona went to camp last month, the Cardinals were rated contenders. After a training camp of holdouts, injuries and a serious car accident, they appear to be in shambles. Their 43-7 loss to Oakland in the preseason finale was their worst in the preseason since 1956 when they lost to the Los Angeles Rams, 69-21. Alonzo Spellman, who was out of football last year with off-the-field problems, will start for Dallas in place of Leon Lett, who's serving a drug suspension. "Anybody who walks back into what they did before wants to be where they were before. That's just human nature," Spellman said. Washington coach Norv Turner, who knows he'll be fired by new owner Daniel Snyder if he doesn't make the playoffs, seems to be feeling the heat. When a reporter came to him for reaction to critical comments by a player, he argued that the story shouldn't be written. The PR director then informed the reporter that writing the story would harm the reporter's relationship with Turner. It may not make much difference if Turner isn't the coach much longer. The Eagles are starting two rookies on the offensive line for the first time since 1973. Doug Pederson will start at quarterback over rookie Donovan McNabb. The Giants, opening their 75th season, don't have a player in the NFL's all-time top 25 list for single-season or career rushing or receiving. They'll start rookie Sean Bennett at running back against the Bucs because Gary Brown was injured against the Ravens in the final preseason game.


Randall Cunningham, who'll duel the Atlanta defense today, watched the videotape last week Cunningham of the playoff loss to the Falcons for the first time. "It hurt. It really hurt to watch it the first time. To see that we had the game right in front of us and it slipped away. That's the tough part for me." Cunningham produced only seven points in the second half and overtime and didn't produce a point in his last six possessions. Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre has no apologies for his 23 interceptions last year. "I'm not embarrassed one bit. The way I look at it, there's not too many guys who can hold my jock. I'm confident. People who want to look for negatives have obviously not very much to write about." Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy wants his team to intercept 32 passes (two a game) after dropping from 17 in 1996 to 13 in 1997 to 12 last year. Chicago, which didn't play last week, ends its two-week layoff by hosting Kansas City with Shane Matthews at quarterback. Rookie Cade McNown is supposed to get a series or two. The Detroit Lions begin their post-Barry Sanders era but it probably can't get much worse than it was with Sanders. Since they moved into the Silverdome in 1975, they've had more area codes (three) than home playoff games (two) and wins (one).


John Kasay of Carolina doesn't seem to be bothered by the NFL's policy of having the kickers use only new balls. He beat New England with a 61-yard field goal in the final preseason game as time expired, just three seconds after Adam Vinatieri tied it with a 58-yarder. Jamal Anderson has a vivid memory of the Falcons' victory over Minnesota in the playoffs -- the si- Anderson lence at the end of the game. "The whole game, the crowd was, oh, unbelieveable . They were on fire. And when the tide started turning and that kick went through, the crowd was just silent," Anderson said Defensive Charles Haley, who didn't play in the preseason, will be a situational pass rusher for the 49ers. The 49ers hope his bad back holds up for 16 games. "There's a difference between stiffness and pain," he said. "I feel good." The Rams have won four of their past five season openers, and they have a big one against the Ravens because they then have a bye followed by games against Atlanta, Cincinnati, San Francisco and Atlanta. The Saints, who had only four 100-yard rushing games all last year, hope to get one from Ricky Williams, who plans to play with an ailing leg. Williams, the only rookie on the Saints' roster, is doing all his interviews with his helmet on.

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