No passing fancy: Unitas' TD streak still stands


Even as one of Dan Marino's passing records is about to fall, John Unitas has withstood yet another threat to his NFL record of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass.

Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre had reached 36 straight games with at least one touchdown pass until the Packers were pummeled by the Philadelphia Eagles last week, 47-17.

Favre didn't seem overly upset, but Packers quarterback coach Darrell Bevell was. "With a different offense, maybe [it wouldn't bother him]," Bevell said. "But with our offense ... we should have been able to keep it going."

Ernie Accorsi, general manager of the New York Giants and longtime Baltimore Colts executive, said he expects Unitas' record to be eclipsed eventually because of the emphasis on passing in the league.

"The thing that would bother me is if somebody throws a TD pass just to keep a streak alive," Accorsi said. "John never threw one ball to keep that streak alive. I lived it, and it wasn't a big deal to him. He didn't even know there was a streak."

Full circle

Six years apart to the day, two controversial plays involving quarterback Vinny Testaverde served to get one Seattle Seahawks coach fired and perhaps a second.

On Dec. 6, 1998, Testaverde, then with the New York Jets, was stopped a yard short of the goal line on fourth down with 20 seconds left in the game, but referee Phil Luckett's officiating crew gave him a game-winning touchdown. That helped get Seahawks coach Dennis Erickson fired and Mike Holmgren hired.

On Dec. 6, 2004, Testaverde's touchdown pass to Keyshawn Johnson near the end of the Monday night game was ruled a touchdown on the field, but was not reviewed in the replay booth even though Johnson's arm touched out of bounds before both feet landed inbounds. Now it's Holmgren who's under fire and could get ousted as a result.

"I know I'm unpopular there after the New York Jets incident," Testaverde said. "But, hey, that's the way it goes. I've had my share go against me, too."

Slow burn

Meanwhile, Erickson may be about to depart the NFL for good. Now coaching the San Francisco 49ers, Erickson apparently didn't know the team was going to hit the salary cap skids when he signed on a year ago. At 1-11, he does now.

Erickson and general manager Terry Donahue reportedly are on the outs, although both men deny a rift. Donahue said the team is paying around $28 million to players no longer on the roster, but that figure should be less than $8 million next season. At 8-20 in his two seasons, Erickson isn't certain to make it.

"It's not my first barbecue," he said. "I've been around this thing a lot of times."

Breaking away

Whatever happened to parity? There are three 11-1 teams for only the second time in league history (1984), and there are four 9-3 teams. If the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots and Eagles all improve to 12-1 today, it will mark the first time three teams make it.

Also indicative of a growing disparity are this week's point spreads. There are 12 spreads of at least seven points out of 16 games. Only N.Y. Jets at Pittsburgh (-5 1/2 ), Tampa Bay at San Diego (-5 1/2 ) and Kansas City at Tennessee (-1 1/2 ) are under six points.


Marino, who bailed out after a brief run in a front-office job with Miami last offseason, tried to squelch reports he will return in the team's reorganization by asking a Dolphins spokesman to dispel those rumors. Marino did say he might reconsider at a later time, however. ... Borrowing a page from the Patriots, the Carolina Panthers used defensive end Julius Peppers as a receiver in the red zone last week against New Orleans, but quarterback Jake Delhomme overthrew him. ... If Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy has his way, quarterback Peyton Manning will get the single-season touchdown pass record sooner, not later. "I really can't fathom what [Roger] Maris went through, what [Barry] Bonds, [Mark] McGwire and [Sammy] Sosa went through," Dungy said. "We only play once a week. It's been mind-boggling to me the attention we've gotten in this three- or four-week period. Hopefully, we can get it behind us as quick as possible." ... The Minnesota Vikings ran only 22 running plays in a 24-14 loss to the Chicago Bears, which caused coach Mike Tice to openly criticize coordinator Scott Linehan's play-calling. ... In Buffalo's first six games, quarterback Drew Bledsoe was sacked 24 times and the Bills were 1-5. In the past six games, he has been sacked seven times and the team has gone 5-1. ... The Saints have been outscored 97-10 in the first quarter. ... The Patriots (102) and the Cincinnati Bengals (97), who meet today, are Nos. 1 and 2 in scoring points off turnovers. The Patriots also have scored first in 17 straight games. ... The Bears, who have started four different quarterbacks this season, are averaging more passing yards (135.2) than the 32nd-rated Ravens (134.6).

Final word

Denver coach Mike Shanahan and quarterback Jake Plummer rolled with the punch when former Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe ripped both men on his radio show for the team's slow collapse into mediocrity.

Mindful of the warm air winds that kick up in the winter along the Rocky Mountains, Plummer described Sharpe's bombast as "Chinook winds blowing off the mountain."

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

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