John Elway, who has been in and out of the Denver Broncos' line-up this season with hamstring and back worries, pulled out of his side's contest with the San Diego Chargers after straining rib muscles during the pre- game warm-up. It seems, however, that the Broncos can manage without him. His replacement, Bubby Brister, threw a pair of touchdowns while Terrell Davis enjoyed another productive day as the Broncos cruised to their ninth victory of the season.
The San Fancisco 49ers were forced to play without their pass master, Steve Young, who was suffering from an abdominal strain, and the strain showed as the unfancied Carolina Panthers built a 16-point advantage. Fortunately for the 49ers, Young's replacement, Ty Detmer, threw three touchdowns, and Wade Ritchey spared Californian blushes by converting a 46-yard field goal with 37 seconds remaining, as San Fransisco rallied to a 25-23 triumph.
Another of the Super Bowl contenders, the Minnesota Vikings, also experienced an enforced switch at quarterback. Randall Cunningham was forced out of action with a twisted right ankle against the New Orleans Saints but his replacement, Brad Johnson, announced his return to duty with a 14- yard touchdown to the receiver Cris Carter.
Johnson had not played since breaking a leg two months ago and while he made some mistakes, notably an interception which was returned 91-yards for a touchdown by Sammy Knight, the former London Monarch may have done sufficient to win his job back after completing 28 of his 38 passes for 316 yards.
The Jacksonville Jaguars disposed of the Cincinnati Bengals but will be concerned over the status of their quarterback, Mark Brunell, who sustained a groin injury after throwing a scoring pass to the receiver Jimmy Smith. The Jaguars have genuine Super Bowl aspirations, but their hopes are dependant on a healthy Brunell. The 24-11 win over the Bengals was only assured following Aaron Beasley's return of a Cincinnati fumble for a Jacksonville score.
Similarly, the Oakland Raiders' unlikely charge towards the play-offs will have been dented with the news that Jeff George aggravated a torn groin muscle and may miss another four weeks of action. George was making his return against the Baltimore Ravens, for whom Rod Woodson's interception return proved the difference in the Ravens' 13-10 win.
The Chicago Bears missed their ailing quarterback, Erik Kraymer, sidelined with a shoulder wound. All seemed well early on, Steve Stenstrom firing a touchdown to Curtis Conway, but the St Louis Rams had the last word, winning 20-12.
Finally, congratulations are in order to the Dallas running back Emmitt Smith, whose 163 yards on 29 carries guided the Cowboys past the New York Giants. In doing so, Smith broke Tony Dorsett's club record for rushing yardage, and also joined an elite group who have gained 12,000 career rushing yards.
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