Nonetheless, Indianapolis' defensive people believed the word they heard from Green Bay and lined up to stop Green, who ironically, and unwisely, was asked routinely to run on first down against an 8-3 defense. Naturally, he couldn't run far.
One problem with running and failing on first down is that it asks the quarterback to pass for 10 yards on the next two downs — against defenses now aligned to prevent pass completions. It reduces offensive football from a three-down game to a two-down game. The success percentage also drops by that margin, as the Packers, no doubt, could tell you now.
How Davis, 178, KOs Walker, 220
The decisive play at Indianapolis was a highlight of the fourth quarter after the Packers had changed to anti-Manning defenses, prompting the Indianapolis coaches to cease passing and reinstitute their usual running-play offense with James. This had a predictable result: The Packers crept back into the game, which, suddenly, the Colts led by only a touchdown, 38-31.
At that juncture, a Colt rookie, cornerback Jason David of Washington State, proved once more that turnovers are not all alike. Making the only big defensive play of a strange game, David stripped the ball from a Green Bay receiver, Javon Walker, who at 6-3 and 220 pounds is not only much taller and bigger than the 5-8, 170-pound David, but stronger.
Strength, however, is relative. Walker had to hold a ball. David only had to hold Walker's arm and tug away and wait until he could grip him with the other arm and rip the ball out. It was David's patient waiting that finally beat Walker.
There is an important factor of luck to most fumbles. This one, though, was earned — an earned turnover instead of a fumble. At the Green Bay 38, it ended a Packer drive toward what could have been the tying touchdown and set up Manning for his fifth touchdown on a 34-yard pass.
Were the Colts the better team? Only when they were throwing the ball.
Best Rams Mess Up Big Time
The St. Louis Rams, during their championship-years heyday at the turn of the century, were never the most disciplined team in football. But they used to overcome their lack of discipline with brilliant pass plays. They can't do that now. They aren't that good.
Sloppy, unnecessary mistakes by their finest players cost the Rams last Sunday.
Their best passer (Marc Bulger), their best blocker (Orlando Pace), their best receiver (Isaac Bruce) and their best defensive back (Aeneas Williams) all messed up big-time to make it possible for the New Orleans Saints to sail in, 28-25.
Bulger fumbled the ball away in the first quarter to terminate the momentum he had earned with an all-pass 66-yard drive to the game's 7-0 touchdown. On the fumble play, Bulger, when he couldn't get a pass off, had fought his way back to the line of scrimmage — as coached. But he hadn't been properly coached to protect the ball when heavily rushed. Either that or he forgot, and either way it was an inexcusable fumble.
Pace kept jumping offside, also inexcusable in an All-Pro blocker. His problem was that, time-wise, he's still in training camp, having missed the whole preseason in a salary fight with management. West Coast Ram fans don't need to hear the details to know that for the monetary rhubarb, management must have been mostly at fault.
Bruce dropped an easy pass at a strategic moment and Williams dropped an easy interception on an even more important play — quarterback Aaron Brooks' pass for New Orleans' go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. When Williams ran directly into the errant ball, looked it over, and dropped it, Joe Horn, the wide receiver for whom it was intended, said thanks and caught it. All that adds up to a sufficient reason why the Rams aren't winning.
Buc Earns Big Fine, Raiders Find Vertical Star
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, losing a 30-20 game at Oakland Sunday night, didn't put up much of a fight. But they did make one $50,000 play. That's what Tampa linebacker Derrick Brooks should be fined — at least — for the illegal hit that broke Raider quarterback Rich Gannon's neck and ended his season if not his career. Gannon is 38.
Brooks, who danced merrily over the stricken quarterback after the first-quarter foul, had made a particularly vicious assault.
Playing by the rules, Gannon, who led Oakland to the 2003 Super Bowl, had already given himself up after a scramble. He was sliding along the ground feet first when Brooks came flying at him, attacking Gannon with his helmeted head. Technically, it's helmet-to-helmet hitting. Actually, it's a lot worse than it sounds. Surely, it will earn the biggest fine of the NFL season.
The aftermath was as strange as things usually are with the Raiders. When Gannon went down, they found a classic Raider quarterback, a big-armed natural for the vertical passing attack that owner Al Davis always talks about. He is Kerry Collins, 6 feet 5, 245 pounds, the second-largest quarterback in captivity.
A larger version of Daryle Lamonica, Jim Plunkett and other vertical stars of other Raider seasons, Collins isn't as gifted as, for instance, Plunkett, who remains the most underrated great quarterback of all time after winning two Super Bowls for the Raiders. But Collins is a satisfactory passer. And in Oakland, unlike New York, where he came from this year, the Raiders' new Mr. Vertical will have plenty of help. There might not be a better wide receiver in football than their man Jerry Porter. And Tyrone Wheatley is an adequate running back. Conceivably, the good times are rolling again at Oakland.