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Show some patience if teams begin bad

Sep 23, 2003 4:09 AM

It’s a long season.

Granted, football season is not as long as baseball, but if your favorite team is off to a disappointing start, have patience. Conversely, if your team is off to a terrific start, don’t start thinking Super Bowl, or even playoffs.

A couple of playoff teams from last year ”” the Jets, Eagles and Browns ”” surprised their fandom with 0-2 starts. Is it time to abandon ship? Is it time to run to the stadium with your season tickets demanding a full refund?

What about those surprisingly strong starts by the Panthers, Seahawks, Vikings, Bills and Redskins? Fans have every right to get excited, and we all want our teams to get off to a hot start, but how important is it really?

Let me count some of the ways. If your team hasn’t gotten off to a strong start, you’re wise not to panic, for it’s only September. History is littered with positive turnarounds and surprising turn of events. Here’s a look at some recent pro football teams that got off to poor starts, only to right the ship and make the playoffs.

2002 Falcons: A 1-3 straight up and 2-2 against the spread start last September found the boo birds replacing the dirty birds in Atlanta. As Michael Vick got hot, however, the Falcons proceeded to go 9-3-1 SU and 9-4 ATS, which included a 27-7 Wild Card win at Green Bay as a +7 dog.

2002 Steelers: Speaking of boo birds, Kordell Stewart heard plenty of them last year at this time (how times have changed?) during Pittsburgh’s 1-3 SU, 0-3-1 ATS start. Tommy Maddox then led the Steelers on a 10-3-1 SU run (6-7-2 ATS) to the postseason, forcing Stewart to run all the way to Chicago.

2002 Jets: The Jets poor start in 2003 looks a lot like last September. Vinny Testaverde got the team off to a 1-4 SU/ATS start, before Chad Pennington stepped in and led New York to the AFC East title during a 9-3 SU, 10-2 ATS run.

2001 Patriots: A 0-2 SU/ATS start and an injury to Pro Bowl QB Drew Bledsoe seemed to turn the lights out early for New England. Four months later, a kid named Tom Brady led an improbable 14-3 SU, 13-3-1 ATS run that culminated in Adam Vinatieri’s Super Bowl winning kick against the Rams as a +14 dog.

The bottom line is: You never know. Players can get fired up and want to shed the "losing" image, or sometimes it simply takes time for players to learn the systems.

Here’s a sad list of teams that got off to great starts, only to fold up shop long before Christmas.

2002 Cardinals: After a 4-2 SU, 3-3 ATS start with three outright wins as an underdog, Arizona went 1-9 SU and 3-7 ATS for coach Dave McGinness.

2002 Bears: The Bears have been playing such poor football that it’s easy to forget Chicago was 2-0 SU, 1-1 ATS just last September. This was followed by a complete collapse, ending the year 2-12 SU and 4-10 ATS.

2002 Patriots: The year after its Super Bowl run, New England started 2-0 SU/ATS, only to miss the playoffs, going 4-10 ATS the rest of the way.

2001 Bengals: You knew they’d appear somewhere on this sad list, didn’t you? Cincinnati started the 2001 campaign 2-0 both SU and ATS. One of those wins was 21-10 as a +7 dog over the SB champ Ravens. After that came a 4-8 ATS run.

2001 Colts: There were a lot of expectations for Jim Mora’s Colts that season. Indy looked ready for the playoffs in September, starting 2-0 SU/ATS while scoring 45 and 42 points in those wins. They never scored that many again.

2000 Browns: The young Browns had no chance of making the playoffs, in their second year of existence, but you couldn’t dim the hopes of Cleveland fans after a 2-1 SU/ATS start. The Browns then dropped 12 of 13 games while going 3-10 ATS.

2001 Panthers: Carolina upset Minnesota on the road in the opener, 24-13, as a +10 dog. The Panthers then went 0-15 SU after the opening-day upset.