By Week 12, They Are On to Trends

If you're in the NFL, you're always on something -- and I'm not referring to THG.

You're on the field, on the sideline or on crutches. Struggling coaches are on the hot seat. Just-cut quarterbacks are on speed dial. Just-benched receivers are on TV, immediately pleading their cases to the public.

And, heading into the stretch run of the regular season, most teams figure they still have a chance to be on the road to the playoffs.

A look at the ups, the downs and the bumps along the way:

On the rise: Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb, who in the last three weeks has averaged 275 yards passing and has thrown for four touchdowns with no interceptions, compiling a 106.0 rating. In his first seven games, he averaged 142 yards and had three touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 54.8 rating.

On the fall: Miami's Brian Griese, who threw for 126 yards in last Sunday's 9-6 overtime victory over Baltimore. In Griese's last three starts, the Dolphins have converted on third down only five of 35 times.

On ice (again): Atlanta's Michael Vick, who was planning to make his first appearance of the season Sunday against Tennessee, tweaked his right ankle -- the same leg he broke last summer -- during a Wednesday walk-through. He's out.

On the rise: Green Bay's Ahman Green, the league's No. 2 rusher, who hasn't fumbled since switching from neoprene to cloth elbow pads in the rain two weeks ago.

On the fall: It's probably just a blip, but Baltimore's normally sure-handed Jamal Lewis, the league's No. 1 rusher, is suddenly slippery fingered. He has lost two fumbles in the last two games after losing one in the first eight.

On mute: Hines Ward. The Pittsburgh receiver is having a hard time getting his words out this week after landing on his head and biting his tongue in the San Francisco game. Look, Ma! No mouth guard!

On the rise: Ex-Bruin Mike Flanagan, the starting center for the Packers, who have the league's top rushing offense.

On the fall: Ex-Trojan Chris Claiborne, banged up with a nagging shoulder and heel injuries, is one of the struggling linebackers in Minnesota's fading defense. In the last three games, the Vikings have given up 261, 211 and 191 yards rushing.

Fight on: USC has the edge in NFL players. There were 27 Trojans on opening-day rosters and 22 Bruins.

On the rise: Scrutiny of the designer steroid THG.

On the fall: Speculation that the problem is going to cause big problems this season. The league has tested more than 1,000 samples taken since Oct. 6 with no positive hits so far.

On with the rest of his life: Between the THG allegations and the concussion problems, it looks as if Raider linebacker Bill Romanowski's NFL career is over.

On the rise: Cincinnati Coach Marvin Lewis, whose team will improve to 6-5 if it beats San Diego. The Bengals haven't been above .500 at this point since 1990.

On the fall: Mike Tice, whose Vikings have lost four straight and, mercifully, get Detroit on Sunday.

Online: A Web site started last week by a disappointed Jacksonville fan: www.firedelrio.com.

On the rise: Kansas City's offense, which leads the league with a 30.6-point average.

On the fall: Dallas' offense. After averaging 25 points in their first six games, the Cowboys have averaged 7.8 in their last four.

On snooze: Houston's defensive front. Before it came to life with four sacks of Drew Bledsoe last Sunday, the Texan front line had recorded only eight.

On the rise: Raider cornerback Phillip Buchanon, who returned an interception 64 yards for a score against Minnesota last Sunday, his fifth return for a touchdown (three on interceptions, two on punts) in 16 games as a pro. Since 1970, no defensive back has reached five return touchdowns faster.

On the fall: Kansas City's run defense. It's one of the few soft spots for the Chiefs, whose 25th-ranked rushing defense has surrendered 39 runs of 10 yards or longer. Only Indianapolis, Oakland, Atlanta and Houston have given up more.

On a different plane: Keyshawn Johnson, who, according to sportsillustrated.com, skipped the team flight back to Tampa, Fla., after the San Francisco loss so he could stop by his off-season home in Los Angeles. This week, the Buccaneers benched the disgruntled receiver for the rest of the season.

On the rise: The use of microphones worn by players during games.

On the fall: Telestrator scribblings, which seem to be used less this season.

On the air (but not for long): "Playmakers."

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If there's a super-agent of football coaches it's Bob LaMonte, who represents Jon Gruden, Mike Holmgren, Andy Reid, John Fox, Mike Sherman and others. He's also the agent for the University of Nevada's Chris Tormey and Pitt's Walt Harris.

The way LaMonte sees it, there's a difference between NFL and college coaches, not only in their job descriptions but sometimes in their personalities. As is the case every year, some pro teams will take a look at the best college coaches -- Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, USC's Pete Carroll and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz -- when they have vacancies after this season.

"The most obvious difference to me between college and pro coaching is the hammer that you hold as a college coach is far greater than you would hold over a pro player," LaMonte said. "You have no hammer as a pro. If a man is making $6 million a year as opposed to being a school kid, it's very difficult with the [salary] cap to sit down that guy.

"If it's a school guy and you're talking books and a place to live, that's a lot easier.

"In a pro coach, you need someone who's less rah-rah and less a friend to the player and much more of a disciplinarian. And a grinder.... A grinder is a guy that's putting in his 24/7, and the pro knows he's not doing this for four months a year but it's his life. If he brings that to the table, he brings the respect, and, in turn, as a disciplinarian he'll be followed."

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a note linking Carson Palmer's agent, David Dunn, and nfl.com writer Pat Kirwan. In it, I misidentified the publication that originally broke the story. It was a Sports Business Journal story by Liz Mullen.

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It's little known that legendary 49er coach Bill Walsh was a fairly accomplished boxer at San Jose State, a guy with a whopping left hook who won the school's junior novice tournament in 1954. San Jose was a collegiate boxing powerhouse at the time and won national titles from 1958 through '60.

Once in 1955, Walsh almost worked as a sparring partner for Rocky Marciano, but the heavyweight champion's trainers decided they wanted someone more stout and slow, like his upcoming opponent.

Was Walsh a slugger or a technician?

"I was a little of each, and that really wasn't enough of anything," he said. "I was a good boxer and I punched well. I couldn't really take a punch that well. I didn't have near enough to be considered all that good."

He had a few knockouts in his career. And was he ever KO'd?

"Oh, sure," he said. "At least that's what they told me."

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