Jet's backups turn on the afterburners

NFL PRESEASON GAMES: Running back Little John Flowers made a case for why he should make the final cut when the NY Jets trim their roster to only 53 players from 70 by Sunday

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , PHILADELPHIA

Sat, Sep 03, 2005 - Page 19

Herman Edwards must have felt more like a casting director than a coach during the Jets' preseason finale against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday. The game was more about auditioning players for the remaining open roster spots and starting positions than it was about the final score.

Still, Edwards always plays to win.

Apparently his backups do, too. With their starters playing only the first series, the Jets clobbered the Eagles, 37-14, at Lincoln Financial Field.

Jets running back Little John Flowers, who first signed with the Jets as a free agent in 2002 and played on the practice squad that year and in 2003, said, "After four years of this, that would be unbelievable if I got a phone call telling me that I was going to be here."

Flowers is competing with Cedric Houston to be the third running back and is still a long shot to make the team. Houston, a sixth-round pick this year, has not seen much action this preseason because of a bruised shoulder.

Safety Rashad Washington also stood out, intercepting a pass in the third quarter and returning it 99 yards to give the Jets a 34-7 lead. Washington finished with a game-high nine tackles.

As expected, the Eagles did not play their starters, some of whom watched in street clothes, and that almost immediately turned the game into a battle of second- and third-stringers. But few figured the Jets would score so effortlessly and so frequently. They went into halftime leading by 27-0.

The Jets' starters entered the game with one eye fixed on the season opener, at Kansas City on Sept. 11. Quarterback Chad Pennington, who threw two interceptions in the end zone against the Giants last week, ended the preseason on a high note. On the Jets' first series, he led an eight-play, 65-yard drive capped by Derrick Blaylock's 5-yard scamper into the end zone.

But the first-string offense was playing against the Eagles' backups, so it was hardly a fair fight.

"We have a lot of work to do," said Pennington, who was 3 of 3 for 27 yards. "But as long as we keep making progress, we'll be OK"

While four preseason games might seem too many to some fans, the younger players vying to make the team relished a final opportunity to impress. The Jets have not named their starting punt returner and strong safety, or their fifth receiver.

"We have to make some tough cuts on some guys, and it's never fun doing that," Edwards said. "I told them, 'My hat's off to them,' the way they competed tonight."

Jerricho Cotchery's first punt return went for 14 yards and helped set up Mike Nugent's 48-yard field goal at the end of the first quarter. But Justin Miller also did an admirable job, returning three punts 20 yards.

Nugent, who had only one field-goal attempt in the first three preseason games, also made a 35-yarder and a 33-yarder.

"I think it's good for confidence and also experience," Nugent said.

Oliver Celestin and Kerry Rhodes are competing to be the starting strong safety. Late in the second quarter, Eagles quarterback Mike McMahon, a Rutgers alumnus, lofted an ill-advised pass that Rhodes intercepted and returned 21 yards.

In the third quarter, McMahon scrambled 8 yards for the Eagles' first touchdown.

Chas Gessner, the first-year wide receiver out of Brown who is hoping to be the team's fifth receiver, improved his stock after he caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Brooks Bollinger shortly before halftime to give the Jets a 27-0 lead. Gessner finished with two catches for a team-high 41 yards.

Falcons 20, Dolphins 17

At Miami, Etric Pruitt scored on a 51-yard interception return and Atlanta allowed no first downs in the opening 25 minutes.

Both Gus Frerotte and A.J. Feeley struggled in their competition to become Miami's starting quarterback. The Dolphins totaled 16 yards in three series with Frerotte, while Feeley went 4-for-17 and threw the interception to Pruitt.

Third-string quarterback Sage Rosenfels threw touchdown passes of 20 yards to Derrius Thompson and 26 yards to Wes Welker, both in the final nine minutes for Miami.

Atlanta used its starters only briefly.

Buccaneers 38, Texans 14

At Tampa, Florida, Tampa Bay intercepted David Carr twice in the first quarter, converting the turnovers into a field goal and touchdown.

Backup quarterback Chris Simms threw for 163 yards and three TDs for the Bucs, who didn't allow Houston to score until third-string quarterback Dave Ragone teamed with Sloan Thomas on a 74-yard pass play late in the third quarter.

Young Tampa Bay receivers Edell Shepherd, J.R. Russell and Paris Warren scored on receptions from Simms, who completed 12 of 16 passes. Luke McCown tossed a 20-yard TD pass to Nate Lawrie to make it 38-0 midway through the third quarter.

Juran Bolden and Ronde Barber intercepted Carr, setting up Matt Bryant's 52-yard field goal and Mike Alstott's 1-yard touchdown run for a 10-0 lead.

Giants 27, Patriots 3

At Foxborough, Massachusetss, Jared Lorenzen and Jesse Palmer led New York to touchdowns in their battle for the No. 3 quarterback spot.

The No. 2 quarterbacks -- former Boston College players Doug Flutie of the Patriots and Tim Hasselbeck of the Giants -- played four series apiece. The Giants scored on two of theirs on Jay Feely's field goals of 47 and 48 yards that gave them a 6-0 halftime lead

Lorenzen went 5-for-13 for 54 yards and a 26-yard scoring pass to Jamaar Taylor for a 13-3 lead with five minutes left in the third quarter. Palmer entered with 13:24 left in the game and completed his only pass, a 46-yarder to Taylor to the 1. Brandon Jacobs' 1-yard run and Feely's extra point made it 27-3 with 11:56 left.

Browns 16, Bears 6

At Chicago, rookie Charlie Frye did all he could to claim the backup quarterback job, completing 12 of 14 passes for 186 yards for Cleveland.

Frye, starting for Trent Dilfer, completed all seven passes and led Cleveland to a touchdown in the second quarter.

Sultan McCullough led the Browns with 103 yards rushing on 19 attempts, while Reuben Droughns, competing for time at running back with the injured Lee Suggs and William Green, rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown on nine attempts.

Antonio Bryant led the Browns with 69 yards on four receptions, while Brandon Rideau had four receptions for 50 yards. Wide receiver Braylon Edwards, the No. 3 pick in the draft, caught two passes for 47 yards, for Cleveland.

Steelers 21, Panthers 17

At Charlotte, North Carolina, backup Charlie Batch threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Sean Morey with 1:35 to play to spoil Stephen Davis' return from knee surgery.

Davis carried the ball five times for 17 yards in a very brief appearance designed only to test his surgically repaired right knee. He received a standing ovation after his first carry, a 4-yard surge up the middle.

He later moved the Panthers to the Pittsburgh 3 on an 8-yard run, and Jake Delhomme threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Proehl.

Noah Herron finished with 65 yards on 22 carries and scored Pittsburgh's only touchdown, a 1-yard run to cap a drive led by Batch that tied the score 7-7 midway through the second quarter.

Cowboys 27, Jaguars 20

At Irving, Texas, Julius Jones gained 75 yards on 11 carries, softening things up for Drew Bledsoe to hit his first seven passes -- including a 40-yarder to Terry Glenn for a touchdown on Dallas' opening drive.

The second series went 68 yards to the Jacksonville 8, with Dallas settling for a field goal -- then most of the offensive starters called it a night.

Once the game became a battle of backups, the Jaguars went ahead 17-13 early in the third quarter, but the Cowboys pulled it out behind two touchdowns from Tyson Thompson, an undrafted rookie who has been the club's biggest find of the summer. He gained 57 yards on 14 carries.

Packers 21, Titans 17

At Nashville, Tennessee, Craig Nall tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Walt Williams early in the fourth quarter, and Mike Hawkins intercepted a pass in the end zone with 2:26 left for Green Bay.

The game started after a moment of silence for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, which was only appropriate considering the number of players on both teams worried about relatives along the Gulf Coast. Both quarterbacks -- Brett Favre of Green Bay and Steve McNair of the Titans -- are Mississippi natives.

Both Favre and McNair threw touchdown passes despite playing only three series apiece.

First-round draft pick Adam "Pacman" Jones unexpectedly started at right cornerback for the Titans and was welcomed with a chorus of boos.

Ravens 26, Redskins 20, OT

At Baltimore, Jamal Lewis ran for 15 yards on six carries in his preseason debut for the Ravens, and third-string quarterback Derek Anderson threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to Randy Hymes with 12:39 left in overtime.

The Ravens never led until Anderson hit Hymes in the right side of the end zone to make it 18-17 with 1:46 left in the fourth quarter. The duo also hooked up on the 2-point conversion.

But the Redskins forced the overtime on a 46-yard field goal by John Hall as time expired.

Lewis reported late to training camp following a stint in an Atlanta halfway house, part of his punishment for pleading guilty to using a cellphone to set up a drug buy in 2000.

Raiders 13, Saints 6

At Oakland, California, Randy Moss caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Kerry Collins in the first quarter for the game's only touchdown, leading the Raiders over the Saints, who somehow played a competitive football game despite the situation back in New Orleans.

Transported 2,000 miles to California on Sunday, the Saints avoided the wrath of Hurricane Katrina and prepared for their game at San Jose State University. A moment of silence was held before the game.

Players from both teams held a prayer circle when time expired. Afterward, the Saints were headed to San Antonio with no idea when they'll go home -- or whether they even still have homes.

Although they've had a losing record on the field the last three seasons, the Washington Redskins are the NFL's biggest winners when it comes to making money.

For the sixth straight year, the Redskins are atop Forbes magazine's annual list of NFL franchise valuations at US$1.26 billion. The value has increased 15 percent since last year, when Washington became the first American sports team to pass the US$1 billion mark with a value of US$1.1 billion.

This year, Redskins are one of three NFL teams valued at more than US$1 billion. The archrival Dallas Cowboys are worth US$1.06 billion. The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are valued at US$1.04 billion.

The Redskins have been atop the Forbes list since unseating the Cowboys in 2000. Dallas had held the top spot since 1993.

The Redskins had US$287 million in operating revenue last year, up from US$245 million in 2003, with an operating income of US$53.8 million, down from US$69.6 million the previous year.