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Unbeatens look to stay that way in Week 5

(Oct. 4, 2005) -- One quarter of the way into the season, there's nothing in their loss columns but a big zero.

For the Bengals, Bucs, Colts and Redskins, the wins may not have always been pretty and all weren't easy, but so far, 2005 has been one spotless season.

And they want to keep it that way.

"Hey, we're winning," says Cincinnati wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "I'm happy about that, just to be 4-0."

And what about the teams on the other end of the scale -- those with a losing record as the NFL enters Week 5? Recent history proves that the race is far -- far -- from over.

Take a look at the past five seasons. In every year, there has been at least one team with a losing record through four weeks of the season that finished as division champion, with one winning the Super Bowl:

It Ain't Over Yet!
Season Team(s) Week 4 Season's End
2000 New Orleans 1-3 Division champ
2001 New England 1-3 Division/Super Bowl champ
2002 Atlanta 1-2 Made playoffs
NY Jets 1-3 Division champ
Pittsburgh 1-2 Division champ
Tennessee 1-3 Division champ
2003 Philadelphia 1-2 Division champ
2004 Green Bay 1-3 Division champ

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (2 - 2) at ATLANTA FALCONS (3 - 1)

Storyline: Star quarterbacks clash.

And will it be fun! "We are going to get it on," says one of them, Atlanta's Michael Vick. "Two great coaching staffs, two great quarterbacks, two great teams. That's the way it should be."

For the Super Bowl-champ Patriots, things are not quite as they "should be" or have been. They are .500 now, wrestling with injuries, and just surrendered 40 points (41 to San Diego) for the first time since 1998 against -- guess who? -- Atlanta.

But these are, after all, the resourceful Patriots, whose leader, QB Tom Brady, is not ready to panic. "We have to go back to work," he says. "We have a tough challenge against Atlanta. We have to improve in a short amount of time."

The Falcons, led by DT Rod Coleman, will be coming after Brady. They're hot off an NFL season-high nine-sack game against Minnesota and top the NFL in sacks (17). Their defense has allowed only one second-half TD this year.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS (3-0) at DENVER BRONCOS (3-1)

Storyline: Clinton comes home!

That will be the big story this week in Denver. The Broncos' leading rusher in his two years with the club (2002-03) until he was traded to Washington, RB Clinton Portis faces his old team for the first time, and in Denver, no less.

"Going into Denver, it's going to be a tough place to play," says Portis. "But we've got to go out there and play our hardest. This is a roadblock, a speed bump in our road. We've got to overcome it and find a way to win."

Portis and his old Broncos running mate Mike Anderson (coming off a 115-yard day), will confront un-budging rush defenses. Denver allowed Jacksonville 12 ground yards on Sunday and ranks fourth in the league against the run.

The Redskins are fifth in the NFL versus the run and have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in eight games -- the longest current streak in the NFL.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (3-1) at DALLAS COWBOYS (2-2)

Storyline: Can the 'Boys break the Eagles' dominance?

Philadelphia has prevailed in this series recently, winning nine of the past 10 by an average of three touchdowns per game (22.1 points). But this is an NFC East game, only the second of the year, and we know what happened in the first (Dallas-Washington on Monday night, 9/19).

The matchup will be built around the top two third-down passing leaders in the NFC -- Dallas' Drew Bledsoe (120.6) and Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb (113.0).

Both have made that success work for their teams. The Cowboys have lost their two games by a total of seven points. The Eagles pulled off the season's biggest comeback (18 points) last Sunday against Kansas City while scoring 31 straight points.

The Cowboys' 3-4 will have to pressure McNabb continually and not give him time to dump off to versatile RB Brian Westbrook or go long to Terrell Owens, the league leader in receptions (32).

CINCINNATI BENGALS (4-0) at JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (2-2) (Sunday night, ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET)

Storyline: Cincy goes for 5-0 for first time since '88.

Boomer Esiason was the quarterback the last time the Bengals sought a 5-0 record as they do this week. They eventually went 6-0 and finished 12-4 with a berth in Super Bowl XXIII. These teams have a history, even though they are not in the same division anymore. They used to be -- in the old AFC Central -- and in those days, the Jaguars dominated, winning seven of their last eight division meetings.

That was then. This is now, Sunday night, with the NFL's No. 3 offense of Cincy meeting the league's No. 3 defense of Jax. The Bengals have scored the most points (104) in their first four games in 20 years (129; 1985). That comes in large part because their QB, Carson Palmer, has the highest completion percentage in the league (71.8).

Ol' defensive guru/now head coach Jack Del Rio of the Jaguars will have to decide whether to double up on AFC catch-leader (tie, 26) Chad Johnson (or sometimes triple-team him as Houston did last week) or go single coverage with his CBs, Rashean Mathis and Kenny Wright, against Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The latter, freed up, led Cincy with eight catches for 105 yards in Week 4. "I play against good receivers every week," says a confident Mathis.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (2-1) at SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (2-2) (Monday night, ABC, 9 p.m. ET)

Storyline: Ben vs. Brees.

Two of the surprise stories of last year, both quarterbacks, meet. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to 14 consecutive victories and the AFC Championship Game, winning the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. San Diego's Drew Brees took the Chargers from 4-12 to 12-4 and a division title while winning the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Now it's this year, and things are still humming. The Steelers sit fifth in the league in offense, the Chargers seventh.

Pittsburgh comes off a bye, after losing to Super Bowl-champ New England. San Diego is fresh from scoring 41 points against the Patriots.

If the defenses bottle up the receivers, it could come down to two speed-merchant RBs, LaDainian Tomlinson of the Chargers and Willie Parker of the Steelers, the AFC's first- and fifth-leading rushers, respectively.

Sartorial note: the Chargers will wear their 1960s powder-blue jerseys.

NFL FACTOID

Top Picks/4 TDs:

The Manning brothers -- Eli and Peyton -- each threw four touchdowns in Week 4. It was only the fifth time in history that two No. 1 overall draft choices each passed for four TDs on the same day, following Jeff George and Steve Young on November 20, 1994; Drew Bledsoe and John Elway on October 6, 1996; Troy Aikman and Bledsoe on August 31, 1997; and Elway and Vinny Testaverde on December 27, 1998.

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