Despite the failure of several potential ownership groups to meet a Sept. 15 deadline for finalizing plans for an expansion team in Los Angeles, NFL officials still are maneuvering to return professional football to the No. 2 television market in the country.

League sources said that despite the groups' failure to come up with a viable site for a new stadium, expansion in Los Angeles is hardly a dead issue.

NFL owners are meeting in Atlanta next Wednesday. The league's expansion committee had been expected to make a recommendation to their fellow owners on expanding either to Los Angeles or Houston, where a stadium site and public financing have been approved.

Furthermore, Houston businessman Robert McNair has been ready, willing and financially able to meet all the requirements for ownership, though an expansion fee has yet to be determined by the league.

The Los Angeles Times reported this week that the NFL is considering assuming the option held by L.A. billionaire Marvin Davis on a potential stadium site at Hollywood Park. Davis, who yesterday ended his bid for an expansion franchise, recently was given an extension on the land after paying another $250,000.

The site is on about 100 acres across the road from the Forum, the hockey and basketball arena originally built by Jack Kent Cooke in the 1970s.

In addition to the fact that his company has investments in gambling ventures, Davis reportedly was no longer interested in investing what would be close to $1 billion for a stadium and an expansion team. The league is still exploring the possibility of picking up the option on the land, building the stadium, then auctioning the stadium and expansion team to the highest bidder.

Houston, meantime, has been left dangling. McNair has made it clear that if he is not awarded an expansion team next week, he is prepared to go after an existing franchise. The league has another meeting in Chicago in early November, and some owners believe nothing will be resolved until then.

Lost Shepherd

Poor Leslie Shepherd. A year ago, he was a key member of a Redskins team that started 0-7, and with each passing loss he kept saying the team had reached "rock bottom." Now he's a starting wide receiver on the winless expansion Browns.

Shepherd was mildly critical of the Browns' offense this week, telling the Cleveland Plain Dealer: "We're running a lot of the same plays and the coverages are coming out. The way to be successful on offense is you have a number of plays you run every Sunday and the defense prepares to stop them. And if they throw a defense at you, you've got to make adjustments.

"Right now, we're not doing a good job of making adjustments on what they're throwing at us. I'm telling [rookie quarterback Tim Couch] that they gave us this look last time and I was open. Then you come back and call the same play again and they put somebody over the top. They're doing a good job of stopping what we're trying to do."

Shepherd, who left Washington as a free agent, predicted before the season he would have 80 catches this year. He has four receptions for 53 yards so far. He had the ball thrown to him eight times Sunday against Baltimore, but he had one catch. He dropped two passes, one on a critical third-down situation with his team trailing 10-3.

Shepherd said he and Couch have yet to develop much chemistry, "And we have to get some."

Iron Mike, Rickety Ricky

New Orleans running back Ricky Williams is not getting much sympathy from Coach Mike Ditka, despite suffering ankle and elbow injuries in his first two games.

"I dislocated a shoulder and played the next week," Ditka said last week. "And it got dislocated the next week and I played with it and it got dislocated again. Then I played the next week and it got dislocated again.

"Then I got tired of dislocating it, so I put a brace on it and I played the rest of the season. I caught the highest amount of passes I've ever caught in football. But then, I'm Iron Mike."

Around the League

New England Coach Pete Carroll had the windows of the press room covered with shipping paper last week so reporters couldn't watch practices at Foxboro Stadium. In contrast, San Diego Coach Mike Riley allowed a San Diego Tribune reporter to sit in on coaches meetings before the opener against Cincinnati. . . .

Prior to Sunday's game against the Redskins, Jets quarterback Rick Mirer had led one touchdown drive in 66 tries. He was 1 for 52 with Chicago, didn't play for Green Bay, and was 0 for 14 with the Jets. . . . According to the Broncos' media guide, John Elway led his team to 18 fourth-quarter comebacks in his first seven seasons. New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe, now in his seventh year, has 14. . . .

The Lions are 2-1 this season, with both victories in domes--in their own against Green Bay and in Seattle in Week 1. Outdoors on grass this decade, they're 13-32, including last week's loss in Kansas City. . . . The Philadelphia Eagles are 0-17-1 in their past 18 road games.