American football: Movers profit but expansion teams shaken

American football

MARK BURTON

New coaches, new homes and even two new clubs, but it was very much the old routine for some as the NFL swung into a new season. The San Francisco 49ers opened with a victory, though it was nothing like as comfortable as the one they cantered to in Super Bowl XXIX, and Dan Marino threw for three touchdowns to lead the Miami Dolphins to a winning start.

Back in January, Steve Young, the 49ers quarterback, illuminated a less than glowing Super Bowl when he took away one of Joe Montana's records by throwing six TDs, but on Sunday he was less interested in abstract matters than the purely physical. He was sacked five times and left the game briefly with a neck problem, returning in the second half. He still managed to throw for 260 yards and two touchdowns, one a classic 50-yarder to Jerry Rice, as the 49ers held off New Orleans 24-22.

Tim McDonald returned an interception 52 yards for another touchdown in a game where the Saints rallied from a 24-9 deficit in the third quarter. The key to the victory was a fumbled snap on New Orleans' first extra- point attempt that kept the Saints in a hole throughout.

Marino completed 16 of 26 passes in Miami as he threw 250 yards for three TDs, and Troy Vincent scored on a 69-yard interception return as the Dolphins treated the Jets to their worst defeat - 52-14 - since 1986. Boomer Esiason was 19 of 35 for 173 yards with three interceptions.

The Raiders returned to the city they left in 1982 and gave the San Diego Chargers no chance to put their showpiece mauling by the 49ers behind them right away, beating them 17-7.

Under their new head coach Mike White, the Raiders seemed right at home in the Oakland Coliseum, where they took advantage of two second-half turnovers, one by Natrone Means and the other by Andre Coleman on a muffed punt. Jeff Hostetler threw a five-yard TD pass to Tim Brown and rookie Napoleon Kaufman ran 16 yards for a score. Cole Ford added a 46-yard field goal.

The other team to take the freeway out of Los Angeles in the off-season, the Rams, collected a 17-14 win over the Packers for their troubles in travelling from their new home in St Louis to Green Bay, Wisconsin. Isaac Bruce blocked a second-quarter punt and caught a TD pass five seconds later to aid the Rams' cause. They picked off quarterback Brett Favre three times, while Chris Miller completed 19 of 30 for 166 yards and two touchdowns as the Rams gave their new coach, Rich Brooks, a winning start.

For Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars it was all new. The expansion teams met predictable defeats in their debut games, though Carolina gave the Falcons a scare in Atlanta before falling 23-20 to Morten Andersen's 35-yard field goal 6:17 into overtime.

Lester Archambeau stripped Frank Reich, the Carolina quarterback, of the ball and recovered on the Panthers' 31 on the first series of overtime. The Falcons ran conservative plays to get in field-goal position, where Andersen made his third of the game. The Panthers had tied it with only 26 seconds remaining when Willie Green hauled in a 44-yard scoring strike from Reich.

Jacksonville were less impressive, gaining only 151 yards in their 10- 3 home loss to Houston Oilers.

NFL: Atlanta 23 Carolina 20 (overtime); St Louis 17 Green Bay 14; Cincinnati 24 Indianapolis 21 (overtime); Houston 10 Jacksonville 3; San Francisco 24 New Orleans 22; New England 17 Cleveland 14; Tampa Bay 21 Philadelphia 6; Pittsburgh 23 Detroit 20; Chicago 31 Minnesota 14; Miami 52 NY Jets 14; Oakland 17 San Diego 7; Kansas City 34 Seattle 10; Washington 27 Arizona 7; Denver 22 Buffalo 7.

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