Warner's time as a starter is coming to another stop

The Baltimore Sun

His storied career at another seeming dead end, Kurt Warner is facing a return trip to oblivion this week.

But at least the one-time NFL Most Valuable Player and Super Bowl hero won't have to go back to stocking groceries, just holding clipboards.

Warner's fumble-marred career as an NFL starter likely reached its conclusion yesterday in the Arizona Cardinals' 32-10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. He fumbled twice, losing one, and threw an interception.

Cardinals coach Dennis Green yanked Warner in the fourth quarter for rookie first-round draft pick Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner at Southern California. Even though Leinart lost a fumble and threw an interception, he represents the Cardinals' future, not Warner, 35.

Leinart had the reputation of protecting the football at USC. In the Arizona desert, Warner has built steadily on his reputation for being fumble-prone. In four games - and three losses - this season, he has fumbled 10 times, losing it four times.

Warner's interception yesterday was the turning point. A third-quarter pass deflected off the would-be receiver and was picked off by Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who returned it for a 37-yard touchdown and a 22-10 Atlanta lead. Not exactly Warner's fault, but fatal to the Cardinals, nevertheless.

His meteoric rise from Northern Iowa, the Arena Football League and a job stocking grocery store shelves began in 1999. It started with a Week 1 win over the Ravens and ended with a Super Bowl victory. What followed was a series of mishaps and misfortune, including a thumb injury and spinoff controversies in St. Louis.

He ultimately lost the Rams' job to Marc Bulger, and was replaced in New York by Giants phenom Eli Manning. This week, it will likely be Leinart's time.

V. Young's time

After some carefully crafted subterfuge, Vince Young made the first start of his NFL career in Week 4, beating Leinart and the Denver Broncos' Jay Cutler to the punch.

In the paranoid way of all NFL coaches, Jeff Fisher last week indicated veteran Kerry Collins would start again for the Tennessee Titans against the Dallas Cowboys. Only on Saturday did he own up to the fact he had made the decision to go to Young, the third pick in April's draft.

As debuts go, Young's wasn't pretty, but it was promising.

In a 45-14 whipping by the Cowboys, he completed 14 of 29 passes for 155 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions. A devastating runner and increasingly proficient passer at Texas, where he went 30-2 as a starter, Young ran only five times for 3 yards yesterday.

The downside was that he often threw into coverage - once into four-man coverage - and regularly locked onto his receivers. But he also showed the ability to make plays in the passing game.

At 0-4, the Titans have nothing to lose and everything to gain by giving Young a chance to learn the league his first year.

Going for it

The grittiest call of Week 4 was made by rookie New York Jets coach Eric Mangini. It came back to bite him in the end, but it also sent the message that he's not necessarily going to follow conventional thinking.

Facing fourth-and-goal at the 2 in a 14-14 tie with the Indianapolis Colts, Mangini eschewed the automatic field goal and went for the touchdown in the third quarter.

The play unraveled quickly, however, and quarterback Chad Pennington's weak pass was picked off by the Colts' Aaron Moorehead in the end zone. It became a talking point when the Colts pulled out a 31-28 victory on Peyton Manning's two-minute mastery.

Was Mangini wrong for passing on the field goal? Conventional thinking says you go for the points in that situation. But he did not second-guess his call, even after the decision backfired.

"We've seen Peyton march down the field a lot of times and score a touchdown, and we were looking to match our offensive production with touchdowns," Mangini said at a post-game news conference.

S. Moss' dividends

For all the player acquisitions Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has made during his extravagant stewardship, perhaps none has worked out better than the 2005 trade to get wide receiver Santana Moss from the Jets.

Moss averaged 17.7 yards a catch with nine touchdowns last season, helping get the Redskins to the playoffs. Yesterday, he almost single-handedly beat the Jacksonville Jaguars in a game that keeps the Redskins in the thick of the NFC East race at 2-2.

Moss had four catches for 138 yards and three touchdowns, including a 68-yard jaunt down the sideline with a pass from Mark Brunell to end overtime. For once, a high-priced player doesn't seem overpaid.

New Patriots star

If the Cincinnati Bengals were stoked for the return of Corey Dillon to Paul Brown Stadium for the first time since he left the team for the New England Patriots in 2004, they were looking at the wrong guy.

The player who destroyed the Bengals in New England's 38-13 thrashing was Laurence Maroney. The rookie running back from Minnesota sliced through Cincinnati's vulnerable rush defense for 125 yards and two touchdowns on only 15 carries.

Beware the Patriots, despite a shortage of experienced receivers. They are 3-1 in the AFC East and have only three games left against 2005 playoff teams.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

EXTRA POINTS

TERRIBLE TITAN

The ugliest play of the day will cost Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth a chunk of money in a fine and a suspension. After the Cowboys' Julius Jones went up the middle for a 5-yard touchdown run, Haynesworth kicked the helmet off a prone Andre Gurode and then stepped on his head, opening a nasty cut. Haynesworth was ejected for his thuggery.

SURPRISING SAINT

Saints tight end-wide receiver Marques Colston, a late seventh-round pick from Hofstra in the 2006 draft, continues to demonstrate he should have gone a lot earlier. He had five catches for 132 yards, including an 86-yard scoring play, in the Saints' 21-18 loss to the Panthers.

THANKS, COACH

Coach Dom Capers guided the Texans through a 2-14 disaster last season and lost his job in the aftermath. Yesterday, he finally helped Houston win - as the defensive coach of the Dolphins. Texans quarterback David Carr scored one touchdown and threw for another in the fourth quarter against Capers' Miami defense to lift the Texans to a 17-15 upset.

QUICK THINKING

With no timeouts and a four-point deficit, Peyton Manning marched the Colts 61 yards in 90 seconds to the winning touchdown against the Jets, a 1-yard quarterback sneak out of the no-huddle offense. The Jets weren't prepared for a quick snap and Manning scored easily.

ATLANTA 'D' RISES

The Falcons have followed a simple formula to a 3-1 start this season. They have the No. 1 rushing offense in the league, and quarterback Michael Vick is a large part of that. Yesterday, he posted the seventh 100-yard rushing game of his career in a 32-10 romp over the Cardinals. But it's Atlanta's restored defense that makes the Falcons a postseason threat. The Falcons' defense has allowed just one touchdown in four games.

WINLESS WONDERS

There are four winless teams after Week 4, down from seven after Week 3. The Lions (0-4) showed lots of offense in a loss to the Rams, and the Titans (0-4) launched their Vince Young era against Dallas. But the Raiders (0-3) and idle Bucs (0-3) are struggling with quarterback issues that may not be resolved this season. Neither Andrew Walter of the Raiders nor rookie Bruce Gradkowski of the Bucs is ready to play now.

[ Ken Murray]

Next week

Cowboys (2-1) at Eagles (2-1) -- Terrell Owens' personal Super Bowl arrives in Philadelphia, where Donovan McNabb will be reminded of what he doesn't miss.

Steelers (1-2) at Chargers (2-1) -- Pittsburgh can't afford a 1-3 start. The Chargers don't want to lose two in a row, especially with this being a home game.

Ken Murray

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