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Mexico, perfect teams highlight Week 4

(Sept. 27, 2005) -- It's Fútbol Americano in Mexico City! When the Arizona Cardinals take on the San Francisco 49ers at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Mexico (ESPN/ESPN Deportes, 8:30 p.m. ET), the game will be an NFL first -- the first time that a regular-season contest is played outside the United States.

Estadio Azteca is the venue in which the largest attendance in NFL history was recorded -- 112,376 fans on August 15, 1994 in a preseason game when Houston topped Dallas 6-0. The stadium has since been reconfigured and holds 85,000. American football has been played in Mexico since 1890 when a game was played in Xalapa, Veracruz. Mexico has the most NFL fans outside of the United States.

The historic game will be celebrated in many ways in the NFL this weekend. Every NFL player will wear a "Fútbol Americano" decal on his helmet. Special "Fútbol Americano" banners will be hung at all NFL stadiums. NFL Network will air themed programming leading up to the game. A first-ever NFL Spanish-language youth-football PSA featuring Kansas City tight end Tony Gonzalez and Pro Football Hall of Famer Anthony Muñoz will debut this weekend. And many teams are conducting Hispanic fan promotions during Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept.15-Oct. 15).

NFL Hispanic factoid

The first Hispanic player to play in the NFL was fullback Lou Molinet, who appeared in nine games for the Frankford Yellowjackets in 1927 and scored one rushing touchdown. Molinet was born in Chaparra, Cuba.

Four clubs seek to stay spotless

Zeros in the loss column can mean zilch.

Especially this time of year, when most NFL clubs will reach only the quarter mark of their season. Being unbeaten -- as Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay and Washington are -- sure beats the alternative, but every player on those clubs is saying, "Hold on, let's not get carried away."

"Three games is nothing when you play a 16-game season," says quarterback Carson Palmer of the 3-0 Cincinnati Bengals. "It's great to have this start. But we still have a lot of games -- a lot of big games -- ahead of us."

The numbers prove Palmer right. In the past five seasons, 10 clubs began the year with at least 3-0 records yet did not reach the playoffs. The high-water mark in the equation came in 2002, when six of the seven teams to begin 3-0 failed to make the playoffs.

"It feels good, it feels real good," says tackle Kenyatta Walker of the 3-0 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "But I'm not patting myself on the back just yet."

There will be plenty of time for that. Meanwhile, there is Week 4 to contend with:

DETROIT LIONS (1-1) at TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (3-0)

Storyline: Motor City tries to slow down a Cadillac.

Lions defensive coordinator Dick Jauron will try to do what three teams have failed to accomplish this year -- slow down Bucs rookie RB Carnell "Cadillac" Williams. The first-round draft choice from Auburn leads the NFL in rushing (434 yards, the most ever in a rookie's first three games) and last Sunday, with an NFC season-high 158 yards, became the first rookie in history to start a career with three consecutive 100-yard rushing games. "There are a lot of great backs that have come through this league," says Bucs CB Ronde Barber. "For him to outdistance them all in the first three games of his career, he should feel good about it."

Tampa Bay QB Brian Griese leads the NFC in completion percentage (66.2), but confronts a defense constructed to limit the long ball. The Lions allow the conference's fewest passing yards per game (159.5).

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (1-2) at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (2-1)

Storyline: Tomlinson's hot, but the Pats may conjure up cure.

He was quiet in the Chargers' first two games (both losses), but last week, RB LaDainian Tomlinson ignited the Bolts by having a hand in four of their six touchdowns in a 45-23 triumph over the Giants. Tomlinson ran for an NFL season-high 192 yards and three TDs and added a 26-yard scoring pass.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, as usual, will devise some surprising scheme aimed at negating Tomlinson. The New England 3-4 linebacking crew of Willie McGinest, Chad Brown, Monty Beisel and Mike Vrabel (who played some safety last week) will have to immediately plug any holes that open when Tomlinson takes off. He averaged almost 10 yards per carry (9.1) in Week 3. You don't want him to reach the secondary.

For the game's two Big Ten quarterbacks, it's the rubber game. San Diego's Drew Brees (Purdue) topped New England's Tom Brady (Michigan) in 2002, 21-14. The two squared off for the first time in college in 1999, with Brady's Wolverines defeating Brees' Boilermakers 38-12.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (2-1) at WASHINGTON REDSKINS (2-0)

Storyline: Seattle power game vs. Washington's power "D."

Should be a rumbling FedExField ground game Sunday. The NFL's second leading rusher, Seattle's Shaun Alexander (357 yards), will show the East Coast what he's about when he goes against the league's No. 2 rush defense of the Redskins.

Alexander last week ran for four touchdowns against Arizona -- two in a 30-second span -- and 140 yards. He will confront a rushing defense that has not allowed a 100-yard game this year.

Redskins CB Shawn Springs knows how dangerous Alexander can be, having played with him in Seattle from 2000-03. "You can't let Shaun get started," says Springs. "He's the type of guy where you might get him a couple of times for a negative run and then he will bust one loose. You just have to stop him."

DENVER BRONCOS (2-1) at JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (2-1)

Storyline: Mr. Smith meets Mr. Smith.

And these old-timers can still be game-deciders. On Sunday, Jaguars WR Jimmy Smith, in his 13th season, ran a slant-and-go pattern six minutes into overtime to make a game-deciding 36-yard TD catch in Jacksonville's win over the Jets. Then on Monday night, Denver's 11-year WR Rod Smith caught seven passes for 80 yards, passing 10,000 for his career.

"You want to keep going and get more," says Rod Smith, really speaking for Jimmy also. "Then I'm helping my team."

Denver's defensive front -- bulwarked by newcomers Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren -- will look to shut down Jags RB Fred Taylor, who ran a club-record 37 times on Sunday (for 98 yards). The Broncs did just that Monday, limiting Kansas City's Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson to a combined 74 yards.

GREEN BAY PACKERS (0-3) at CAROLINA PANTHERS (1-2) (Monday night, ABC, 9 p.m. ET)

Storyline: Call it the "Amnesia Bowl."

Both teams feel they are too good, and have too many good players, to have the records they have. Forget the past, they say. There's 13 more games to go. "You can't dwell on the past," says Packers defensive coordinator Jim Bates. "You put the blinders on, get back to work, bring it closer and go play. It's too early."

Bates and his men will have to slow down perhaps the difference-maker in this game -- Panthers WR Steve Smith. Tied for the league lead with Keenan McCardell and Hines Ward with four receiving TDs, Smith -- sometimes lining up in the backfield -- tied a team record last Sunday for catches (11) and posted 170 yards -- highest in the league this season -- with three TDs.

The Monday night game comes 85 years to the day that the first games in NFL history were played -- on October 3, 1920.

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