AFC notebook



In the aftermath of last week's 23-18 loss to the Bills, Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson launched another volley of criticism at QB Dan Marino. Johnson said Marino Johnson made poor decisions in the passing game and suggested he became rattled by the Bills' pass rush. Johnson did not exonerate the offensive line, but Marino was the only player to bear culpability. "When he's gotten bumped around, he's made some poor decisions," Johnson said. "If he gets hit, his play drops down considerably." Marino, 38, had three turnovers, one a fumble that became a Buffalo touchdown. It doesn't help that the Dolphins still can't run the ball, despite a major attempt to upgrade the running back position. The Dolphins are averaging just 84.3 yards rushing a game and 2.9 a carry. Only five teams in the league have a worse average carry. The Dolphins are 0-19 since 1996 when they run the ball fewer than 25 times. Coach Jim Mora, whose Colts play Miami today, knows a setup when he sees one. After Johnson's comments on Marino, Mora said: "How can you not say nice things about Dan Marino? He's as good as any QB ever to play the game." Colts QB Peyton Manning hasn't been sacked in 117 attempts this season. Since Adam Vinatieri kicked a 33-yard field goal in the first quarter of the season opener, the Patriots have had eight first-quarter possessions -- seven punts, one fumble -- without scoring. They've trailed at halftime the past three weeks, but are 4-0 because they're outscoring the opposition, 66-19, in the second half. Bills DE Bruce Smith has sacked 59 QBs in his career, but never Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart, whom he chases today.


In an ugly battle of winless, punchless teams, Bengals QB Akili Smith has the motivational edge over Browns QB Tim Couch. Smith, taken third in last April's draft, feels he was used by the Browns, who negotiated with both QBs before taking Couch with the first pick. "I'd be happy to beat them every time we play," Smith said. In last week's loss to the Patriots, Couch went 5-for-15 after hitting his right thumb on the helmet of RG Scott Rehberg. QB Jeff Blake lost his starting job to Smith after getting the Bengals in the red zone five times the past two weeks, but not in the end zone. The deep ball has been Blake's forte, but his longest completion this season is for 24 yards. The Jaguars' offense is struggling in the transition from Chris Palmer to Tom Coughlin calling the plays. Against Pittsburgh, the Jaguars were 3-for-15 on third down and went three-and-out on seven of 12 possessions. Steelers coach Bill Cowher says he won't make Stewart the scapegoat for an offense that has been outscored by the opposing defense the past two weeks. "If I thought it was one person, I'd make the change," Cowher said. "I don't care who it is, because then you're not being fair to everybody." Asked about the possibility of benching Stewart, Cowher said, "I can't foresee that situation." He also said the new contract Stewart signed last summer -- with an $8.1 million signing bonus -- wasn't a consideration.


Broncos LB Bill Romanowski drew a league fine for the third straight week for throwing the ball at Jets LB Bryan Cox after making an interception in last week's loss. The feisty Romanowski has been fined $5,000 for a Week 2 hit to the head and neck of Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez, $10,000 for a Week 3 hit on Bucs QB Trent Dilfer and $2,500 for hitting Cox with the ball. Cox fired it right back, but wasn't fined. If journeyman Derek Loville (hamstring) is unable to start for the Broncos against Oakland, their starting RB will be rookie Olandis Gary, who played at Riverdale Baptist High in Upper Marlboro and later at Marshall and Georgia. The Chargers, who were 50-36 with two division titles and one Super Bowl appearance under coach Bobby Ross, are 11-24 and working on their third coach (Mike Riley) since GM Bobby Beathard forced Ross out after the 1996 season. The Chargers face Ross, now the Lions' coach, for the first time since then. The Raiders' defense is No. 1 against the rush, but only No. 28 vs. the pass, allowing a 58.9 completion percentage and 10 TD passes in four games.

Pub Date: 10/10/99

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