Amid controversy, Owens gets a pass

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Rush Limbaugh took the "path of least resistance" and left. Dan Reeves took a stand and might take the fall. Dennis Erickson couldn't take a chance, so he kept status quo.

The week that was in the NFL was fraught with obvious decisions, some tough ones and one that smacked of self-preservation. With the exception of Limbaugh - good riddance, pal - winners and losers will be determined later.

Limbaugh's a loser already. His observation on ESPN that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is overrated because he's black is inane, if not racist. McNabb hasn't run up a career record of 36-22 with the Eagles and gone to two championship games because he's black, because the media like him, or because he's overloaded with offensive weapons.

Limbaugh weathered the backlash for two days, then resigned. He was a drag on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown to start with and won't be missed.

That brings us to Reeves, the coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Last week, Falcons cornerback Tyrone Williams had a blowup with one of his coaches, reportedly defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, although Phillips denies it. The upshot was that Reeves suspended Williams for one game.

This is noteworthy - and even admirable - on at least two counts. First, the struggling Falcons are facing the 4-0 Minnesota Vikings and Randy Moss today. Williams' absence leaves them considerably short in the secondary, where they haven't been all that good, anyway.

Secondly, Reeves didn't let the Falcons' investment in Williams or his own job status influence his decision. Williams got a $3 million signing bonus as a free agent in the offseason for a prospective playoff run. That run may not materialize because Reeves already has lost his franchise player, quarterback Michael Vick.

Reeves can't remember ever suspending a player in his 23 years as a head coach. In this case, it only compounds a 1-3 start and ultimately could jeopardize Reeves' position. But his decision assured one thing: He will have the respect, and the attention, of his team.

That's something Erickson can't be sure of in San Francisco, where the 49ers face their old coach, Steve Mariucci, and his new team, the Detroit Lions. At 1-3, Erickson can't afford to lose to the man he replaced. Maybe that's why he gave loudmouth receiver Terrell Owens a pass after Owens berated offensive coordinator Greg Knapp on the sideline last week. Owens later said his team has no heart.

It was the third straight week Owens pointed fingers. He has criticized his quarterback, the offensive line and the coordinator. Do you think the players realize Owens is in his contract year and looking for a big haul in March?

Erickson's answer was to warn Owens that his behavior won't be tolerated, but he won't keep him out against the Lions. Let's see how the 49ers warm to that decision.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Bills grounded

The Buffalo Bills rushed for 104 yards in a season-opening rout of New England. They have rushed for 105 yards in three games since, averaging 1.8 yards a carry. Not surprisingly, they've lost two of the three.

Even though running back Travis Henry missed last week's loss to Philadelphia with torn rib cartilage, the diminished running game goes deeper. Fullback Sam Gash was on the field for just five snaps in the first half of a loss to Miami, and just six snaps in three quarters against the Eagles.

"I think Sam is a big part of this football team," Henry said. "And he definitely needs to be on the field."

The long-term solution might be to get first-round pick Willis McGahee on the field. Now on the reserve/non-football injury list after knee surgery, McGahee will begin practicing Oct. 15. If all goes well, he might be ready for a Nov. 9 game at Dallas.

Countdown to zero

For the second time in three years, San Diego's Marty Schottenheimer will be one of the coaches in a matchup of 0-4 teams when his Chargers visit Jacksonville.

Two years ago, his 0-4 Washington Redskins lost to 0-4 Dallas in a Monday night game. The Redskins, however, won eight of their last 11 to finish 8-8, so Schottenheimer has a chance to recover.

The Jaguars' Jack Del Rio might not. After today, the Jaguars have two games against Tennessee, and one each against Miami, Indianapolis and the Ravens around a bye. That could mean an 0-10 start for the rookie coach.

Misfiring Maddox

Pittsburgh quarterback Tommy Maddox is forcing the ball and the Steelers are feeling the squeeze. He already has thrown six interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns or to the 1-yard line. He surrendered 14 points in a 30-13 loss to Tennessee last week.

"I like his aggressiveness," coach Bill Cowher said. "He made some great throws the other day. But at the same time, we have to be smarter about some of those decisions. ... We cannot continue to have the turnovers that are taking place and win games."

Facing the end

Oakland Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski, whose career is probably over after three concussions in one month, is getting used to the idea. His streak of 243 consecutive regular-season games ended last week, and he'll miss another today in Chicago. All he can do without getting dizzy or a headache is "walk around," he said.

"The cup with me is always half full," he said. "If I had to walk away, I have given the game all I've got. And ... I don't have any regrets. I wouldn't change a thing."

After a slight pause, and in a concession to some of the ugly confrontational incidents he's had in his career, Romanowski amended that: "Well, I take that back. There are a few things maybe I would change. But as far as what I did to prepare, each and every year, each and every game, I left it on the field."

Two-minute drill

Think the Arizona Cardinals would like a do-over with the sixth pick in the draft? Maybe they'd take Ravens pass rusher Terrell Suggs this time. Suggs has four sacks, and after trading down, the man the Cardinals got, Calvin Pace, at No. 19, is still sackless. ... With socialite Paris Hilton looking on from his private box, Chicago's Brian Urlacher had his worst game with the Bears at middle linebacker (four tackles) in the Monday loss to Green Bay. ... The Indianapolis Colts' Marvin Harrison is just 184 receiving yards shy of surpassing Raymond Berry's club record of 9,275. ... Ricky Williams has rushed for at least 100 yards in 12 of his 19 games with the Miami Dolphins, who are 10-2 in those games. ... Quarterbacks Donovan McNabb, Jake Delhomme and Doug Johnson have a combined passer rating of 29.1 against Tampa Bay's top-ranked defense. Anything below 70 is poor. ... Injuries have knocked Cincinnati Bengals running back Corey Dillon out early in the past three games.

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

TEAM RANKINGS

1. Chiefs (1)

They have Priest Holmes, but kick returner Dante Hall looks like the early favorite for MVP.

2. Bucs (2)

No. 1 pass defense faces a big challenge in Marvin Harrison.

3. Colts (4)

A win in Tampa would be a bigger statement than throttling the hapless Saints.

4. Broncos (3)

They will need a healthy Clinton Portis, a mistake-free Jake Plummer and air-tight special teams to win in Kansas City.

5. Vikings (9)

The jump ball is back in Minnesota's passing offense and Randy Moss is catching it.

6. Dolphins (5)

Ricky Williams is rested, but Jay Fiedler will want to go deep against the Giants.

7. Panthers (6)

Extending Kris Jenkins' contract is another good move for franchise.

8. Seahawks (7)

They'll pass Mike Holmgren Way to get to Lambeau Stadium.

9. Titans (10)

Eddie George, averaging 2.8 yards per rush, is grinding to a halt.

10. Steelers (8)

Bill Cowher is learning that bad things can happen when you throw this much.

11. Giants (12)

Their once-proud defense has been shredded and ranks last in the league.

12. Redskins (17)

Patrick Ramsey will want to take his shots at the Eagles' depleted secondary.

13. Eagles (20)

But Ramsey will have to avoid the blitz scheme that Jim Johnson will launch.

14. Ravens (15)

For want of a passing game, they could be in control of the division.

15. Raiders (18)

Today's trip to Chicago gives them a chance to get back on track offensively.

16. Bills (11)

With the lack of a running game, the Willis McGahee pick is looking better and better.

17. Rams (19)

Kurt Warner's wife has worn out her welcome in St. Louis.

18. Packers (21)

Holmgren may not recognize refurbished Lambeau or the team he once coached.

19. Cowboys (23)

Quincy Carter is quarterback of the NFL's No. 1 offense.

20. Patriots (13)

Tom Brady isn't Superman, and neither is Bill Belichick.

21. 49ers (14)

Dennis Erickson can't afford to lose to Steve Mariucci at home today.

22. Texans (26)

Dom Capers would be in hiding if David Carr hadn't scored last week.

23. Bengals (30)

They should have gotten something for Takeo Spikes when they let him leave.

24. Browns (16)

Butch Davis has them going in reverse now.

25. Falcons (24)

Protests aside, maybe this really is a one-man team, after all.

26. Lions (27)

Mariucci has a chance to bury the 49ers when he returns today.

27. Jaguars (28)

With a tough schedule ahead, Jack Del Rio is desperate for a win.

28. Jets (25)

Neither Vinny Testaverde nor Curtis Martin can get in the end zone.

29. Saints (22)

They played September like they normally play December, getting blown out.

30. Cardinals (29)

Emmitt Smith isn't going to like his Dallas homecoming.

31. Chargers (32)

David Boston is back, but does it matter?

32. Bears (31)

It's better not to be seen and not be exposed, than to be seen on Monday Night Football and be exposed.

(Last week's rankings in parentheses)

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