Mr. Perfect -- Well, Almost

Last season, at age 39, Vikings' Gary Anderson became the first place kicker in NFL history to go an entire regular season without a miss. He made 35 field goals -- including 12 of 40 yards or longer and two of 50 yards or longer -- and 59 PATs. His only miss of the entire season -- a 38-yard try late in the fourth quarter of the NFC championship game -- helped set up a tying touchdown by the Falcons, who then won in overtime.

Nevertheless, Anderson begins the season with an NFL-record 40 consecutive field goals made and needs 158 points to pass George Blanda for most career points (2,002). Blanda's record may have to wait a season, but then again maybe not. Anderson scored 164 points last season, an NFL single-season record for a kicker.

Swapping Punters

Mark Royals has led the NFC in punting average the past two seasons. So why was he released by the Saints, who signed former Buccaneer Tommy Barnhardt -- the NFC's 13th-best punter last season?

It wasn't due to free agency -- Royals was under contract for the 1999 season. And it wasn't because of salary cap concerns -- Barnhardt singed a three-year deal with the Saints that will pay him an average of $100,000 more per year than Royals was making, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Saints management indicated that Royals was released because the Saints ranked 27th in the NFL in punt-return yardage allowed last season (12.2 yards allowed per return). "Punting is about more than distance," Charles Bailey, the Saints' assistant general manager and vice president of football operations, told the Times-Picayune.

The Buccaneers, meanwhile, believe they found the perfect solution to Barnhardt's departure. They signed Royals.

Assistant Oddities

When the Chiefs promoted former defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham to replace Marty Schottenheimer as head coach, eight of Schottenheimer's 15 assistants were replaced, including his son, Brian. Of the seven assistants who remained with the team, only one was promoted: Schottenheimer's brother, Kurt, who became the defensive coordinator.

Dom Capers, fired as the Panthers' coach after last season, has become the defensive coordinator for the Jaguars, the league's other 1995 expansion team.

Dave Wannstedt, fired as the Bears' coach after last season, has become the assistant head coach for the Dolphins, where his new boss will be his old boss -- Jimmy Johnson, with whom he has worked for 13 of his 24 years as a coach -- two at the University of Pittsburgh, four at Oklahoma State, three at the University of Miami and four with the Cowboys.

The Rams' vice president of football operations, Lynn Stiles, also is the team's tight ends coach.

In addition to a defensive coordinator, defensive line coach and linebackers coach, the Broncos have pass rush specialist John Teerlinck.

Milestone Watch

Even though Barry Sanders won't be continuing his pursuit of Walter Payton's all-time career rushing record (he retired 1,457 yards shy of the mark), other players are closing in on milestones:

Dolphins QB Dan Marino, the NFL's all-time career passing yardage leader, is 1,087 yards from 60,000. He also needs seven victories to pass John Elway for the most by a quarterback in NFL history, and eight to reach 150.

49ers WR Jerry Rice, the league's all-time receptions leader, needs 61 to reach 1,200 for his career. Bills WR Andre Reed needs 11 receptions to reach 900 for his career. Vikings WR Cris Carter needs 66 to reach 900. Art Monk is the only other player with at least 900; he made 940.

Titans OL Bruce Matthews, a 17-year veteran, has played in 248 games, 12 short of breaking Jackie Slater's standard for offensive linemen.

With one interception this season, Redskins CB Darrell Green will set the mark for most consecutive seasons with an interception, 17. He is tied with Willie Brown.

Redskins RB-PR-KR Brian Mitchell needs 1,167 combined kick return yards to surpass Mel Gray's all-time career record of 13,003.

NFLTV

"Monday Night Football" returns to its 9 p.m. start time after last year's 8 p.m. experiment that got low ratings, in part because the games began at 5:20 p.m. on the West Coast. Also, for just the second time in the program's 31-year history, there will be a two-person announcing team. Al Michaels will team with Boomer Esiason; Dan Dierdorf's contract was not renewed, and he is back with CBS. Michaels and Frank Gifford formed the other "MNF" two-announcer team, in 1986.

On cable, Fox Sports Net opens another competition with ESPN as it begins "NFL This Morning," an 11 a.m. Sunday show that will go against the first hour of ESPN's "NFL Countdown," and lead into Fox's over-the-air pregame show, "Fox NFL Sunday," at noon. CNN/Sports Illustrated will try to get the jump on everyone with a new Sunday show, "NFL Preview," which will run from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on CNN.

Home At Last

After shuffling through three home stadiums, three cities and three 8-8 records in the past three seasons, the former Houston, and then Tennessee, Oilers finally get a fresh start.

The Nashville-based club has a new name, the Tennessee Titans, and new uniforms to match. There's also a new practice facility, Baptist Sports Park, located north of the city. Most important, after a lame-duck season at the dreary and largely empty Astrodome and temporary stops at Memphis's Liberty Bowl and Nashville's Vanderbilt Stadium, they have a new stadium of their own. Adelphia Coliseum, a 67,000-seat open-air, natural-grass stadium, sits by the Cumberland River, overlooking downtown Nashville. The stadium, named by a communications corporation, will also will be Tennessee State's home stadium.

Numbers of the Year.

15,269

Barry Sanders's career rushing yards

3,190

Combined career rushing yards of Lions' current running backs: Greg Hill (2,676), Ron Rivers (427), Cory Schlesinger (87), Sedrick Irvin (0), Travis Reece (0) and Brock Olivo (0).