October 6, 2000

Six Weeks Into Season, Jets, Rams and Vikes Unbeaten

Not an "L" among `em!

That summarizes the season so far for the 4-0 Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets and 5-0 St. Louis Rams. Thirteen total games - not one loss.

Of course, if you listen to the head coach of one of those teams - Al Groh of the Jets - his club is 0-0.

"We're starting the second quarter at 0-0," says Groh, who, like many coaches, divides the season into quarters.

Groh's Jets meet the Pittsburgh Steelers - winners over recent AFC Central kingpin Jacksonville last week — and the Vikings conclude the week on Monday Night Football with an NFC Central battle with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Rams? They're off this week. Really off.

St. Louis head coach Mike Martz promised his players after Week 2 that if they were undefeated through Week 5, he would give them the whole week - seven days - off. "A week off is unheard of in the NFL, "says Rams tight end Roland Williams, used to two-to-three practice days during his "bye" weeks.

But, hey, if any guys deserve a week off, it's the Rams. Even when they're not playing, people will be talking about:

· Their top-ranked NFL offense that is averaging an amazing 505.4 yards and 43.4 points a game. They racked up 614 yards last Sunday, tying for the 12th most in history. Their 217 points through five games are the most in history in such a span, topping the 209 of the 1941 Chicago Bears. On Sunday - fittingly in the 60th anniversary year of Chicago's 73-0 championship win in the 1940 NFL title game — they scored 57 points, most in the NFL since they posted 59 against Atlanta on November 10, 1996.

· Their streak of 11 games with 30-plus points per game, an NFL record. And they've scored 40-plus points in four of their five games, the first team ever to accomplish such a feat.

· Their five touchdowns of 80 yards or more, one behind the season record of the 1965 Chicago Bears. And their eight TDs of 60 yards or more, six behind the 1961 Houston Oilers record-holders.

· Quarterback Kurt Warner's "perfect" game of last week in which he posted a perfect passer rating of 158.3. It was only the 11th such game since 1950, and Warner's second (October 3 of last year) - making him the only passer with two "perfects." Plus, when he returns next week against Atlanta, he can tie Steve Young for the most consecutive 300-yard passing games with six.

"I'm not in awe of our offense," says Warner. "I think we can do better." A scary thought for the rest of the NFL to contemplate for a week.

This week, the Jets will seek to tie their club record of nine consecutive victories established in 1986. And they are taking the visiting 1-3 Steelers seriously.

This past Sunday - their bye-week Sunday - Jets defensive coordinator Mike Nolan traveled to Jacksonville to scout the Steelers in person. "It shows his willingness to give up a Sunday," says Groh.

What Nolan saw was a resurgent Steelers running game that will test the Jets' sixth-ranked AFC rushing defense (90.3). Running backs Jerome Bettis - with 307 yards and four TDs in his past three games - and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'Afala led a rushing game that produced 209 yards, boosting the Steelers into third place (131.0) in the AFC.

Of course, the Jets trot out the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for September, running back Curtis Martin - who was last seen throwing the winning halfback-option TD pass in the team's victory over Tampa Bay in Week 4. Even with his week off, Martin still is tied with Baltimore's Priest Holmes for fifth in rushing (331 yards) in the conference.

And it may be a close one. Two of the three losses by 1-3 Pittsburgh came by three points. The Jets - with three of their four wins coming in the fourth quarter - have not won by more than 13 points.

The 4-0 Vikings like the spot they're in - undefeated and in first place - but are taking nothing for granted. Especially this week (Monday Night Football, ABC-TV, 9:00 PM ET).

"We think we're a better team right now than we were last year," says head coach Dennis Green, who has just had his contract extended by the Vikings through 2004. "But it's early. It's four games. That's only 25 percent of the season."

Last year, the Vikings finished 10-6, one game behind this week's opponent, the division-champ Buccaneers. And it's a riled rival they'll host. The Bucs, once one of the NFL's 2000 unbeatens at 3-0, lost in the last minute in Week 4 - to Curtis Martin's TD pass - and last Sunday in overtime to Washington.

"We feel like we've got an opportunity to go up to Minnesota and reel them back in," says Buccaneers safety John Lynch. "We've been backed into a wall before and come back before. You have to remember, we were 3-4 last season and wound up with a bye in the playoffs."

The Bucs' No. 9 NFL rush defense (92.8) will confront the league's top running attack (160.8), led by Robert Smith (fourth in the NFC with 406 yards) and quarterback Daunte Culpepper (198), who averages 5.0 yards a carry.

Culpepper — 6-4, 250 pounds - was the NFL's 11th overall selection last year, wears No. 11, and reminds some people of another No. 11 Vikings quarterback, Joe Kapp, who also liked to take off and run over people.

The Bucs will also have to gear up for a receiver coming off a big game who always seems to come up big on Monday nights — Randy Moss.

This past Sunday in Detroit, Moss caught touchdown passes of 61, 50 and 17 yards from Culpepper, part of a total of 168 yards receiving. The scores made him the only player in Vikings history with three three-TD games…gave him 20 TD receptions in 18 games against NFC Central opponents…and enabled him to reach 3,000 receiving yards the fastest in NFL history - 36 games, ahead of Jerry Rice's 38.

But Moss is looking ahead. "We're 4-0 going into Monday night against Tampa Bay," he says. "That's a rivalry."

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