In movie theaters, Frankenstein is back on the screen. In the NFL, teams are coming back from the dead, too.
When a season begins, 28 teams are playing with intensity. When it ends, the coaches of the good teams are gearing up for the playoffs, and the coaches of the bad teams are trying to save their jobs. It's generally in the middle of the NFL season that there is a lull. And that's when teams have to battle to keep from losing their focus.I think it is a credit to a number of coaching staffs that they have been able to resurrect their teams when it looked as if all was lost. Here are my top five comeback teams for the 1994 season:
1. DENVER - The Broncos' lull came at the beginning when they started off 0-4. But Wade Phillips gets credit for taking over the defense and dramatically changing its play. At 0-4, Denver was allowing 34 points per game. In going 7-2 since then, the Broncos are giving up 18 per game.
On top of that, John Elway always gives the Broncos a chance to score points. It looks like he will be back immediately from his knee injury, and that's critical for Denver. Without him, they go right back to the land of the dead.
2. NEW ENGLAND - After a 3-2 start, the Patriots hit that lull and fell into a four-game losing streak. At 3-6, they were getting pounded at home by Minnesota four weeks ago, and I guarantee nobody in New England was thinking about the playoffs. But the Patriots rallied to beat Minnesota in overtime, reeled off wins over the Chargers, Colts and Jets, and are now 7-6 going into a home game with Indianapolis.
Right now Bill Parcells is doing the best coaching job in the AFC. He's a run-oriented coach - his style is certainly different from mine, but there is a parallel with our 1990 team in Dallas: That was our second season, and it was our quarterback's second season. The same goes for Parcells and Drew Bledsoe.
We were 3-7 and going nowhere when I had a conversation with Al Davis. He told me that pro football is a long, grueling season and that because of injuries and other factors, teams can change dramatically overnight. We won four straight and had a chance to go to the playoffs before losing Troy Aikman and our last two games. The Patriots have won four straight and have a chance to go the playoffs, too. But their best days are coming in 1995 and 1996.
3. ARIZONA - If you look back, I said that Buddy Ryan's team would be a disappointment early but would be making an impact by the end of the season. I've missed a few predictions this year, but this one seems to be holding up. The Cardinals were 3-6 after losing in Philadelphia, but their stout defense has led them to three wins in four games.
Buddy still has an extremely suspect offensive team, but his defense ranks No. 1. The schedule has helped and will continue to help. The Cardinals play the Redskins and Bengals at home before finishing in Atlanta. A 9-7 record and wild-card berth would make BuddyBall a smashing success in Arizona.
4. GIANTS - They didn't hit a lull, they hit a land mine. After a 3-0 start, the Giants endured a seven-game losing streak but, amazingly, could get to 7-7 with a win over Cincinnati on Sunday. With less of a coach than Dan Reeves, this team would have gone down the drain. Just a marginal team, they have a chance for a break-even season that might not please the fans but would be quite an achievement for Reeves. This is a very suspect team.
5. DETROIT - After beating the Cowboys in overtime, the Lions lost three in a row to slide to 2-4. Now, at 7-6, they are back in the Central chase. I believe the credit goes to Dave Krieg and, of course, to Barry Sanders, the most exciting runner since Walter Payton. Krieg has given the Lions much stronger play than Scott Mitchell provided before being injured. Krieg has 10 touchdowns and no interceptions and has led the team to big wins over Buffalo and Green Bay to get the Lions to their present record.
Will any of these teams challenge Dallas, San Francisco, Pittsburgh or San Diego for a trip to the Super Bowl? Probably not. But at least they have given their fans a reason to keep watching.