Last week, the Giants dedicated their effort to their ailing owner, who was able to watch them make their comeback. Mara's death will continue to serve as a catalyst. He not only attended every game and greeted players win or lose, he also visited practices on a regular basis. Few NFL owners ever engendered higher respect among players.
Q: Who's the surprise team in each league? I'm personally not surprised by any of these teams in a positive sense, except maybe the Redskins. There are lots of negative surprises, though.
— Patrick Anatole, Washington, D.C.
A: In the NFC, there are more positive surprises because it looks like there are more contending teams than just the defending champion Eagles. I thought the Cowboys might make the playoffs, but the Giants and Redskins both are surprisingly competitive. Tampa Bay is a surprise at 5-1 and Seattle is a surprise at 5-2. I'd have to agree that the biggest positive surprise in the NFC is Washington. I thought the Giants would become competitive before the Redskins (and they still might) solely because Eli Manning has a better chance to be good than Patrick Ramsey. I never considered a comeback by Mark Brunell. Negatively, the biggest surprise in the NFC is Minnesota, a huge disappointment on the field way before they let themselves down off the field. Despite last week's gut-check win over hapless and injury-battered Green Bay, the Vikings have a long way to go to prove to anybody they're even a .500 team. In the AFC, Denver, Jacksonville, Kansas City and Cincinnati are all off to better starts than predicted. I don't count New England as a negative surprise yet because I think their brutal schedule contributed to their 3-3 start. Same with San Diego. The Jets and Baltimore are the negative surprises, both because of problems at quarterback.
Q: What has happened to the Ravens? Is Jamal Lewis maybe the biggest disappointment this season? Is it time to fire Brian Billick? (I know those are three questions but they all fit together).
— Don McKenna, Hagerstown, Md.
A: I thought Jamal Lewis would be the comeback player of the year, determined to prove himself after spending the offseason in jail on an old federal drug charge. It was vital for Lewis to come back strong because after all these years of trying to fix their quarterback problem, they are not a bit better than they were with Trent Dilfer in 2000 so they need Lewis to carry the offensive load. Against Chicago, he looked tentative behind a below-average line. There is speculation Lewis is upset with his contract situation. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis also is on the downside, nursing a hamstring injury and mainly chasing ballcarriers. It all adds up to a shaky future for Billick. If he and his new offensive coordinator Jim Fassel can't get through to young quarterback Kyle Boller upon Boller's imminent return from a toe injury, I would expect both of them to be history in Baltimore.
Q: Are the Bucs really that good? And can they keep this start up with Brian Griese out?
— Greg Douglas, St. Petersburg, Fla.
A: Word in Tampa is they got to where they are as much in spite of Griese as because of him. Even before he got hurt, the Bucs were maneuvering for help and they hope they've found it in Tim Rattay. If Chris Simms isn't ready for the starting job, look for coach Jon Gruden to turn quickly to Rattay as soon as he assimilates the playbook. If rookie running back Cadillac Williams gets back on track, this is a team that thinks it can win on running and defense.
CSN: Brian Urlacher, who played 13 seasons for the Bears, announced his retirement from football Wenesday on his personal twitter account.
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