Pity the Atlanta Falcons. They are 0-3 and sinking fast. Even when they get it right, they get it wrong. On two occasions Sunday, Atlanta receiver Billy (White Shoes) Johnson scored a touchdown and was penalized for carrying out his knees-knocking end zone dance.
"If they are going to call it . . . then I must stop dancing," said Johnson.
Of course, five other teams around the National Football League gladly would have accepted the consequences of the league's "no taunting" rule (five yards for unsportsmanlike conduct) that Johnson incurred in the Falcons' 44-28 loss to Denver.
Washington, Green Bay, Kansas City, Houston and Detroit not only lost Sunday, but each failed to score a touchdown. Expect their playbooks to be on sale at a discount bookstore near you.
For the Redskins, who are now 0-3 if you go by NFL Films, it had been three years since they last failed to score a touchdown in a game. It last happened 45 games ago in a 12-7 victory over St. Louis during the 1982 strike season.
The explanations for the paucity of points Sunday were about as hollow as the ball itself. Green Bay Coach Forrest Gregg said of a 24-3 loss to the New York Jets: "When you get three points in a game, you have to believe that something is wrong."
Kansas City quarterback Bill Kenney, after a 31-0 loss to Miami made folks forget the Chiefs had scored a league-high 83 points in the first two games, said, "I was ineffective. Our receivers were ineffective. We were just ineffective."
Indeed, the offensive minds of the NFL could not pin down precise reasons for the league-wide point deficiency Sunday. No one blamed poor weather, offensive voids created by contract holdouts or pressure of must-win situations (it is still September, after all). Nor did anyone mention the rule change on incidental contact that gives the benefit of doubt to the defender on more occasions.
Then again, how could anyone mention explanations or alibis for offensive futility on a day when San Diego beat Cincinnati, 44-41, and when Denver and Atlanta combined for 72 points? And how might they explain the fact that the league set a scoring record in the first week of this season?
"I only relate to mine," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday. "Obviously, (five teams failing to score a touchdown) means good defense. I'd say that the defenses are better earlier (in the season), which is kind of a truism."
He added, "I'd like to solve one of them -- ours."
With Sunday's decreased scoring, the total number of points scored in the NFL this season is almost precisely the same as it was at this time last year: 1,803 points were scored at this point last year versus 1,819 points this year (minus the Monday night games of Week 3).
Furthermore, one of the teams that did reach double digits Sunday -- St. Louis, in a 27-17 loss to the Giants -- didn't exactly respond with day-after somersaults yesterday. The Cardinals, like Kansas City, had produced some big numbers (68 points) in the first two weeks. However, quarterback Neil Lomax completed only two passes to his wide receivers Sunday, and the offense withered in a heap of penalties and quarterback sacks.
In a unique bit of Monday morning coachspeak, St. Louis' Jim Hanifan said, "We took away our passing game. I have to give credit where credit is due."
Hanifan, whose team is a 2-1 tri-leader with Dallas and the Giants in the NFC East, added, "A lot of factors weigh into not getting the ball downfield. It's nothing we hadn't seen before. You see zone defenses in high school . . . It's a matter of being detailed and decisive and being in synch."
Perhaps the most startling offensive cave-in Sunday occurred in Miami, where the Dolphins shut out the Chiefs, 31-0. The Chiefs even botched a splendid first-and-goal situation at the Miami one. That happened in the second quarter when the game was still scoreless. On first down, Kenney was pressured and purposely threw incomplete. On second down, inside linebacker Jay Brophy sacked Kenney for a nine-yard loss, back to the 10. Kenney, who completed just half of his 38 passes for 205 yards, threw incomplete on third down.
Finally, when the Chiefs tried to fake a 27-yard field goal attempt by Nick Lowery on fourth down, Kenney rose from his position as holder and threw incomplete.
Miami proceeded to score 31 second-half points and Kenney was left with the perfect requiem for Week 3 in the NFL: "I guess we underestimated their defense."