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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Ravens Steve McNair Goes 4 of 5; NY Giants Steal Show 17-16

Giants boot the Ravens, 17-16

NFL.com wire reports

BALTIMORE (Aug. 11, 2006) -- The first quarter belonged to Steve McNair, who produced a touchdown on his first series with the Baltimore Ravens before sitting out the rest of the game.

McNair didn't get a win to savor, however, because the New York Giants dominated the fourth quarter and rallied for a 17-16 victory.

In his lone drive, McNair moved the Ravens 80 yards in 12 plays. He went 4 for 5 for 45 yards and ran for a 6-yard touchdown.

"It was what we were looking for, offensively, to start us out," McNair said. "That's the kind of drive we want to establish during the course of the season."

Baltimore built a 16-7 lead before Michael Jennings returned a punt 57 yards for a touchdown with 8:44 left. The Giants then forced a punt and moved 62 yards behind third-string quarterback Jared Lorenzen before Jay Feely kicked a 29-yard field goal as time expired.

"It's always nice to win, and we were very happy to come back and win the game," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Jennings, with a big punt return, kind of gave us a shot in the arm there."

Steve McNair carried three defender into the end zone on his only drive.
McNair was obtained in a June trade with the Tennessee Titans to provide direction to an offense that struggled for three seasons under Kyle Boller. The 2003 NFL co-MVP made an immediate impression, completing his first pass to tight end Todd Heap for 17 yards.

On third down from the New York 6, McNair burst from the pocket and carried Corey Webster and Chase Blackburn into the end zone.

"I had an opportunity, I got flushed out of the pocket, I saw the end zone and I just tried to make the best out of something," McNair said at halftime. "This is my style of play. I play to win, regardless of it's a preseason or a regular-season game. Once the blood gets flowing, you can't shut it off."

Unless your coach tells you to, and Brian Billick decided one series was enough for McNair -- especially after watching his star quarterback take off in the open field.

"I told him he and I are both too old to do a whole lot of that," Billick said with a chuckle. "But it's what he does. He's an incredible competitor."

Offensive coordinator Jim Fassel didn't need to see anything more, either.

"Steve managed the game well and made good decisions," Fassel said. "It was crisp for an opening drive in the first preseason game."

The Giants' No. 1 defense, conversely, was left smarting.

"I was disappointed in the way we came out defensively," end Osi Umenyiora said. "We really allowed them to make too many plays, and we weren't making any plays. We have a lot of things we need to get back to work on."

Eli Manning led the Giants to a touchdown on his third and final series, the key play a 43-yard pass to Plaxico Burress. After Derrick Martin was called for pass interference in the end zone on a third-down play, Brandon Jacobs scored from the 1.

"For the first group, we got in the end zone, which was kind of our goal," Manning said. "I would have liked to have done it on our first or second possession rather than our third, but that's just the way it goes."

Giants running back Tiki Barber, who ran for 1,860 yards and nine touchdowns in 2005, was held out by Coughlin despite being healthy. New York was also without tight end Jeremy Shockey (concussion).

Manning went 4 for 7 for 74 yards. His backup, Tim Hasselbeck, was 7 for 13 for 79 yards before leaving late in the third quarter.

Boller, now No. 2 on the depth chart, completed 12 of 18 passes for 100 yards.

Matt Stover kicked field goals of 27 and 43 yards in the second quarter to give Baltimore a 13-7 halftime lead, then added a 43-yarder in the third quarter.

Notes: Ravens LB Ray Lewis did not play (coach's decision). ... Baltimore WR Derrick Mason left after one series with a mild concussion. ... The Giants had 10 players catch passes, led by Tim Carter with three for 36 yards. ... Feely missed a 44-yard FG; Stover clicked on all three of his attempts.

Michael Vick Throws 3 of 4, Runs for 16 - Falcons Win 26-23

The real story is Michael Vick's passing and running. A short but complete game. If he does this during the season, the Falcons will march into the playoffs.

Falcons top Pats on late field goal

NFL.com wire reports

ATLANTA (Aug. 11, 2006) -- The Atlanta Falcons have been looking far and wide for a young kicker who won't count too much against the salary cap.

They may have found him -- and he's already on the payroll.

Michael Koenen, who handled the punting and kickoff duties as a rookie last season, appears ready to take on another job after booting four long field goals, including a 40-yarder as time ran out for a 26-23 preseason victory over the New England Patriots.

Coach Jim Mora said he doesn't want to overwork Koenen, but he had to be impressed with the youngster's performance. The Falcons already dumped two kickers over the summer and two more in training camp, leaving Koenen and Tony Yelk.

Yelk booted an extra point and handled three kickoffs, but Koenen did the rest. He also kicked field goals of 44, 45 and 50 yards, averaged 44 yards on four punts and kicked off three times.

"I have reservations about it," Mora said. "I can't say he won the job. I liked what I saw tonight, but I'm concerned about having a guy do all three jobs. I'll take another week or so to see how he is, see how he feels. The last thing I want to do is wear him out. But with his ability to affect the game, like he did tonight, it's something we have to think long and hard about."

If Koenen is able to handle triple-duty this season, it would give the Falcons an extra roster spot and free up more cap room to bring in a player who can bulk up the interior of the defensive line. Chad Lavalais, last year's starter at nose tackle, has fallen out of favor and played sparingly in the preseason opener.

Falcons backup quarterback D.J. Shockley excited the local crowd late.
"I've got to take care of my body," Koenen said. "I'm just as worried about it as they are. But if it happens, awesome."

Rookie quarterback D.J. Shockley, who grew up in suburban Atlanta and played for the Georgia Bulldogs, thrilled the home fans with an impressive debut in the fourth quarter.

Cheered on with barks from fans who remember him leading Georgia to the Southeastern Conference title last season, Shockley guided the Falcons on a 14-play, 56-yard drive in the final 2:06. The biggest play was a 14-yard pass to Kevin Youngblood, who made a leaping catch over the middle. After a spike and a short run, Koenen trotted on the field and kicked the winning field goal.

Shockley completed 4 of 10 passes for 40 yards, his percentage hurt by a couple of clock-stopping spikes on the final drive. He also ran twice for 12 yards.

"I wondered if I would be nervous," Shockley said. "I was pleased."

Another Falcons rookie got off to a rousing start. Third-round pick Jerious Norwood turned two short passes into long gains, fitting right in with a team that already has Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett.

Norwood rambled 37 yards down the right sideline after hauling in a pass from No. 2 quarterback Matt Schaub. Then, with the third quarter winding down, he grabbed a pass from Bryan Randall and went 34 yards for a touchdown, making a great move to lose one defender and then turning on the speed.

"Whatever it takes," Norwood said. "If I have to run over somebody, I'll do that. If I have to juke somebody, I'll do that."

Michael Vick and Tom Brady played to a draw.

Vick, who broke his leg in a 2003 preseason game, ran only one series for the Falcons. He completed 3 of 4 passes for 26 yards and broke off a 16-yard run that put Atlanta in position for Koenen's first field goal.

Brady also played one series, completing three straight passes for 24 yards before an incompletion at the Atlanta 7. The Patriots got the first of three field goals. Martin Gramatica, seeking to replace Adam Vinatieri, made kicks of 26 and 30 yards. The other candidate, Stephen Gostkowski, made a 34-yarder.

Matt Cassel went the rest of the way at quarterback for New England, trying to show he's ready to be Brady's backup. Cassel was the Patriots' third-stringer last season and he barely played at Southern California, where he was stuck behind Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.

Cassel was stripped of the ball on his first possession, but also threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Cobbs.

In the fourth quarter, Cassel directed drives of 80 and 77 yards that helped the Patriots overcome a 10-point deficit. He finished 13 of 26 for 229 yards.

"I need to play a lot better," Cassel said. "I left a lot of throws out there."

Notes: The Patriots didn't have many of their biggest stars. LB Tedy Bruschi is expected to miss the entire preseason and maybe longer after undergoing wrist surgery. DL Richard Seymour, S Rodney Harrison and TE Daniel Graham are nursing injuries. WR Deion Branch is holding out for a new contract. ... Atlanta LB Keith Brooking went out in the first quarter with a sprained right ankle. He didn't return.

Jay Culter Does "Leinart" -- Lions New Team Wins 20-13

While Leinart sits looking for more money, Jay Cutler, who some believe is better, makes a fine start for Denver.

Cutler impressive, but Lions edge Broncos

NFL.com wire reports

DETROIT (Aug. 11, 2006) -- Rod Marinelli remembers scurrying along the sideline before The Star-Spangled Banner, making sure the Lions were standing and holding their helmets properly.

Before Marinelli knew it, his debut as a head coach at any level was over.

Each of the Lions' quarterbacks -- Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovsky and Josh McCown -- led scoring drives and Detroit's defense caused three turnovers in a 20-13 victory against the Denver Broncos.

"I love to win," said Marinelli, a former defensive line coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "If we're playing marbles, I'm going to get you."

Third-string quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt drove Denver deep into Detroit territory in the final minute, but on a fourth-and-goal at the 9 his pass behind David Kircus was dropped.

"You couldn't have a better way to finish," Marinelli said. "I like pressure."

Kircus, a former Lions receiver competing for a spot on Denver's roster, had six catches for 76 yards and a score. But he only lamented his final opportunity.

"Any time you get a chance for the ball, have it touch your hand in the end zone on the last play of the game, it's heartbreaking when you don't bring it in," he said.

Even though his team lost, Broncos safety John Lynch was happy to see one of his former coaches get a chance to lead a team.

"This opportunity has been long overdue," Lynch said. "He was a defensive line coach with the Bucs, but he was more than that to guys on both sides of the ball. He's a special coach, and a great guy."

Damian Gregory (93) and Claude Harriott gang up on Denver's Bradlee Van Pelt.
The Lions led 10-0 early in the second quarter and, after losing the lead, went back ahead 17-13 midway through the third. Artose Pinner's 2-yard run was the go-ahead score, set up by Mike Williams' 24-yard catch from McCown. After Denver's third turnover, Matt Prater's field goal early in the fourth quarter gave Detroit a 20-13 lead.

Jay Cutler had a solid debut for the Broncos. The 11th pick in the draft was 16-for-22 for 192 yards and a touchdown.

"He played well, executed the offense," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said. "Both teams were very vanilla in their approach, so you don't get too excited. But a guy's got to go out there and perform, and I thought he showed a lot of poise."

Both starting quarterbacks, Kitna and Denver's Jake Plummer, played only one series and each moved the ball about 60 yards.

Kitna, signed as a free agent to replace Joey Harrington, converted consecutive third downs with an 18-yard pass to Roy Williams and a 10-yard run to set up Jason Hanson's 36-yard field goal.

Plummer got the Broncos past midfield with a 16-yard pass to Darius Watts, then Mike Bell fumbled two plays later -- less than a week after the undrafted rookie moved past Tatum Bell and Ron Dayne to become the No. 1 running back.

"We didn't like the fumble, but that's typical of young guys in the NFL," Shanahan said. "It's similar to what Clinton Portis went through as a rookie. That's why you play those guys in these situations."

Marinelli said earlier in the week McCown would be the second quarterback to play, but Orlovsky took snaps after the coaching staff decided to change plans. The second-year pro made a 24-yard pass to Corey Bradford on his first play and ended his first possession with a good read and accurate toss to running back Arlen Harris for a 20-yard TD and a 10-0 lead.

Cutler took advantage of a turnover by threading a pass through a zone to Tony Scheffler for a 15-yard gain, which set up Jason Elam's 36-yard kick. With 44 seconds left in the half, Cutler threw three passes for 27 yards and Tatum Bell had a 15-yard run before Elam made another field goal to make it 10-6 at halftime.

Tatum Bell finished with 26 yards on five carries and Mike Bell had 20 yards on seven rushes.

Denver went ahead 13-10 early in the third quarter. Cutler looked right and threw left to a wide-open Kircus.

The Lions had 16 players inactive, including five starters on defense and two first-string linemen on offense.

Denver had seven inactives, including receivers Javon Walker (knee) and Rod Smith (hamstring), cornerback Champ Bailey -- coming off a season slowed by shoulder and hamstring injuries -- and defensive end Courtney Brown, whose latest knee surgery was Aug. 9.


After an impressive training camp and one reception for 9 yards, Broncos rookie WR Brandon Marshall left the game in the first half with a strained right knee. Shanahan said he didn't think the injury was serious.
Detroit TE Casey FitzSimmons, who had moved past Marcus Pollard on the depth chart, might be out for two weeks with an injured left wrist.

Chad Pennington Sharp; Tampa Bay Bucs Rush For 167 - Get Win 16-3

Don't count Chad out; remember, he was injured.

Pennington plays well, but Bucs win 16-3

NFL.com wire reports

TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 11, 2006) -- Even if Eric Mangini isn't ready to say it, Chad Pennington looks like a quarterback ready to reclaim his job.

Playing for the first time since undergoing a second major operation on his right shoulder, Pennington worked two series in the New York Jets' 16-3 preseason loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"It's fun to be back out there with my teammates. That's most important," Pennington said. "You miss that when you're injured."

The seventh-year pro completed 9 of 14 passes for 54 yards and lost a fumble when he was sacked early in the second quarter. But more important for him and the Jets, his surgically repaired shoulder withstood the first hits he has taken since Week 3 of last season.

"I feel pretty good. I took a few shots, but everything worked out fine. That's what you work hard for," Pennington said. "I was pleased how everything turned out."

Whether he's officially No. 1, though, is unclear.

"That's completely up in the air," Mangini, the Jets' first-year coach, said when asked about the quarterback rotation for the next preseason game.

Rookie Bruce Gradkowski threw second-half touchdown passes of 11 yards to Paris Warren and 2 yards to third-round draft pick Maurice Stovall for Tampa Bay, which pulled its first-team defense after Pennington kept them on the field for a few more plays than the Bucs would have liked.

"We didn't give up any points," Derrick Brooks, Tampa Bay's All-Pro linebacker said. "But obviously we would like to get off the field a little sooner."

Pennington completed his first five passes -- all short throws -- for 30 yards. He took his first real hit since the latest operation on his right rotator cuff when he ran for 5 yards and was tackled by cornerback Juran Bolden.

Maurice Stovall's touchdown catch closed the scoring.
The New York quarterback sustained his first drive with three third-down conversions, one a 9-yard completion to Tim Dwight. He moved the ball deep into Tampa Bay territory on the Jets' second possession, but fumbled when sacked by safety Kalvin Pearson on third-and-goal from the 5.

Mangini declined to reveal a starter for the preseason opener. Nevertheless, it wasn't a surprise when Pennington trotted onto the field to take the first snap. He has been No. 1 for parts of the past four seasons and has been having the best camp of any of the candidates for the job.

"I thought Chad did a really nice job with handling the huddle, with moving the football, with his decisions," Mangini said. "I thought he did a really good job."

The coach gave a less favorable review of the Jets' performance overall.

"Before the game, I talked to the players and said the important things were focus, communication and finish. That's what I was looking for," Mangini said.

"I think we did a pretty good job in the first half of moving the football. But we couldn't finish the drives and they could finish drives. That was the difference."

Rookie Kellen Clemens followed Pennington in the second quarter, leading a drive that produced Mike Nugent's 20-yard field goal on the last play of the half. Patrick Ramsey finished up for the Jets, who did not use Brooks Bollinger.

Chris Simms started for Tampa Bay and played one series. Tim Rattay directed a first-half field goal drive and Gradkowski, a sixth-round draft pick from Toledo, played most of the second half, completing 11 of 13 passes for 104 yards against New York's reserves.

"Of course we had some mistakes, but you expect that in the first preseason game," said Simms, who completed 2 of 3 passes for 5 yards. "We did some things well, too. It is a good building block."

Nearly all of Tampa Bay's starters were out by the second series, and three regulars on offense -- running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, receiver Joey Galloway and tackle Kenyatta Walker -- didn't play. Cornerback Brian Kelly was missing on defense after being excused to attend to a personal matter.


The Bucs rushed for 167 yards, with Earnest Graham gaining 69 on 17 carries and Carey Davis 67 on 14 attempts.
The Jets appeared to stop the second-quarter drive that ended with Matt Bryant's 25-yard field goal when they recovered Michael Pittman's fumble at the Bucs 42. Pittman was ruled down by contact, and the Jets challenged the call. The replay review confirmed that Pittman fumbled. However, the Jets were not awarded possession because the officials couldn't determine who immediately recovered the ball.
Bucs first-round draft pick Davin Joseph started at right guard and second-rounder Jeremy Trueblood started at right tackle.
The Jets waived CB Bruce Thornton and claimed FB Jamar Martin off waivers. DT Sione Pouha was placed on injured reserve.

Alex Smith Leads 49ers Over Chicago Bears 28-14 - NFL.com

The 49ers best addition was Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner, and it showed.

49ers impress in 28-14 opening win

NFL.com wire reports

SAN FRANCISCO (Aug. 12, 2006) -- Frank Gore can see it in his quarterback's eyes. Alex Smith is ready to lead the San Francisco 49ers.

Brian Griese seems just as ready to lead the Chicago Bears -- and that might be bad news for Rex Grossman.

Smith passed for 137 yards and led the 49ers to a big early lead in their 28-14 exhibition victory over the Bears.

The 49ers had the league's worst offense and defense last season, but they were up 17-0 when Smith left after going 16 for 21 with no interceptions in perhaps the most confident performance of his short NFL career. New receiver Antonio Bryant had five receptions for 54 yards, and running back Frank Gore also caught five passes from last season's No. 1 overall draft pick.

"He's a grown man now," said Gore, who rushed for 49 yards and a score. "I looked in his eyes last year, and his eyes were like this."

Gore widened his eyes until his lids disappeared, suggesting fear and uncertainty.

"Now, he's a grown man," Gore concluded. "Alex wants it. That's what I respect about him. He wants to be great."

Alex Smith had one of his best performances as a pro quarterback.
Keeping the athletic Smith on the move with play-action and rollouts, the 49ers drove the ball with surprising ease against the defense that allowed the NFL's fewest points last season.

Smith led a 13-play scoring drive in the second quarter, pushing San Francisco 68 yards before Gore's 1-yard TD plunge.

"It was a ton of fun," said Smith, who had one touchdown pass and 11 interceptions in nine appearances last season. "I had so much anxious energy to go out and get something done. We worked really hard during this offseason and camp, and it's starting to show up."

Meanwhile, Chicago's first-team offense did nothing to erase memories of last season's bumbling unit, which was carried to the NFC North title by an outstanding defense. Grossman, who missed the first 13 regular-season games with a broken ankle, went 3 of 11 for just 47 yards while Chicago struggled to move forward.

The Niners forced two first-quarter turnovers that led to 10 points, including linebacker Jeff Ulbrich 's 32-yard TD return of Grossman's fumble.

"I just never really established any kind of rhythm," Grossman said. "I wasn't able to calm down and really feel in control of what I was doing. Tonight just wasn't a good night, and I'm glad it's over."

But Griese, signed in the offseason to give provide an alternative to the injury-plagued incumbent, led a 75-yard scoring drive late in the first half, capped by Gabe Reid 's 12-yard TD catch.

Griese did it again in the second half, guiding an 83-yard drive ending in Rashied Davis' 41-yard TD reception. Nearly 10 months after Griese's season ended in Tampa Bay with a knee injury, the veteran showed he's ready for more action.

"My biggest goal of this preseason is to make sure my knee feels good, and then show this team that I can lead them down the field and score," Griese said.

Coach Lovie Smith has insisted the Bears have faith in Grossman, but Griese -- who went 6 for 7 for 134 yards -- says he wants to start in Chicago.

When asked if a quarterback controversy was brewing, Smith smiled and said: "Rex is our starting quarterback. This is our first game. We'll go on to next week."

Gore got 10 carries and most of the first-team action in the latest indication he has passed Kevan Barlow, who got just one carry while nursing a bruised thigh, on the 49ers' depth chart.

But the 49ers' defense also did its share: Mark Bradley fumbled after a short reception on the Bears' opening drive, and Walt Harris recovered. Smith moved the 49ers into scoring range with short passes, and Joe Nedney hit a 33-yard field goal.

Grossman made the Bears' next big mistake, muffing a third-down snap and then fumbling the ball straight to Ulbrich, who returned it down the Chicago sideline for his first touchdown. Grossman then missed two open receivers on the Bears' first drive of the second quarter.

Notes: The 49ers replaced Smith with Jesse Palmer and Shaun Hill, who scrambled for a fourth-quarter touchdown. ... Chicago rested running backs Cedric Benson and Thomas Jones with minor injuries in front of a half-full Candlestick Park. ... Bears cornerback Nathan Vasher, whose NFL-record 108-yard return of a missed field goal ended the first half of Chicago's victory over the 49ers last season, was shaken up on a hit in the first quarter, but returned to the game.

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