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WEEKEND'S BEST CAME AFTER THE WHISTLES (OR WHEN THERE WASN'T ONE).

Byline: BILLY WITZ NFL

It was one of those weekends when seeing wasn't quite believing in the NFL, from Michael Vick's reprise of The Dirty Bird to Vince Young's redux of the Rose Bowl against the New York Trojans to the Raiders' comeuppance -- some 28 years later -- for the Holy Roller.

It may have been a pretty blase weekend for football -- a truncated Sunday schedule, lots of blah games, and some of the fantastic finishes being aided and abetted by shoddy tackling (see Giants, Panthers) and scattershot passing (see Delhomme, Grossman and E. Manning).

But since when is the NFL about the football?

If it were, the league wouldn't be spending so much money on print ads in national newspapers, asking us to give thanks for cable TV companies keeping the eight games on the NFL Network off the air.

Never mind that the NFL is holding the cable companies hostage, or the possibility that the league is seriously overplaying its hand when it comes to the interest in Thursday and Saturday night football in December.

After this week, when games were decided by 17, 28, 24, 18, 27, 15 and 30 points, the NFL might be careful what it wishes for with those ads.

Ah, but after the whistles -- even the ones Mathias Kiwanuka was expecting to hear -- that was another story. Or stories.

In Cleveland, the most entertaining part of the Bengals' 30-0 win over the Browns, their first shutout since 1989, was when Braylon Edwards was pulled from quarterback Charlie Frye, whose jersey he had a hold of, after an argument on the sideline.

Frye wasn't the only quarterback whose ears were burning. When Vick was leaving the field after rushing for 166yards in a 31-13 loss to NewOrleans, the Falcons' fourthconsecutive loss and one that cripples their playoff hopes, he'd had enough of the losing, the drops by his receivers and the boos of the home fans.

So before he ducked into the tunnel, Vick had a few words and a pair of middle fingers ready for a few hecklers.

By late Sunday night and on Monday, embarrassed by the example he set for young fans, Vick was apologizing for his actions.

Not so for the rest of the Falcons.

Michael Jenkins, Ashley Lelie and Roddy White -- all former first-round picks -- dropped passes, including a crushing one by White with the Falcons still in striking distance. The hands of the Falcons' secondary weren't any better. None of them were able to knock away a 48-yard Hail Mary pass that was hauled in by the Saints' Terrance Copper in the end zone on the final play of the first half.

As if Jim Mora, whose father -- the former Saints and Colts coach -- referred to Vick lastweek as a coach killer, didn't have enough problems.

The sharks will be circling in New York, too, following the Giants in their route around the drain.

``Titanic Choke'' was how the New York Post called their 24-21loss at Tennessee, the headline writers showing a good bit of restraint -- more so than Eli Manning -- for blowing a 21-0lead in the fourth quarter.

The Titans appeared nothing more than a nuisance even after they'd pulled within a touchdown, seeing that Kiwanuka had Young wrapped up behind the line on fourth-and-10. But the rookie end suddenly let go of Young, who took off and -- dredging up the ghosts of Rose Bowls past -- raced 19 yards to keep the Titans alive.

Kiwanuka, whose head was bowed as he grasped Young around the waist, said he thought Young had thrown the ball and he was afraid he'd be called for a personal foul (a similar foul had kept alive an earlier Titans' scoring drive.)

In other words, welcome to the NFL.

Or as they know it in Oakland: Needs Fewer Lawyers.

A fine idea on its own, but one that gathered momentum after Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson gave up the ball as willfully as Kiwanuka played catch and release with Young.

Jackson's good fortune was that when he popped up after making a 13-yard reception on fourth-and-2, his celebratory spin of the ball went forward, making it in the eyes of the officials not a fumble, but an illegal forward pass.

Just as it says right there in the rulebook, a 148-page document replete with more articles than the Sunday paper: if a runner intentionally fumbles forward, it is a forward pass.

``That's a crock,'' said Dan Fouts, the former Chargers quarterback who knows a crock when he sees it, having witnessed the Holy Roller in 1978, when Ken Stabler -- about to be sacked on the final play -- fumbled the ball forward to Pete Banaszak, who knocked it forward to Dave Casper, who knocked it forward into the end zone where he fell on it to give the Raiders a 21-20victory.

``I've been watching football games for 50 years and I thought I'd seen it all,'' said Fouts, a college football commentator for ABC, from his Eugene, Ore. home.

``But that's not a pass. Come on. I've thrown a lot of crummy looking passes, but nothing that ever looked like that. I guarantee you if they'd have called it a fumble, nobody on the San Diego side would have argued.''

And therein lies the problem.

There's nothing wrong with rules, but a little discretion never hurt, either. Or hasn't anyone heard of federal sentencing guidelines: three strikes and you're out, even if it's for swiping a loaf of bread.

``The point is it's a game,'' Fouts said. ``It's not black and white rules. There's some gray area in this game. That's why it's a game.''

A point that seems to be missing.

billy.witz@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3621
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 28, 2006
Words:952
Previous Article:NEW AIRFIELD AT LAX CENTER OF CONTROVERSY MODERNIZATION-PLAN CRITICS NOT SURE PROJECT IS NEEDED.
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