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October 25, 2004 Edition > Section:  Sports

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Flat Giants Among Week 7 Victims
Coach on the Couch

BY SEAN LAHMAN
October 25, 2004

This weekend's diet of football reaffirmed the reality that there is a bigger difference between the NCAA and NFL than just the skill level. In college, the best teams win because they stockpile talented players. In the NFL, every team is talented, and barring injuries, there is very little difference between the best teams and the worst. Every NFL team can lose on any Sunday if they don't bring their best.

That's exactly what happened to the Giants yesterday against a team that they should have dominated. The Lions came into town ranked dead last in offense and 29th in defense. By the end of the day, they were outplaying Big Blue on both sides of the ball.

The Giants' offense made a plethora of mistakes and squandered every scoring opportunity they had. Twice in the first half, Kurt Warner turned the ball over after a long drive, once with a fumble and the other with an ill-advised pass that was intercepted in the end zone. Another long drive stalled at the 2-yard line and left the Giants with a short field goal.

At half time, the Giants had out gained the Lions 239 to 144, but their failure to convert on their red zone opportunities left them with a mere 3 point lead.

By contrast, the Lions made four trips into the red zone and emerged with a touchdown every time. For the Giants, the absence of tackle Fred Robbins was part of the problem. Detroit ran repeatedly toward his replacement, William Joseph, and averaged 6.4 yards per carry after the intermission.

Despite the shortcomings on defense, though, the blame for this loss rests squarely on the offense. Warner's two turnovers cost the Giants the game, and their play-calling inside the Lions' 20-yard line was just sad. Jeremy Shockey, one of the best tight ends in football, somehow didn't have a single pass thrown his way on any of the 15 plays in the red zone.

The Giants must do a better job of protecting the ball and closing out drives with touchdowns, or they'll continue to lose games to mediocre teams.

***

The hype preceding the game between the Jets and the Patriots was tantamount to what you'd expect from a great heavyweight fight, in which the defending champion seeks to bolster his reputation and the young challenger is eager to validate his unbeaten record.

The two teams went head-to-head and a winner was declared, but in the end the ultimate question of which team is better will be revisited later this season. There will be a rematch in December, and quite possibly a third and deciding contest in January.

The game turned on mistakes, as it so often does when the Patriots play. Two thoughtless first-half penalties by the Jets defense - too many men on the field and roughing the passer - led to 10 New England points.

The Jets moved the ball 60 yards on their first possession of the game, but Jerald Sowell fumbled the ball as linebacker Ted Johnson was bearing down on him and the Patriots recovered at the 7-yard line. Erase any one of those three mistakes and you can make a case that the Jets would have won the game.

On the one hand, the loss is disappointing because it was a game they should have won, and the defeat leaves them a game behind the Patriots in the AFC East. On the other hand, the Jets showed that their 5-0 record against largely inferior opponents was no fluke.

***

For further proof that you never know what to expect in the NFL on any given Sunday, consider the Atlanta Falcons. They entered the weekend with the league's top-ranked run defense. Eight touchdowns and a 46-point loss later, that ranking could sink just a bit.

The Chiefs' eight rushing scores were an NFL record, and the first signs of the powerhouse they were promised to be coming into the season. Priest Holmes had four in the first half before leaving with an ankle injury, and his backup, Derrick Blaylock, scored three more in the second half after scoring one in the first quarter. It wasn't as if the Chiefs were making big plays: Five of the eight touchdowns came on runs of three yards or less. Kansas City's offensive line was simply dominant, showing the kind of fire that we saw during their 9-0 start last year.

Atlanta's 56-10 loss to a team that entered the game with a 1-4 record casts serious doubts on their playoff aspirations. Quarterback Michael Vick made another jaw dropping run, but his performance as a passer this year has been disappointing to say the least. Yesterday, he completed just seven passes and was intercepted twice before being replaced. Vick has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in six of his seven games and been sacked 24 times while throwing just four touchdown passes.

***

Two other upsets stood out yesterday because they may have shown that two NFC West teams aren't as good as everybody thought.

In Miami, the Rams got trounced 31-14 by the previously winless Dolphins. Miami quarterback Jay Fiedler was nearly perfect, ending the day with a passer rating of 154.8. St. Louis also surrendered two touchdowns on the ground to a Dolphins team that ranked dead last in rushing offense.

Down in Arizona, the Seahawks looked downright pitiful in their third straight loss of the year. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw four interceptions and the Cardinal defense held Shaun Alexander to 57 yards rushing. .Seattle, so dominant in September with a 3-0 record, have dropped three straight behind a suddenly vulnerable defense giving up 30 points per game.

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