NFC notebook



Giants QB Kent Graham felt woozy after throwing three interceptions and being lifted last Sunday against Philadelphia, but he was lucid enough to lobby for his job. "A lot of quarterbacks have thrown three interceptions during a game. Troy Aikman has thrown three in a game, and Jake Plummer has thrown three or four in a game and they're still in there playing. Today, it just didn't work for me," he said. It turned out that Giants coach Jim Fassel didn't have to make a decision because the doctors discovered Graham had suffered a concussion. He was declared out for today's game at Arizona and Kerry Collins will make his first start. Plummer has thrown 12 interceptions and just two touchdown passes for the Cardinals. RB Emmitt Smith of the Cowboys has rushed for 90 or more yards 15 straight times against the Eagles and has been over 100 in 12 of them. The Eagles haven't held him under 90 since 1992, when he got 67 yards on 19 carries. Philadelphia QB Doug Pederson talked as if he expected to be benched this week, but coach Andy Reid decided to stick with him instead of going to rookie Donovan McNabb. "If the decision is made, I'm going to support Donovan 100 percent," Pederson said before finding out he'll be the starter. The Eagles haven't scored an offensive touchdown in 15 quarters and have scored just nine points after the first quarter.


Tampa Bay has not won a game in Wisconsin against the Packers since 1992. They've also never won any game when the temperature is 39 degrees or lower at game time. With the temperature expected to be around 40 today, the Bucs could break both jinxes. The Packers are 32-1 in their past 33 games at Lambeau Field. The Packers are touting a third-round pick, CB Mike McKenzie, for Rookie of the Year honors. He did an excellent job against Vikings WR Randy Moss in his last game. When former Chicago QB Steve Stenstrom fumbled a snap that LB Dwayne Rudd recovered and ran 94 yards for a touchdown last year, the Vikings' John Randle virtually sat on Stenstrom to keep him from chasing Rudd. Even Stenstrom laughed when the trash-talking Randle told him, "You better have a Snickers bar because you're going to be here for a while." In today's game, Randle gets to torment the new Chicago quarterback, Shane Matthews. The Bears beat the Saints after turning the ball over five times. The previous week, the Bears forced five turnovers against the Raiders and lost. Detroit coach Bobby Ross is downplaying his first game against San Diego since he left the Chargers after the 1996 season because of a dispute with general manager Bobby Beathard. "This is no more important than any other game," he said. "I'm looking at the big picture." Ross never had a losing season in five years in San Diego but was 8-8 twice. In the three years since he left, the Chargers have won 11 games and are on their third coach. Ross won 11 of the last 12 games in his first season with the Chargers.


Since Joe Montana took over as the 49ers' starting QB in the early 1980s, they're 27-10-1 with their backups starting. The latest backup to start and win was Jeff Garcia last week against Tennessee, and he's likely to get his second straight start today against the Rams. A Garica-Kurt Warner matchup would have seemed improbable just two months ago, but Rams QB Warner is the surprise star of the league, although this will be the first winning team he's faced. He's beaten three teams (Ravens, Falcons and Bengals) with a combined 2-10 mark and leads the NFL with a 125.0 quarterback rating. The Rams have lost 17 straight games to the 49ers. It seemed strange when Saints CB Ashley Ambrose intercepted a pass last week against Chicago and then walked over to the Bears' bench and gave friendly hugs to two assistant coaches, Bob Wylie and Greg Blache. Ambrose had played for them in previous stops at Cincinnati and Indianapolis. Carolina RB Tshimanga Biakabutuka refused to join the second-guessers who knocked coach George Seifert for taking him out of the game against the Redskins after he ran for three touchdowns. Seifert alternates Biakabutuka with Fred Lane and followed that pattern even though Washington rallied from a 21-0 deficit to win the game. Biakabutuka said, "Coach Seifert has won five Super Bowls [two as a head coach]. If I start questioning him, then I'm in trouble. I've never won a championship, not even in college. So this is a man who knows what it takes to win." This is the seventh time Atlanta has started 0-4; six of those times, the Falcons have dropped to 0-5.

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