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The use of tight ends is catching on faster than ever

Tight ends are doing more damage than ever in the NFL this season.

Tight ends are on pace to smash the NFL season record for the position in both receptions and yards. Those respective marks are 1,945 in 2005 and 20,761 in 1984. At the pace set in the first 11 weeks, the league's TEs will combine for 2,099 catches and 22,302 yards.

The reasons: A handful of talented tight ends are having very big years, and the phase-out of the fullback position leaguewide is causing teams to use more two-tight end sets.

Four tight ends are on pace to reach 1,000 receiving yards this year, which also would be a record. They are Cleveland's Kellen Winslow Jr. (on pace for 1,227 yards), San Diego's Antonio Gates (1,166), Dallas' Jason Witten (1,113) and Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez (1,104).

Those four are in a class of nine top tight ends, which also includes Indianapolis' Dallas Clark, Pittsburgh's Heath Miller, New England's Benjamin Watson, the Giants' Jeremy Shockey and Baltimore's Todd Heap. Heap and Clark probably would hit 1,000 yards this year if not for injuries. An up-and-coming tight end who has emerged this year is Houston's second-year man, Owen Daniels, a fourth-round pick from Wisconsin a year ago.

The tight ends in Buffalo's offense are not making a big impact, but they are producing more than last year. They have combined for 35 catches. The TEs combined for 31 all of last season.

The last time as many as three tight ends hit 1,000 yards receiving was in 1981. They were San Diego's Kellen Winslow, Minnesota's Joe Senser and Cleveland's Ozzie Newsome.


>Colts hang on

Colts coach Tony Dungy deserves credit for getting his team to weather a brutal stretch in the schedule with a depleted roster. Indy just finished playing six games in 32 days -- and four were on the road. It started with a Monday night game at Jacksonville and ended with Thursday night's game at Atlanta. The Colts went 4-2 and would have been 5-1 if not for Adam Vinatieri's chip-shot missed field goal at San Diego. Receiver Marvin Harrison didn't play any of the games, and defensive end Dwight Freeney went out for the season during the stretch with a broken foot.

The Colts have enough talent to give the Patriots a scare in the AFC title game -- if they don't lose anyone else and if they stay ahead of Pittsburgh and hang onto the No. 2 seed in the AFC.


>Refs under posts

Give the NFL officials credit for going into an on-field huddle and getting the call right last week on the goofy, ricochet field goal that put Cleveland into overtime against Baltimore. It's odd, however, that referee Pete Morelli did not realize the call was not reviewable. He went to the headset and was told as much before conferring with his crew and getting the call right.

The incident called to mind the game that caused the NFL to put two officials under the goal posts. It happened in a playoff game between the Colts and Packers in 1965. Green Bay's Don Chandler booted a field goal in the last two minutes to tie the game, 10-10. The Packers won in overtime, 13-10. Jim Tunney was the lone official on the back line of the end zone and ruled the kick was good. Films indicated it actually was wide. Don Shula, then the Colts coach, griped to Tunney about that call for many years after. The league put two officials under the posts starting in '66 and also raised the posts to their present height.


>Odds on favorites

The Patriots are giving Las Vegas oddsmakers fits, given the fact they have covered nine out of 10 games, and five of those spreads have been 16 points or more. The lone game they did not cover was the four-point win at Indianapolis, when they were 5 1/2 point favorites. The line of 24 for tonight's game against the Eagles is the biggest since 1976, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers. That year, the defending champion Steelers were 24-point favorites against the expansion Tampa Bay Bucs. Pittsburgh won, 42-0.

The biggest underdog of more than two touchdowns to win a game outright in the last 20 years was Washington, which beat Dallas as a 17 1/2 -point underdog in 1995. Only five NFL games since 1980 have had point spreads of 20 or more, sports betting analyst R.J. Bell told the Las Vegas Sun.


>Peeved Pats

Bill Belichick is by far the front-runner to get this vote for Coach of the Year. It's amazing how the Patriots have not had one down week. Don't expect any letup from the Pats tonight against the Eagles. Tom Brady pointed out on his radio show this week that the Pats "have a lot of reasons to be motivated and we love it when people give us extra motivation."

You can bet the Pats have been reminded of numerous comments by Eagles earlier this year about the possibility of New England benefiting from stolen signals against them in Super Bowl three years ago. Said Eagles punt returner Reno Mahe, somewhat in jest: "I think they should forfeit, man. We won the Super Bowl. . . . I'm going to go trade my NFC Championship ring for a Super Bowl ring."


>Deicing the kicker

Titans coach Jeff Fisher dismissed the idea of a rules change earlier this year in response to the practice of calling time-out just before the snap of a potential winning field goal try. Three times early this season, the kicker made the first attempt, then made it again after the time out.

In Monday's Titans-Broncos game, Denver coach Mike Shanahan called a late timeout that got Titans kicker Rob Bironas off the hook. He missed a 56-yard try just after the time-out but then made his second try.

"All it's going to take is one time-out and a miss and then a make, and I think people will second-guess that strategy," Fisher said.

I still disagree. I don't want to see a kicker think he's made a 50-yarder to win the Super Bowl only to have to re-kick after his team's celebration is called to a halt.


>Onside kicks

Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth suffered a cut above his lip in a scuffle with suspended Titan Pacman Jones at a party two days before the Monday night game in Denver. Word out of Nashville is very few Titans players miss Jones' presence in the locker room.

Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle said this week the reason he has missed six games this year is because of epileptic seizures. He has had three of them, including one where he bit his tongue while driving his car to the Ravens' training complex. Rolle, 31, says he's confident that with the aid of proper medication he has this neurological condition under control.

Mr. Clutch: Browns kicker Phil Dawson is 10 of 12 in game-winning field goal situations.

Carolina QB Vinny Testaverde, 44, is more than a month older than New Orleans coach Sean Payton.


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