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Healthy again, Stokley showing flash for Colts


For 13 games, Brandon Stokley was an afterthought. In the Indianapolis Colts' past four games, Stokley has been a revelation.

It wasn't a good start or a likely destination, but when the Colts play the Kansas City Chiefs today in an AFC semifinal, Stokley will command serious attention. On a team that features Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne and Marcus Pollard as primary targets, the former Ravens receiver has become another scintillating option in Peyton Manning's passing game.

All Stokley had to do was overcome a lingering foot injury, a shoulder ailment and a concussion. And, oh yes, win Manning's favor.

"This offense provides so many opportunities if you can just gain Peyton's trust," Stokley said last week. "And I'm taking advantage of them. You've got to step up and make plays."

For most of the season, he couldn't get onto the field because of physical problems. He played in just three of the team's first 13 games and totaled five catches for 44 yards.

In the past four games, he's had 21 catches for 311 yards (a 14.8 average catch) and five touchdowns. In last week's wild-card romp over the Denver Broncos, he had four receptions for 144 yards with touchdowns of 31 and 87 yards.

"What you have seen from Brandon is what you probably would have seen all season if he had been healthy," Manning said. "It has been frustrating for him and also for us, because we have wanted to get him out on the field and show everybody what he could do."

Stokley, 27, left the Ravens in free agency last offseason ("I wanted to stay. I loved that organization, but they didn't make a big push for me to stay."). He has a Super Bowl touchdown on his resume, and he'd like to go back for more.

"I tell these guys it's an unbelievable feeling [to play in the Super Bowl]," he said. "You've got to be there and feel it."

Hall of Fame wing

The return of Joe Gibbs to Washington not only takes the Redskins back to their glory years in the 1980s, but it helps the NFC East, as well. Those were golden years, when the New York Giants, under Bill Parcells, regularly met the Redskins for division bragging rights. From 1983 through 1991, the East was won by either the Redskins or the Giants in seven of the nine years.

With Parcells in Dallas, Andy Reid in Philadelphia and Tom Coughlin moving to the Giants, it might be the most competitive division in the NFL.

Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi assessed it this way: "This division now has one Hall of Fame coach [Gibbs], another in Parcells who just hasn't been elected yet but will; Andy Reid, who has a chance to go to his third straight NFC championship game, and our coach, who has been in two championship games.

"It's an all-star coaches division."

The new Coughlin

Coughlin was notorious for his strict and sometimes excessive list of team rules while running the Jacksonville Jaguars.

At his New York unveiling last week, he said he will relax some of them, such as allowing assistants to wear sunglasses. But he will still insist on players keeping both feet on the floor in meetings.

"That, I believe in," Coughlin said. "I have spent a lifetime trying to improve concentration and focus. I don't know how a guy who's slouching can pay attention to what is going on."

Two-minute drill

Although it's believed that LSU coach Nick Saban is still the first choice of Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo for his vacant coaching position, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen's name has surfaced there as well. Friedgen coached under Bobby Ross at Maryland when Bobby DePaul, the Bears' pro personnel scout, played there. And DePaul has Angelo's ear. ... Another former Terps coach, Mark Duffner, now the linebackers coach with the Green Bay Packers, declined an overture last month to go after the opening at the University of Cincinnati. The job went to Ohio State defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio. ... When Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was the leading candidate for the Nebraska job, Parcells convinced him his future was in the NFL. Zimmer got a three-year contract extension and a $500,000-a-year raise in salary to $1 million a year. It's not certain if Parcells also promised Zimmer the Cowboys' job once he leaves. ... Turns out Seattle receiver Alex Bannister ran 8 yards on a 5-yard route on the final play of the Seahawks' 33-27 playoff loss to Green Bay. The Packers' Al Harris easily stepped in front of Bannister to steal Matt Hasselbeck's pass and end Seattle's season.

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

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