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GANNON, HOLMES CHASING HISTORY TOWARD FINALE

The regular-season finale between Oakland and Kansas City on Dec. 28 could be one of the great record-setting days in NFL history.

Two of the league's most significant records could fall in that game.

Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon remains on pace to break Dan Marino's 18-year-old record for most passing yards in a season.

Kansas City's Priest Holmes is way ahead of the pace to set the record for most yards from scrimmage in a season, set by Marshall Faulk in 1999.

Gannon is averaging 321 passing yards a game and is on pace to finish with 5,142 yards. Marino's record is 5,084. So it's going to be close. Only two of Gannon's final five games are against teams in the top half of the NFL on defense (Miami and Denver). The Chiefs could be the key to the record. They're 32nd on defense.

Holmes is averaging 162 combined yards a game and is on pace to finish with 2,599. Faulk's record is 2,420. Three of Holmes' final five games are against defenses in the top half of the league.

Imagine how tough the NFL MVP vote will be if both players get their records. Wouldn't it be ironic if neither win the award? Michael Vick is a legitimate candidate for the award. The Falcons are 7-3-1 and could finish 12-3-1. They have an easy December schedule aside from a game next week at Tampa.

Right now, this vote is going to Gannon.

Behind Sapp scene

Warren Sapp's hit on Packers tackle Chad Clifton wasn't blatantly cheap. If it was he would have been fined. It was only about 15 yards away from the play. Sapp is the subject of a lot of cheap tactics on the defensive line, and he likes to go after offensive players when he gets the chance on an interception. More upsetting was the fact he was celebrating on the sideline while Clifton was down.

Packers offensive line coach Larry Beightol, one of the NFL's best assistant coaches, made an interesting call to Tampa's respected defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, this past week to let Kiffin know the extent of his anger over the play.

"It's not a cheap shot, but there has to be something where these players look out for each other," Beightol said. "There will be other games. There will be other times. Like the saying goes, every dog has his day. We'll see about him. Everyone is fair game. When we see him again, we'll see how that dog fares. We'll cut him every single time. I want him to know that."

Beightol stopped short of saying the Packers would do anything illegal against Sapp, but he said that in the past he instructed his players to block Sapp up high and avoid high-risk cut blocks. He said that kind of consideration went out the window when Sapp unloaded on Clifton.

Brooks slumps

New Orleans' Aaron Brooks has struggled the past month.

During the Saints' 6-1 start, he completed 59.2 percent of his passes and threw 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. In the last four games, he completed 55.2 percent with five TDs and six INTs. His passer efficiency rating was 91.2 in the first seven games and 72.8 in the last four games.

"It's not all Aaron's fault," coach Jim Haslett said. "There is enough blame to go around for everybody in that room, including players and coaches."

Part of Brooks' struggles can be attributed to a lackluster rushing attack that was missing catalyst Deuce McAllister against the Browns. After their 74-yard effort Sunday, the Saints have averaged just 83.6 rushing yards in their last three games. Brooks might not get much run support today with the Saints facing the Bucs' No. 1-rated defense.

George in third gear

In one of the more eye-catching moves of his tenure, Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher yanked Eddie George from the lineup in the third quarter against the Ravens last week.

George got just two carries in the fourth quarter, and Robert Holcombe was the team's featured back on the team's last three possessions of the game. And the reason was Holcombe was quicker to the hole than George.

George continues to say he is healthy and 100 percent. But he at times looks tentative and somewhat lumbering. He also dropped three passes. Fisher strongly stood by George this past week, but expect Holcombe to give Eddie more breathers down the stretch.

George has just two 100-yard games this season and is averaging 3.4 yards per carry. He has had just two games this season -- against the Bengals and the Colts -- where he averaged more than four yards a carry.

Oz gets promotion

The Ravens' Ozzie Newsome became the NFL's first black general manager when he got the title last week. It wasn't big news because Newsome has been the de facto GM the past year and a half as VP of football operations. But the move ensures that when minority owner Steve Bisciotti takes over as majority owner from Art Modell in January 2004, he will maintain continuity. Newsome has done a superb job.

Colts president Bill Polian on Newsome's transition from the playing field to the front office: "It takes a person who, No. 1, has great drive and, No. 2, great attention to detail and great passion for the game. To go from a Hall of Fame player -- he wasn't just a player but a Hall of Fame player -- to a guy who starts out at the lowest level of scouting and works his way up and is successful every step of the way takes tremendous professionalism. He's done as well in the front office as he did as a player."

Kicking off in OT

Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg probably sealed his ouster with his decision last week to kick off after winning the toss in overtime against Chicago.

Mornhinweg doesn't have much company in his controversial decision. Since 1974, only eight of 334 teams have kicked off in overtime after winning the coin toss.

Since 1998, 63 games have gone into overtime, and Mornhinweg was only the second coach to elect to kick off. The other? Buffalo's Wade Phillips in the infamous "Snow Bowl" against New England on Dec. 17, 2000. The Bills kicked off in OT during that blizzard, but they didn't lose until late in the OT. Actually, they could have won in OT, but Steve Christie's 30-yard field-goal try was blocked.

The 61 teams that elected to receive have a record of 41-19 with one tie.

Onside kicks

Eagles coach Andy Reid received a letter this past week from none other than comedian and Philly native Bill Cosby offering his services as quarterback in the wake of the team's injuries.

"Realizing there's an opening," Cosby wrote, "I felt the adrenaline begin to pump. I ran down to the basement, pulled out my old Central High School leather helmet (without face mask) and shoulder pads, got the missus up, and with a wiffle ball, had her bending over, and I took snaps."

He signed the letter, Bill "Go Long" Cosby.

The Broncos are 3-3 at home. In their six Super Bowl seasons, they were 42-5 at home.

In November, Bucs QB Brad Johnson hit 63.5 percent of his passes for 700 yards, nine TDs, 0 INTs and a passer rating of 116.7.

A record 14 AFC teams are within one game of .500 after 12 weeks, surpassing the previous conference record of 11 such teams (1980, 1994 and 1998).

In the final two minutes of the half and game, Falcons QB Michael Vick has led his team to scores on five of his nine drives (excluding possessions to run out the clock).

Indianapolis kicker Mike Vanderjagt last week became the NFL's first player to kick a 50-plus yard field goal to tie a game in the fourth quarter and kick a game-winning field goal of 50-plus to win in overtime. He did it in the driving snow. A native of Oakville, Ontario, Vanderjagt was used to the conditions. In two Grey Cup games with the Toronto Argonauts played in frigid conditions, Vanderjagt was 9-for-9 on FG attempts.

Bengals Futility Dep't: The Bengals actually have outscored their opponents, 130-127, in the past five games. Still, they're 1-4 in those five.

It took only 98 seconds last week for Carolina fans to start booing their Panthers. The boo-birds came out after Rodney Peete had handed the ball three straight times to Lamar Smith for a total of 4 yards on the first series.

The Chiefs, with a string of 97 consecutive sellouts, have not had a blacked-out game since Dec. 16, 1990, against Houston.
e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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