Undermined by key injuries and bad quarterbacks, the NFL endured a blight of inept offense in Week 7.
No fewer than eight teams failed to score an offensive touchdown. Six teams lost by 21 points or more. And four teams had 12 first downs or fewer.
The Carolina Panthers ran 12 plays over five series inside the Detroit Lions' 5-yard line, but they came away with only three field goals and two turnovers in a 24-9 loss at home. The Panthers' best runner, Tshimanga Biakabutuka (nine rushes, 10 yards), was hampered by an ankle sprain.
The San Diego Chargers had the ball at or inside the Green Bay Packers' 10 four times, and produced only one field goal. Quarterback Erik Kramer killed two threats with interceptions and another with an ill-advised scramble as the half expired. Kramer and his replacement, Jim Harbaugh, split six interceptions overall in a 31-3 home loss to the Packers.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers prevailed over the Chicago Bears, 6-3, in a game of brutal quarterbacking. The Bucs converted three of 14 third-down plays with 11 first downs, and quarterback Trent Dilfer (16-for-27 for 121 yards) missed a wide-open Warrick Dunn in the end zone. The Bears converted six of 18 third downs, and rookie quarterback Cade McNown (9-for-23, 82 yards) was benched for journeyman Jim Miller.
The New Orleans Saints had just three first downs in the first half against the New York Giants and fell behind 24-3. Quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver, subbing for injured Billy Joe Hobert, completed 14 of 33 passes for 176 yards and three interceptions in the 31-3 loss.
The Cleveland Browns surrendered a 13: 32 advantage in time of possession in a 34-3 loss to the St. Louis Rams.
The Philadelphia Eagles gained fewer than 200 total yards for the fourth time in seven games, yet managed to stay within a field goal of the Miami Dolphins, falling, 16-13. Quarterback Doug Pederson hit 13 of 25 passes for 108 yards and an interception.
What has happened to the running game?
Five quarterbacks led their respective teams in rushing on Sunday, but only one -- Oakland's Rich Gannon -- won. He gained 60 yards on five carries to help the Raiders beat the New York Jets, 24-23.
Not so fortunate were Cleveland's Tim Couch (50 yards), Buffalo's Doug Flutie (48), Cincinnati's Akili Smith (42) and San Francisco's Jeff Garcia (35). They all lost. No wonder.
Heading for trouble
This is why the NFL needs a policy on concussions. Deion Sanders of the Dallas Cowboys suffered a concussion when he took a punishing hit to the helmet returning a punt early against the Washington Redskins.
He put himself back in the game in the third quarter, and returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown in the fourth.
Asked who had cleared Sanders to return to the game, Dallas coach Chan Gailey said, "Deion did." Obviously, it was with Gailey's blessing.
Although there is limited scientific data on treating concussions, it is known that the risk for further damage is greater if a person has not had sufficient time to recover from a previous concussion.
Other players who suffered concussions Sunday included Denver's Ed McCaffrey, New England's Terry Allen and San Francisco's Tim McDonald. None was allowed to return.
Acid test for Rams
Finally, there is a game to test the Rams' unbeaten record. The 5-1 Tennessee Titans are the first opponent with a winning record that the Rams will have faced.
The Rams have won their first six games by an average of 25.7 points. They are outscoring opponents 66-9 in the first quarter and 143-36 in the first half.
Curiously, Cleveland's rookie wide receiver Kevin Johnson guaranteed a Browns win last week.
After St. Louis' 34-3 rout, Rams linebacker London Fletcher had this to say about Johnson: "The only thing he guaranteed was a butt-whipping for his team."
Desmond Howard, the MVP of Super Bowl XXXI for the Packers, has lost his kick-return job to rookie De'Mond Parker.
Howard's best return of the season was 22 yards, and on his only return Sunday, Parker had a 36-yard gain.
Howard remains the Packers' punt returner, and had three fair catches Sunday.
By the numbers
The Packers' win at San Diego was the first road win for former Eagles coach Ray Rhodes in 20 games.
The Jets had given up three touchdowns in three previous games. Sunday they gave up three to the Raiders in 15 minutes. The 17-point lead blown by the Jets was the largest in Bill Parcells' 15 seasons coaching.
How bad are the 49ers? They've given up 18 touchdown passes in seven games and have allowed 40 or more points three times, the most since 1963.
San Diego's Kramer has thrown seven picks in his past five quarters. Teams that ran the ball fewer than 25 times Sunday were 1-7. Teams that ran it 30 or more were 5-1.
Questions How many players -- besides the Cowboys' Deion Sanders -- could suffer a first-half concussion and in the second half return a punt 70 yards for a touchdown?Given his unraveling team and his increased hostility, how much longer will Mike Ditka last as coach of the Saints?
What in the world was Browns rookie Kevin Johnson thinking when he guaranteed a win over the unbeaten Rams?
Rams RB Marshall Faulk, obtained for second- and fifth-round picks, was the steal of the off-season. Faulk has gained 314 yards rushing the past two weeks.
It wasn't the play-calling of offensive coordinator Ray Sherman, but the execution of QB Randall Cunningham that sent the Vikings' once-vaunted offense into a funk. Jeff George proved that Sunday.
The fastest-rising team in the AFC is Indianapolis, with a wealth of offensive weapons and an emerging defense. Beating the Bengals was no big deal -- everybody does that -- but it was the way the Colts won that was impressive.
The Bengals went 24 minutes without a first down after getting their first one. The Colts also rendered rookie QB Akili Smith ineffective with five sacks. On Smith's 11 drives before leaving with a leg injury, the Bengals went three-and-out eight times. The Colts were so prepared that their defense was calling out Cincinnati's offensive plays at the line of scrimmage.