The five-month NFL Forecast
by Gregg Easterbrook
Special to Page 2


Stat of the Week No. 1: In their home openers the Broncos, Bucs, Dolphins, Lions, Packers and Raiders scored a combined 21 points
Stat: of the Week No. 7: Warrick Dunn of Atlanta has more rushing yards than 26 entire NFL teams.
Sweet Play of the Week: Recovering the fumble on Carolina's botched trick play (see below), Minnesota faced a fourth-and-5 on the Panthers' 16 with eight minutes remaining, trailing 13-6. Since a trick play just failed, there isn't going to be another trick play, right? That's what the Cats were thinking. Fake field goal, and the kicker, Ryan Longwell, throws the touchdown to backup fullback Richard Owens, who lined up as a tight end. Tuesday Morning Quarterback likes fake field goal attempts and wishes the pros would use them more often. Meanwhile, Carolina violated the Iron Law of Kick Defense, which is to expect a fake whenever it's fourth-and-5 or less -- since the offense needs only a few yards to retain possession. To make matters worse, Carolina had blocked the previous Minnesota field goal attempt. When you just rejected an opponent's kick, you should be doubly on guard against a fake kick in a short-yardage situation.
Sour Play of the Week No. 2: Minnesota trailed 13-6 and lined up to punt to the Panthers with 10 minutes remaining. The Carolina coaches called the throwback play, in which the return man fields the ball and heaves a cross-field lateral to the opposite side. Chris Gamble of Carolina fielded the punt and got spun around; as he came out of the spin he heave-hoed wildly to the opposite side of the field -- fumble, Minnesota recovers and scores on the next possession to tie the game. Who's to blame here? On all trick plays that involve anyone other than the quarterback throwing the ball, the coaching standard is that the player is told: Throw it only if everything is perfect, the receiver is totally alone and you are not under pressure. Any situation other than perfect, just run with the ball and we don't care if you take a loss. Gamble seemed so intent on heaving the ball into the air that I got the impression he had not received that key bit of trick-play coaching, that you only throw if everything about the play is totally perfect.