No Ouija Board Needed, Just Check the Scoreboard


Sometimes, the signs are easy to read.

New England wins the Super Bowl without a dominant running back, then acquires Corey Dillon during the off-season. Philadelphia reaches three consecutive NFC title games without a pass receiver worthy of Donovan McNabb’s interest, then adds Terrell Owens to the lineup.

Reflex reaction then: Forget the wild hunches. Don’t play the who’s-this-year’s-Carolina guessing game. Keep it simple, go with the obvious, go with New England and Philadelphia as the favorites to meet in the next Super Bowl.

Seven weeks in, the Patriots and the Eagles haven’t surprised anyone, which is why they are the league’s last undefeated teams. Sunday, Dillon rushed for 115 yards in New England’s 13-7 victory over the New York Jets and Owens scored twice in Philadelphia’s 34-31 overtime decision over Cleveland as the Patriots and Eagles both moved to 6-0.


Other times, the signs can be misleading.

Not very long ago, earlier this month, Seattle was 3-0 and winning games on the road, Indianapolis was 4-1 with Peyton Manning looking like Johnny U., and there were your two leading challengers to the Patriots and the Eagles. We listened to the talking heads. We looked at the power ratings. Back around Columbus Day, New England-Philadelphia-Indianapolis-Seattle composed the NFL’s “Big Four.” Everybody else was playing just to fill out the regular season.

And on the Sunday before Halloween, Seattle lost to Arizona -- Matt Hasselbeck throwing four interceptions in a 25-17 loss -- and Indianapolis lost at home to Jacksonville, 27-24.

Suddenly, the Seahawks have lost three straight and are sitting at .500.

Suddenly, the Colts don’t even lead their division, their 4-2 record looking up at Jacksonville’s 5-2.

And, every once in a while, the signs can be stupid and baiting and taunting. Just like the Eagles’ new big-play receiver.

And when that happens, as it did in Cleveland, with Owens in town proving again he can dish it but certainly cannot take it, footballs and hand-lettered end-zone signs and penalty flags can go flying.

Insults paved the path to the Philadelphia-Cleveland game, most of them generated by Owens. As soon as he talked his way out of San Francisco and away from quarterback Jeff Garcia, Owens couldn’t shut up about his former battery mate, questioning everything from Garcia’s talent to arm strength to sexual orientation.


In an August Playboy interview, Owens was asked about rumors that Garcia was gay. Owens’ boorish response: “Like my boy tells me, ‘If it looks like a rat and smells like a rate, by golly, it’s a rat.’ ”

Garcia sought refuge in Cleveland; that’s what playing five years with Owens can do to a man. Cleveland can get old in a hurry, and so can quarterbacks playing in Cleveland, but this early in the relationship, Brown fans still view Garcia as an improvement over Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb. So, the fans came to Browns Stadium to offer Garcia support and protection.

One sign, hanging in one end zone, evoked typical Dawg Pound eloquence: “T.O. Has B.O.”

Owens scored his first touchdown in that end zone, then punctuated it by angrily spiking the football against the offensive sign.

Another sign in the other end zone referenced the Playboy interview, displaying pictures of Owens and a rat along with four strategically arranged lines of type:



“To Know


After scoring his second touchdown in that end zone, Owens attacked the rat, partially ripping the sign off the wall, resulting in Owens’ getting flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.

In all, Owens caught four passes for a total of 109 yards.

Imagine what he might manage if he concentrated on the game he was playing and not the sideline decorations.


At 6-0, the Eagles have compiled the season’s most impressive set of numbers this side of New England. Previously, only one other Eagle team began a season 6-0 -- the 1981 squad, with Dick Vermeil as coach and Ron Jaworski as quarterback.

Where are they now? Sunday, Jaworski was in Foxboro, Mass., summing up the essence of the Patriots’ record 21-game winning streak -- they always “find a way to win” -- during a postgame conversation with Dillon on ESPN. Meanwhile, Vermeil was in Kansas City, remembering how to win big games at home -- in this instance, a double-take, 56-10 rout of the Atlanta Falcons, who entered the game 5-1.

All eight of the Chiefs’ touchdowns came on the ground. Four by Priest Holmes. Four by Derrick Blaylock. On a day overflowing with quirky-to-obscure records being equaled or broken, that one led the way: Holmes and Blaylock became the first teammates to score at least four rushing touchdowns each in the same game.

Other odd records included:

* Most field goals of 50 yards or more by one kicker in a single game: Three, converted by Arizona’s Neil Rackers in the Cardinals’ upset of Seattle, tying the mark first set by Morten Andersen.

* Emmitt Smith’s rushing for 106 yards and new Seahawk Jerry Rice’s catching one pass for 10 yards in the same game, the first matchup in 20 years between the NFL’s reigning career rushing and receiving yardage leaders.

* Ahman Green’s scoring on a 90-yard run in Green Bay’s 41-20 triumph over Dallas, making him the second player in league history to reel off two touchdown runs of 90 yards or more in his career. Bo Jackson was the first.


Not records, but no less strange:

* After scoring an average of 9.2 points during its 0-6 start, Miami’s getting a pair of touchdown passes from Jay Fiedler in 31-14 victory over the St. Louis Rams, who kept pace with the stumbling Seahawks with a humiliating loss of their own.

* Jacksonville’s winning for the fourth time this season in the final 45 seconds, this time on a 53-yard field goal by rookie Josh Scobee, to beat the Colts inside the RCA Dome and move past Indianapolis into first place in the AFC South.

The Jaguars scored 27 points -- in only four quarters! -- and what was that about the Colt defense not being Super Bowl-ready?

Sometimes, the signs are easy to read.