AFC notebook



Barring a stunning turnaround, the Rick Mirer era is unlikely to last much longer for the New York Jets. After scoring a touchdown in 44 consecutive games coming into the season, the Jets have gone without a touchdown in two of Mirer's four starts at quarterback. And in 47 possessions, he has produced just five touchdowns. After being criticized for conservative play-calling in an abysmal 16-6 loss to Jacksonville, coach Bill Parcells complained that Mirer didn't take advantage of a half-dozen chances to throw deep. Mirer didn't agree. "I don't think there were a lot of real good opportunities," Mirer said. "Did we have guys running free down the field? No, I didn't see that then or watching film." Mirer will start against the Indianapolis Colts today, but Parcells-favorite Ray Lucas is waiting in the wings. Quarterback isn't the Jets' only problem. The offensive line has surrendered 20 sacks -- an average of four a game -- and RB Curtis Martin hasn't hit 100 yards in a game yet. The Patriots were handicapped last week with a shortage of wide receivers once Troy Brown sprained an ankle on the opening kickoff. That left New England with just three tired wide-outs to run deep routes when the Pats played catch-up in the second half of a loss to Kansas City. Coach Pete Carroll opted to deactivate WR Vincent Brisby before the game because he felt he might need CB Tebucky Jones to replace an ailing Steve Israel. Israel was fine, though, and Jones never played. Carroll has won four of his past five games against Jimmy Johnson's Dolphins, who visit Foxboro today. The Colts' young offense has not been held under 332 total yards.


In a season when the Jaguars might be the AFC's best team, their strengths have flip-flopped. Defense -- last season's Achilles' heel -- is now carrying the team. The Jags ranked 25th in total defense and 23rd against the pass in 1998. This year, they lead the NFL in both categories. What's more, new defensive coordinator Dom Capers' pressure schemes have resulted in 18 sacks, a pace to produce 57 this season. Last year, under Dick Jauron, the defense totaled 30 sacks. The Jags' passing offense ranks only 20th. QB Mark Brunell said he misses former offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, who brings his Cleveland Browns to Jacksonville today. "Chris Palmer was one of the best quarterback coaches I ever had," Brunell said. "He helped me with every aspect of my game, my mechanics, my reads." Palmer knew he'd have problems on offense this year with the Browns, but he expected his defense to play better. The Browns have given up at least 400 yards in four out of five games. The only team not to reach 400 against Cleveland was the Ravens (334). The last time Pittsburgh started 2-3 was 1990, two years before coach Bill Cowher replaced Chuck Noll. Coming off two knee surgeries, Steelers RB Jerome Bettis is averaging a career-low 3.3 yards a carry, and says the key factor is the lack of a deep passing game. Bettis has rushed for 100 yards only twice in his past 13 games.


The 3-1 Seahawks, who play for the division lead today at San Diego, are a more unified team than the one that started 3-1 a year ago, says QB Jon Kitna. "We weren't pulling in the same direction," Kitna said of Dennis Erickson's last year with Seattle. "I don't think we all had the same goal in mind. We weren't willing to sacrifice some individual goals for the ultimate team goal." Kitna said new coach Mike Holmgren pulled the team together. "Coach brought that attitude here and preached it," said Kitna. "He said when we go to the Super Bowl, everybody gets it done -- everybody gets money and gets respect." The Chargers lead the league with a plus-8 turnover ratio, thanks to 13 turnovers -- including two for touchdowns -- in four games by their defense. Second-year Broncos FS Eric Brown should prepare for an air raid when he faces Packers QB Brett Favre today. Talking about Favre's three fourth-quarter comeback wins this season, Brown had this to say: "If you look at the film, he makes a lot of silly decisions. He throws into double coverage just trying to make a play. He's running around and sometimes he'll just throw the ball up. If you watch it, it's really funny. From what I've seen on film, he's been lucky. He's been really lucky." Famous last words?

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