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American Football: George comes in from the cold

A LITTLE over a year ago, the quarterback Jeff George was about to be fired by his third club. The talented but temperamental passer, already released by Indianapolis and Atlanta, was rapidly wearing out his welcome in Oakland, and it came as no surprise when he was dismissed at the end of the season.

During a 10-year career, George has earned a reputation as selfish, a thrower of tantrums and touchdowns in equal measure, whose self-interest is severely at odds with the game's team ethos.

Many were surprised when the Minnesota Vikings signed him in the summer to back up their starter, Randall Cunningham, but the move has yielded a rich dividend. With Cunningham struggling, the Vikings turned to their maverick playmaker, and he has responded by leading them to five successive victories, the most recent Minnesota's 35-27 triumph over San Diego. George completed 28 of 43 passes for 363 yards and four touchdowns, a performance which earned glowing praise from his coach, Dennis Green. "I don't know that there has ever been a quarterback to come into a system and have the kind of success he's had in his first year," Green said. "For the first time in his career, he's won five games in row."

George is surrounded by talented personnel and has already forged a strong bond with the receivers Cris Carter and Randy Moss. If he can keep his volatile personality in check, he has the ability to fulfil the promise he brought to the game when he was the first player selected in the 1990 collegiate draft.

The future looks less exciting for Kordell Stewart, sacked as the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback following Sunday's 27-20 home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Stewart was benched after completing only five of 11 pass attempts for 35 yards and two interceptions, the second of which was returned for a touchdown by Rodney Heath, giving the visitors a 24-3 lead.

Stewart's replacement, Mike Tomczak, threw a pair of touchdowns, but the Bengals, the worst team in the league, held out for an unexpected triumph. After the game Pittsburgh's coach, Bill Cowher, announced that Tomczak would be the team's starter for the foreseeable future. "I'm not sad, and I'm not pouting," said Stewart. "It's just not working right now."

Things are not working for Seattle's Jon Kitna. In a bruising 16-3 loss to Tampa Bay, Kitna gave up five interceptions and a fumble to Tampa's smothering defence as the visitors from Florida maintained their push for a play-off place.

Victory did not come without cost, however. Trent Dilfer, the Tampa quarterback, will be out for at least six weeks after breaking a collar-bone.

Cris Dishman was the unlikely hero of Kansas City's 37-34 win in Oakland. The veteran defensive back, released by Washington last year after a string of howlers, restored his reputation by scoring two touchdowns, one an interception return, the other a fumble return, to lead the Chiefs back from the brink of defeat. Kansas City completed a vital win when Pete Stoyanovich converted a 45-yard field goal in the dying seconds.

The Jacksonville Jaguars may boast the best record in the NFL with 10 wins from 11 games, but they continue to look less than convincing. Their 30-23 win over struggling Baltimore was only confirmed when James Stewart scored on a four-yard run inside the final two minutes.