American Football: Cowher rounds up Moon men: The Steelers show their mettle in Houston as the Colts discard their reputation as dolts

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The Independent Online
TERM began in the National Football League with a small class of new boys eager to impress. Nine head coaches were shown the door at the end of last season leaving their replacements facing a nervous first day.

The gold star undoubtedly went to Bill Cowher, of the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose team caused the day's major surprise by winning 29-24 in Houston. The Steelers were awful last season, but Cowher has reinvigorated a secondary that used to be one of the league's best and they responded by intercepting Warren Moon five times. Rod Woodson picked off two of them, the second one in his own end zone.

Indianapolis's Ted Marchibroda will also go home happy after his team beat Cleveland 14-3, the first time the Colts have won their opening fixture in nine years. The victory was founded on a defense much strengthened by this year's draft. The rookies, Steve Emtman, Quentin Coryatt, Tony McCoy and Ashley Ambrose, all played a part as Bernie Kosar, the Cleveland quarterback, was sacked 11 times.

Good first days, too, for Tampa Bay's Sam Wyche, Cincinnati's David Shula and Minnesota's Dennis Green.

Wyche has introduced a lot of new faces, and while a victory over Phoenix hardly heralds a new dawn, it left him in bullish form. 'We're going to get better and better and better,' he said.

The Tampa quarterback, Vinny Testaverde, who has been failing to fulfil his potential for half a decade returned the (for him) remarkable figures of one touchdown and no interceptions.

Shula, the son of Miami's Don who took over in Cincinnati when Wyche was sacked, also won, the Bengals claiming a notable 21-3 victory in Seattle, where the Seahawks played their first game under Tom Flores. Two fumbles returned for touchdowns were the key plays.

Like Shula, Minnesota's Dennis Green also won at the expense of a fellow new boy, in his case Green Bay's Mike Holmgren. Minnesota have been devastating in their pre-season friendlies, but needed a 25-yard field goal by Fuad Reveiz in overtime to maintain their 100 per cent record under the new coach.

San Diego's new boss, Bobby Ross, was given a rude awakening, losing 24-10 to Kansas City, but the title of first-day bullies goes to the Buffalo Bills whose welcome for the Los Angeles Rams under new man Chuck Knox was a 40-7 thrashing.

Bruce Smith, Buffalo's raging defensive end, appears to be back to his best after 18 months plagued by injury problems. He made two sacks, two pass deflections and two tackles behind the line of scrimmage. 'What I got out there today was the same old Bruce Smith,' Gerald Perry, Smith's immediate opponent, said. 'He's a heck of a ball-player and gave me all I could handle today. It will be a long time before that will happen again.'

Away from the new kids and their blockers, Chicago will be very satisfied with their 27-24 defeat of Detroit, who superseded them as NFC Central champions last year. It came courtesy of a touchdown by wide receiver Tom Waddle in the last second. 'I owed them one,' Waddle said, 'I didn't produce when they needed me earlier and I nearly got a couple of our backs killed because of missed blocks.'

Herschel Walker's first NFL game for the Philadelphia Eagles could hardly have gone better, the former Viking running for 114 yards and scoring a touchdown as the Eagles edged past New Orleans 15-13. Those with long memories may recall that Walker was as impressive on his Viking debut, before lapsing into mediocrity, but the omens remain good, especially as the Saints are notoriously difficult to make yards on.

The Eagles quarterback, Randall Cunningham, returned after a year out with a knee injury. He was less impressive, fumbling three times, but still managed two touchdown passes and a couple of trademark scrambles from the pocket.

San Francisco beat the Giants 31-14 in New York despite losing quarterback Steve Young in the first quarter with concussion. His back-up Steve Bono (Joe Montana is, tetchily, on the injured list) threw for two touchdowns. The Giants performance did not bode well. 'We have every right to be alarmed,' their nose tackle, Erik Howard, observed.

NFL: Buffalo 40 LA Rams 7; Chicago 27 Detroit 24; Pittsburgh 29 Houston 24; Philadelphia 15 New Orleans 13; Atlanta 20 NY Jets 17; San Francisco 31 NY Giants 14; Minnesota 23 Green Bay 20 (ot); Indianapolis 14 Cleveland 3; Kansas City 24 San Diego 10; Cincinnati 21 Seattle 3; Tampa Bay 23 Phoenix 7; Denver 17 LA Raiders 13.

(Photograph omitted)

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