Rice suffers serious knee injury

Mark Burton reports on a dramatic opening round of NFL games in which a revered wide receiver ran into trouble
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The Independent Online
Turning players on their head is not uncommon in gridiron, but on the opening day of action in the new NFL season, it was a fate that befell the form book as pre-season favourites were turned over.

One of them, the San Francisco 49ers, lost their opening game, at Tampa Bay, and the New York Jets achieved what they managed only once in the whole of last season, by winning a game. They greeted the arrival of Bill Parcells, the coach who took the New England Patriots to last season's Super Bowl, by scuppering the fancied Seahawks 41-3 at Seattle.

The 13-6 defeat by the Buccaneers was almost the least of the 49ers' worries. They lost their wide-receiver Jerry Rice, who holds almost every meaningful all-time record at the position. He injured his right knee and their coach, Steve Mariucci, fears the worst.

Rice, 34, suffered the injury in the second quarter when he was dragged to the ground by his facemask by the Tampa Bay defensive end Warren Sapp and his right knee buckled. The play resulted in a 10-yard loss but Sapp was called for a 15-yard facemask penalty.

"We suspect he has a major knee injury," Mariucci said. Rice was to undergo a series of tests, but there were fears he could miss the season.

Sapp pleaded his innocence. "I just went to tackle him and I poked him in the eye," he said. "That's what I thought it was. Those things happen."

Rice, who watched the second half from the sidelines on crutches, caught four passes for 38 yards before the injury, extending his streak to 176 consecutive games with at least one reception. This is the only mark he does not hold and he is seven games shy of tying the record, held by Art Monk.

Sapp was also involved in a tackle that left quarterback Steve Young concussed, and he took no further part. That is what's known as sapping your opponent's strength.

In Seattle, Neil O'Donnell, who was hardly a shining light last season, threw a career-high five touchdown passes to give Parcells the perfect start with the Jets.

"I couldn't hope for anything better than that," Parcells said. I realise that it's a long season and it's just one step."

O'Donnell completed 18-of-25 passes for 270 yards. The five touchdown passes were the second best in team history and the most since Ken O'Brien threw five on 17 November 1985.

The Patriots carried on as if Parcells had never left, their 41-7 victory over the San Diego Chargers at Foxboro a tribute to the talent of Pete Carroll's ability as their new coach. Drew Bledsoe threw 340 yards and four touchdowns.

The Tennessee Oilers, formerly based in Houston, celebrated their arrival at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis with a 24-21 victory over Oakland in overtime. Eddie George rushed for 216 yards, but it was a classic drive, led by Steve McNair, that settled the game, Al Del Greco capping it with a 33- yard field goal.

There was a shock for the Carolina Panthers, who fell at fortress Ericsson for three first time. Unbeaten there last season, the Panthers went down 24-10 to Washington. The Redskins running back Terry Allen ran over their defence for 141 yards and two touchdowns.

In Pittsburgh, Troy Aikman tied his record with four touchdown passes, two to Michael Irvin, as the Dallas Cowboys overran the Steelers 37-7.

NFL: Buffalo 13 Minnesota 34; Cincinnati 24 Arizona 21; Detroit 28 Atlanta 17; Miami 16 Indianapolis 10; New England 41 San Diego 7; NY Giants 31 Philadelphia 17; Pittsburgh 7 Dallas 37; St Louis 38 New Orleans 24; Tennessee 24 Oakland 21 (ot); Baltimore 27 Jacksonville 28; Denver 19 Kansas City 3; Seattle 3 NY Jets 41; Tampa Bay 13 San Francisco 6; Carolina 10 Washington 24.