NFC notebook



Kent Graham probably has his last chance to keep his job tomorrow night when the New York Giants play host to the Dallas Cowboys. Coach Jim Fassel went back to Graham, who was out with a concussion last week, when Kerry Collins didn't distinguish himself at Arizona last Sunday. But if Graham has a bad game and the Giants fall to 2-4, Fassel may have to go back to Collins to find out if he's the answer for the future. Fassel needs to prove he can develop a quarterback or he could be out of a job at the end of the year. "Nobody puts more pressure on me than myself," said Fassel, who has started four quarterbacks (Dave Brown, Danny Kanell, Graham and Collins) in three years. Mike Nolan, the Washington Redskins' defensive coordinator, is another coach on the hot seat. He'll be history if the defense doesn't improve even if the team keeps winning. Impatient new owner Daniel Snyder wanted to fire him during the bye week, but coach Norv Turner talked him into keeping Nolan for now and bringing in a retired coach, Bill Arnsparger, to help him. Arizona is having trouble running the ball. It is ranked 29th in rushing offense with an average of 69 yards a game. The Cowboys, who have yet to give Michael Irvin a contract extension, are going to find out what it's like playing without him against the Giants. Irvin is expected to miss five to eight weeks with a spinal contusion. "It's really going to shed some light on some things playing without 88, it really is. This is the same guy. I can't go there," Deion Sanders said as he stopped short of saying the Cowboys haven't respected what Irvin has meant to the franchise by giving him a new deal.


Cade McNown becomes the third member of the first-round quarterback class to start today when he goes against the Philadelphia Eagles, because Shane Matthews is nursing a pulled hamstring. Tim Couch has started since the second game and Akili Smith got his first start last week. Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper have yet to start. Charlie Batch of Detroit has been sacked 10 times in the past two games. Injuries in the offensive line are part of the problem. The last time Green Bay met Denver was in the Super Bowl, and then-coach Mike Holmgren let the Broncos score the winning touchdown because he wanted to give Brett Favre more time to try to tie it. The way Favre is playing this year, he would have done it. The Packers are 3-1 and he has led comeback drives in the final two minutes in all three wins. Tampa Bay will stick with Trent Dilfer after the bye week when the Bucs play Chicago next week, but the fans are calling for former Raven Eric Zeier to get a shot.


George Seifert, a San Francisco native who won five Super Bowl rings in 17 years with the 49ers, including eight years as the head coach, returns to San Francisco to play the 49ers. The Carolina coach says he has no grudge against the team that pushed him out the door. "I loved it. That was one of the greatest parts of my life. But it was time to leave, just like there was a time for Bill Walsh to leave or Joe Montana or Ronnie Lott or anybody else." Walsh is back in the front office. Seifert has a chance to break the 49ers' string of 18 straight home victories since Steve Mariucci replaced him in 1997. It's the longest home winning streak in 49ers' history. As usual, coach Mike Ditka is getting frustrated by the Saints' 1-3 start. He barked to the host of his call-in radio show last week, "I'm tired of being on the radio. I don't know why I'm on the radio. As a matter of fact, I'm going to try to get off the radio." The Falcons know what it's like to come out of nowhere the way the St. Louis Rams are doing this year. Atlanta did it last season and now want to slow the Rams' bandwagon after getting drilled, 35-7, in St. Louis. The Falcons say they're better than their 1-4 mark and don't think the Rams are as good as their 4-0 mark. "It's definitely a cliche, but also accurate [that the Falcons are better than their record]," said defensive end Lester Archambeau. "You play the way we did against those guys and you're glad you get a chance to play them again quickly. The Rams game was an aberration." Hall of Famer Stan Musial visited the Rams and told them, "I've been to 20 Super Bowls and I'm looking forward to going to another one."

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