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CHANGE OF UNIFORM UNLIKELY TO REVIVE RICE'S STATISTICS

Before getting too excited about the Jerry Rice trade, remember that simply donning different colors seldom helps aging wide receivers resuscitate their careers.

That includes the great ones. Even the greatest of all-time.

Rice, the NFL career leader in receptions (1,524), reception yardage (22,533) and touchdowns (205), was sent to the Seattle Seahawks from the Oakland Raiders for a seventh-round draft pick in 2005. The terms of the deal speak volumes about how far the 42-year-old Rice has fallen in the eyes of NFL front office personnel.

It was sad to watch Rice in the closing minutes of the Raiders' 13-10 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 19, the day his NFL-record streak of catching passes in 274 consecutive games ended, apparently without a bit of regret from his offensive teammates or the Oakland brass.

Rice, in fact, went catchless in three of his final five Raiders games.

In Seattle, he's reunited with Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren, who was Rice's offensive coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers from 1989-91, a three-year period during which Rice had 262 catches for 4,191 yards and 44 touchdowns. But those really were the good old days.

As the only NFL receiver since 1970 to play past age 40, Rice's receiving mates will include Darrell Jackson (26 catches for 376 yards and one TD), Koren Robinson (2 2/3 2 2/1 ) and Bobby Engram (1 2/2 0 0/0 ). Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will probably soon have to make due without Robinson's services for four games, the result of Robinson's third violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy.

"We signed him to come in, alternate at the split end position with Koren, run our offense, catch balls when they're thrown to him, do the stuff that we expect all receivers to do," Holmgren said. "And help us try to win football games."

Once Robinson returns, there's no reason to believe that even Rice can buck a very negative trend.

Rice averaged 4.5 catches per game in his nearly 3 1/2 years with the Raiders after hauling in 5.38 catches per contest with the 49ers from 1985-2000. Look for that ratio to drop even more radically now. Here's why:

Cris Carter, the No. 2 receiver in pro football history, caught just eight balls for 66 yards and one score in an injury-marred final season with the 2002 Miami Dolphins. That, after 1,093 catches for 13,833 yards and 129 TDs in his first 15 years with the Philadelphia Eagles (1987-89) and Minnesota Vikings (1990-2001).

Tim Brown, Rice's former Raiders teammate and No. 3 on the career catches list, has 19 grabs for 148 yards and one score this season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That's 3.16 catches per game, compared to 4.46 his first 16 years with the Raiders. And Brown's 7.8-yard average per catch this season is on track to be the lowest of his career.

Andre Reed, a star of the Bills' Super Bowl run and No. 4 all-time, had 10 catches for 103 yards in a six-game farewell tour with the Washington Redskins in 2000 after 941 receptions and 86 TDs in 15 Buffalo years.

Art Monk, No. 5 all-time, had two tough final seasons with the 1994 New York Jets (4 6/5 8 1/3 ) and '95 Eagles ( 6/1 1 4/0 ) after 888 catches for 12,026 yards and 65 scores in 14 years with the Redskins.

Henry Ellard, No. 10 among career receivers, had 807 catches in his first 15 seasons with the Los Angeles Rams and the Redskins, but went out with a whimper with the '98 New England Patriots ( 5/8 6/0 ) and '99 Redskins ( 2/2 9/0 ).

James Lofton, who rounds out the top dozen receivers in history, had 750 catches for 13,821 yards and 75 scores in 15 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Raiders and Bills. But after leaving Buffalo following the 1992 season, Lofton didn't catch another scoring aerial in his final two stops with the '93 Eagles (1 3/1 6 7/0 ) and '94 Los Angeles Rams ( 1/1 6/0 ).

There have been exceptions. Irving Fryar, the No. 6 receiver of all-time, enjoyed his two best seasons with the Eagles in 1996 (8 8/1 ,19 5/1 1) and '97 (8 6/1 ,31 6/6 ) after a dozen years with the Patriots and Dolphins.

The big difference is that Fryar was 33 at the time of his acquisition by the Eagles, nine years younger than Rice is now. And that's approximately double the average life of an NFL player's career.

START HIM

Buffalo Bills QB Drew Bledsoe is 40 of 64 (62.5 percent) for 418 yards with five touchdowns, one interception and just two sacks in two career games against the Baltimore Ravens -- both victories.

It's taken Indianapolis Colts WR Brandon Stokley just five games to establish a career high for catches in a season with 25, for 352 yards and three TDs. In Stokley's previous five NFL seasons, his best was 24 grabs with the Ravens in both 2001 and '02.

New York Giants QB Kurt Warner faced the Detroit Lions twice as a member of the St. Louis Rams and went 54 of 79 (68.4 percent) for 596 yards with six TDs and two INTs.

SIT HIM

Tampa Bay WR Tim Brown has 20 catches for 235 yards and two TDs in five career games against the Chicago Bears, an average of just 47 yards per game.

New York Jets QB Chad Pennington had no TD passes and five INTs, and was sacked four times by the New England Patriots in last season's trip to Gillette Stadium.

The Arizona Cardinals defense has surrendered 93 points (31 per game) in its last three matchups with the Seattle Seahawks.

e-mail: tborrelli@buffnews.com

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