Bad behavior on the rise

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The NFL is awash in passing offense and petulant behavior this season. From Rich Gannon's 64 pass-athon to Dwayne Rudd's helmet-throwing folly, it's been a league of extremes over the first three weeks.

Unfortunately, petulant behavior seems to be winning. At the least, it has put a stain on today's athlete. Consider that in the space of three days last week, all of the following took place:

Terrell Owens, a Pro Bowl receiver with the San Francisco 49ers, renewed his diatribe against coach Steve Mariucci, saying the 49ers lacked "killer instinct" because they did not try to run up the score in a 20-10 win over the Washington Redskins last Sunday.

Keyshawn Johnson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a two-time Pro Bowl receiver, got in the face of Bucs coach Jon Gruden because he was not on the field for a critical play late in Monday night's win over the St. Louis Rams and the two had a heated exchange.

Randy Moss, a three-time Pro Bowl selection with the Minnesota Vikings, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with careless driving and failure to obey a traffic control officer -- both misdemeanors -- after he allegedly pushed a traffic safety agent in Minneapolis a half-block with his 2002 Lexus. Moss reportedly was attempting to make an illegal turn when the incident occurred.

The bottom line in these random acts of stupidity is not that the more Pro Bowls one is invited to, the worse the behavior. No, it's the disconcerting lack of regard for authority exhibited by players at the top of their profession.

Owens wanted to stick it to the Redskins even though 17 49ers felt the effects of a virus and Mariucci merely wanted to get the game over with before losing any more players. Johnson felt demeaned because Keenan McCardell, a consummate pro, was on the field instead of him for a key play. Moss, who on Sunday had a sideline incident with quarterback Daunte Culpepper, cried crocodile tears for television on Wednesday as a seeming victim, but offered no remorse for allegedly knocking the traffic safety agent to the road.

Owens didn't back off his inane position a few days later. Johnson said you can expect more of the same from he and Gruden. And while Moss reportedly was fined approximately $45,000 by the Vikings, he will play -- and start -- tonight against Seattle.

The NFL appears to be between a rock and a hard place when it comes to aberrant behavior from its stars, as Kansas City Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil acknowledged when he spoke of Johnson's confrontation with Gruden.

"I don't think there's any room for it in football," Vermeil said. "I'd fire his [butt] if I could, but you're probably paying him too much money and the salary cap keeps him there."

Safe for now

Despite a 2-17 record as coach of the Detroit Lions, Marty Mornhinweg isn't about to be fired. Lions owner William Clay Ford met briefly with the team and coaching staff on Monday and said that Mornhinweg would remain coach for some time. When Ford did not make himself available to the media, it was left to players to address the issue.

"There's just been so much talk about Marty not being here," said defensive end Robert Porcher. "To hear the head man come up and endorse his head coach, that should take some pressure off of him and really let us get back to the task at hand and win some games."

Mornhinweg, whose team has surrendered a league-high 117 points in three losses, declined to talk about Ford's endorsement. "Regarding myself, it's unimportant," he said. "I told you guys that before, and I'm not going to go there."

Airing it out

The Tennessee Titans figure they know what's coming when they visit the Oakland Raiders today -- the no-huddle offense. That's because the Cleveland Browns scored all three of their offensive touchdowns last week against Tennessee in the no-huddle. Last year, Titans' opponents lined up in three-wide-receiver sets 43 percent of the time.

Said safety Lance Schulters: "Let me put it like this. If I was their offensive coordinator and I'm looking at us, at what we did Sunday, I run no huddle all day. I throw it 60, 70 times. I throw it until we stop it."

Not in Carter's corner

For the first time since he chose Quincy Carter in the second round of the 2001 draft, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is backpedaling on the second-year quarterback. Jones isn't unhappy with Carter, but said he had not lived up to expectations of being a multi-threat in the manner of Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb or Atlanta's Michael Vick.

"I am right in the middle on Quincy," Jones said. "I don't know if Quincy will evolve into the kind of productive player like some of the mobile quarterbacks you are seeing. That's why we signed Chad Hutchinson, to give us another opportunity to have skill and mobility."

Jones gave Hutchinson a $3.1 million signing bonus last year with the idea of competing for the starting job in 2003. That timetable could be moving up.

Winning converts

The New England Patriots' impressive 3-0 start this season as defending Super Bowl champions has started to win over some disbelievers, apparently.

"I certainly wasn't a believer," said Bill Walsh, who won three Super Bowls as coach of the 49ers. "I didn't believe in them until I saw them the last two weeks."

Audibles

St. Louis Rams linebacker Tommy Polley (Dunbar) is out three weeks with a torn groin muscle. He had originally hurt his groin two weeks ago, but tried to play through it. ... The Cincinnati Bengals have fallen behind 20-0 in each of their three losses, and are 53-125 under Mike Brown's ownership. ... The Eagles haven't given up an offensive touchdown in their last eight quarters and the Houston Texans, today's opponent, haven't scored an offensive touchdown in eight quarters. ... The Cowboys, who play at St. Louis, are 4-25 on the road since 1998. ... Buffalo Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe has thrown 113 passes without an interception. ... After three weeks, scoring is at a 13-year high (44.7 points per game) and passing attempts are at a seven-year high (67.9 per game).

The last word

After matching last year's 3-0 start, the San Diego Chargers meet the Patriots today. How big is the game?

"It's going to be huge," said Chargers defensive end Marcellus Wiley. "It's more than just a game; it's going to be our respect-o-meter. I think the whole world wants to see how real we are."

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson: The Chargers want to protect QB Drew Brees as much as possible, and that means Tomlinson (right) will get a lot of carries against a Patriots defense that gave up 221 rushing yards last week.

Bears WR Marty Booker: He's averaging 114.3 receiving yards a game going into today's matchup against the Bills' suspect secondary.

Raiders QB Rich Gannon: Oakland has shown the ability to run or throw, but Tennessee is especially vulnerable against the pass.

THE HONORS

Game of the week: Bears at Bills. The Bears blew a 20-point lead last week and lost, which didn't sit well. Bills QB Drew Bledsoe makes every game exciting.

Dog of the week: Texans at Eagles. Texans QB David Carr has been sacked a league-high 19 times. Wait until the Eagles' blitz gets a piece of him.

Upset of the week: Browns over Steelers. Kordell Stewart is as shaky as ever and the Browns might finally have figured out how to win close games.

POWER RANKINGS

Team Ken Murray's comment

1. New England (1) Injuries might test Patriots' mettle.

2. Miami (2) Ricky Williams on pace for 2,101 rushing yards.

3. Denver (4) Shannon Sharpe hasn't scored TD yet.

4. Philadelphia (5) Eagles are throwing downfield now.

5. Oakland (3) CB Phillip Buchanon gets his first start.

6. New Orleans (8) Saints aren't underdogs this week.

7. Chicago (6) Defense missing three starters.

8. San Francisco (7) Terrell Owens can't help himself.

9. Cleveland (12) Browns still can't stop the run.

10. Indianapolis (11) Threat of L.A. move grows louder.

11. Green Bay (9) Losing Vonnie Holliday is big hit.

12. Tampa Bay (14) Keyshawn Johnson demanding the ball.

13. N.Y. Giants (13) Matt Bryant delivered under pressure.

14. San Diego (15) Drew Brees vs. Bill Belichick.

15. Buffalo (16) Great offense, awful defense.

16. St. Louis (10) Kurt Warner looks shaky in pocket.

17. Pittsburgh (17) Worst pass defense in league.

18. Atlanta (23) Michael Vick is electric.

19. Carolina (25) Most improved defense in league.

20. Jacksonville (20) 6-1 vs. Vinny Testaverde.

21. Tennessee (19) Steve McNair is 3-0 vs. Raiders.

22. Washington (22) Patrick Ramsey is on fast track.

23. N.Y. Jets (18) Won eight of past 10 road games.

24. Dallas (21) Cowboys' cornerbacks are toast.

25. Arizona (24) Offense should carry the team.

26. Kansas City (27) On record pace for defensive futility.

27. Minnesota (26) Randy Moss doesn't get it.

28. Seattle (28) Seahawks face must-win game tonight.

29. Ravens (30) Defense has played admirably.

30. Houston (31) Touchdown drought should continue.

31. Detroit (32) Joey Harrington showed some flashes.

32. Cincinnati (29) This organization is stupefying.

(Last week's ranking in parentheses)

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