JEALOUSY IS NEVER A PRETTY SIGHTTampa Bay...

JEALOUSY IS NEVER A PRETTY SIGHT

Tampa Bay Buccaneer General Manager Rich McKay has one simple request:

Please stop calling the Carolina Panthers an expansion team.

The Buccaneers, who came into the league 20 years ago, set a record by earning a playoff spot in their fourth season. Carolina's 24-0 victory Sunday keeps the Panthers solidly in the hunt to make the playoffs in their second year.

McKay blames the changed expansion rules and free agency, which allowed Carolina and Jacksonville to stock their teams with good players immediately.

"We as a league probably screwed up for their benefit," said McKay, whose father, John, coached the expansion Buccaneers to 26 consecutive losses. "In 1976, the teams were given enough ammunition to fire a popgun. In 1994, the teams were given enough ammunition to set off a neutron bomb."

Tampa Bay Coach Tony Dungy also says the expansion tag should be removed, although he did give Carolina some credit.

"They've done a great job of putting it together and they went with a lot of veterans on defense. That's where they're strong and solid. I think they're going to do some damage in the playoffs. They're a team that nobody's going to want to play because of their defense."

The defense certainly came through against Tampa Bay. Quarterback Trent Dilfer was intercepted twice, lost one fumble, was sacked five times and knocked down 13 times as Tampa Bay lost for the first time in four games.

The Buccaneers' final insult came when they reached the Carolina four with 32 seconds left in the game, then called three timeouts in what wound up being an unsuccessful bid to score a touchdown.

"That was big, their challenge there at the end of the game when the game was pretty much out of hand, in the bank," linebacker Kevin Greene said. "They're saying, 'We're going to put some points on the board,' and we're like, 'We don't think so.' "

HE'S BEEN BERRY, BERRY GOOD TO ME

Philadelphia's Irving Fryar, who caught six passes for 59 yards against the Giants, moved to 11th on the all-time list for receptions with 636. He passed Raymond Berry (631), Don Maynard (633) and Drew Hill (634). Fryar paid special tribute to Berry, his former coach in New England. "If it wasn't for Raymond, I'd probably be out of the league," Fryar said. "Raymond is part of the reason I passed him today."

THEN HE THREW HER FOR A FIVE-YARD LOSS

Tara Greene, wife of Carolina linebacker Kevin Greene, performed a rousing rendition of the national anthem before the game against Tampa Bay. As she ran off the field afterward, Kevin charged up to her and greeted her with a big hug and a kiss.

BECAUSE THEY LOOK FUNNY AND SMELL BAD

Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre rushed for his eighth career touchdown, a one-yard sneak, and spiked the ball in the end zone, foregoing what has become a Packer ritual after someone scores--jumping into the stands.

I LIKE ME, I REALLY, REALLY LIKE ME

A recent survey of NFL rookies asked them to name their favorite current athlete. The winner with 28% of the vote? Themselves. A guy you may have heard of, Michael Jordan, finished second.

NOT FOR LONG, WAYNE

Lion Coach Wayne Fontes, often the subject of rumors of impending unemployment, is third among all active professional sports coaches in tenure with the same team. Minnesota Twin Manager Tom Kelly and Buffalo Bill Coach Marv Levy have been with their teams for 10 seasons. This is Fontes' eighth season with Detroit. He is 67-68 overall.

WHICH OF THESE IS NOT LIKE THE OTHER?

New Orleans interim Coach Rick Venturi rushed to the defense of quarterback Jim Everett after Sunday's 26-10 loss to St. Louis. Tired of criticisms that Everett always plays scared, Venturi said: "Joe Namath threw off his back foot every down. We all ought to experience dropping back five steps and having that first rusher in our face. We'll see how many front foots we throw off of."

Joe Namath? Didn't he actually win some big games occasionally?

DEAR SANTA, PLEASE SEND SOME VICTORIES

Minnesota's 41-17 victory over Arizona proves the Vikings have one thing to be thankful for.

It's December.

Since 1992, Coach Dennis Green's first year, the Vikings are 12-6 in December, with a 7-2 record at the Metrodome. Only one team has as many December victories in that time, San Francisco (12-4).

This season, Minnesota (6-6) entered the month fighting for a playoff spot after losing six of its last eight games. But that's familiar territory for the Vikings.

In 1992, they won their final two game to win the NFC Central.

In 1993, they entered December with a 5-6 record, but went on 4-1 final-month rally to claim the second wild-card berth.

In 1994, the Vikings entered the month with a three-game losing streak at 7-5, but went 3-1 to win the NFC Central.

In 1995, they won their final two games and just missed the playoffs with an 8-8 record.

Perhaps receiver Qadry Ismail summed it up best though:

"What are you going to do, hold something back in December? For what? If you don't make the playoffs, you've got to go home and watch the on TV like everyone else. Who wants to hold back?"

IT'S FUN TO PRETEND

Jet quarterback Neil O'Donnell could sit out the rest of the season after he pulled his right calf muscle.

O'Donnell, out for six games because of a separated shoulder, was cleared to play earlier in the week. But on a slick field during pregame warmups in the rain, O'Donnell planted his right leg and pulled the muscle. He was declared out for the game, with Frank Reich playing against Houston in a 35-10 loss.

Team doctors said they'd have a better idea on his condition during the week. But Coach Rich Kotite said O'Donnell could be out four weeks.

"Although it's something you're disappointed in, I was looking for us to step up and meet the adversity we had even before the game started," said Kotite, who is 4-25 with the Jets. "It didn't work out that way."

No, it didn't Rich. But hey, you only lost by 25 points this week, so things are looking up.

DR. McCOY, PLEASE REPORT TO SICK BAY

Steeler safety Carnell Lake left the game against Baltimore because of a sprained left knee. . . . Marcus Dowdell, who caught the winning touchdown pass for Arizona a week ago, pulled a hamstring on the Cardinals' first possession against Minnesota. . . . Rich Camarillo's debut for the Oakland Raiders was put on hold when the veteran punter pulled his groin in pregame warmups.

NOTEWORTHY

--Denver's John Elway became the ninth quarterback in NFL history with at least 250 career passing touchdowns when he connected with Ed McCaffrey on a four-yard play with 33 seconds left before halftime against Seattle.

--Cincinnati kicker Doug Pelfrey, who needed only one field-goal attempt to have enough to qualify as the NFL's most accurate kicker, got it on the Bengals' first drive of the game. It was blocked by Clyde Simmons and returned for a touchdown. Pelfrey made his next two field goals and is 101 for 123 for his career, 82.1%. John Carney of San Diego is at 80.1%.

--Tim Brown of the Raiders set the career record for punt returns Sunday when he returned his fourth punt of the first half against Miami. Brown's total of 293 broke the old mark of 292 held by Vai Sikahema, who played for the Cardinals, Packers and Eagles until 1993.

--Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell now has thrown for at least 200 yards in 15 consecutive games, the longest current streak in the league and longest since Miami's Dan Marino did it for 16 consecutive games four years ago.

--Compiled by HOUSTON MITCHELL

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