After a number of early glitches, NFL coaches and game officials are starting to get the hang of the league's new replay system. League executives now believe replay is working as intended but caution that it never was supposed to be a fail-safe system.
"We're pleased with the way it's going," said George Young, a league vice president in charge of overseeing replay, among other duties. "It was never meant to correct everything, but we haven't heard any complaints the last few weeks and it seems to be running pretty smoothly."
After 143 games, officials have been asked to review 106 plays, and 31 have been reversed. Of the 106 reviews, 73 have been prompted by coaches' challenges, the others by replay officials during the final two minutes of a half. Of the challenges by coaches, 21 have resulted in the original call being overturned. Ten the 33 reviews called for from the replay officials' booth have overturned on-field calls.
The league says the average review of a play is lasting 56 seconds from the time the referee puts on his headset and begins looking at a video monitor. The average time from the challenge to the start of the next play is 2 minutes 55 seconds, with games now averaging 3 hours 7 minutes--about four minutes more than last season.
There were six more quarterback changes around the NFL last weekend, increasing the season total to 55.
Only 11 teams have started the same quarterback in every game, including the Redskins (Brad Johnson), and 16 have started two different quarterbacks, because of injury or poor performance. Four have started three quarterbacks--the Jets, 49ers, Ravens and Bears.
Running Back Alters Course
One of the more intriguing stories Sunday was the play of Cowboys backup running back Robert Chancey. Chancey, who is 6 feet and 250 pounds, played most of the second half in the Cowboys' victory over the Packers and rushed for 57 yards on 14 carries.
Chancey did not play college football. He was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles out of high school in Alabama and spent three years playing Class A ball in his home state from 1992 to '94. He played in an independent league in 1995, was signed by the Mets in 1996 and played that season at Class A Kingsport (Tenn.), before deciding to make a career change.
He signed with the Chargers as a free-agent running back in 1997 and spent the first 10 games on the practice squad before being activated for the final six games. He played for the Bears in 1998, mostly on special teams, but had 122 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
Former Bears coach Dave Wannstedt recommended him to the Cowboys, who were looking for a change-of-pace running back who did his best work up the middle and could complement Emmitt Smith and Chris Warren.
With Smith still expected to be out this week with a broken hand, Chancey likely will play again this week at Arizona.
The 49ers' suspension of running back Lawrence Phillips should not come as any surprise, considering his difficulties with two other teams.
Phillips was put on indefinite suspension by the 49ers after he refused to go through a routine drill during Friday's practice. Running backs coach Tom Rathman, like Phillips a former Nebraska standout, told team officials that if Phillips got on the plane for the team's game at New Orleans, Rathman would stay home.
The 49ers can fine Phillips one week's salary and suspend him without pay for a total of four games. The team chose the indefinite suspension for salary-cap reasons. If he were simply cut and another team claimed him, half of his $425,000 signing bonus would count against the 49ers' salary-cap total for this season.
By suspending him, they will get three weeks of his $325,000 base salary back for use under the cap, and that could come in handy, because they worked out former Redskins quarterback Jeff Hostetler yesterday and could sign him. . . .
There's a reason Seahawks wide receiver Joey Galloway ended his holdout last week, and that's all about the money, too. By reporting before the ninth game, he made sure the Seahawks would have him on the roster for at least six games this season, allowing him to complete his fifth year in the league and become an unrestricted free agent next season.
Little Supports Protest
Linebacker Leonard Little returned to the Rams last week and was activated yesterday, after he pleaded guilty to manslaughter last June in connection a car wreck that killed a St. Louis woman in 1998. He was found to have been legally drunk.
He spent 90 days in jail, with four years' probation, and was ordered to perform 1,000 hours of community service.
The St. Louis chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) marched and held a vigil at the Trans World Dome before the Rams' game Sunday against Carolina to protest Little's reinstatement, and Little supported their action.
"I totally support that 100 percent," he said. "That's what the group is here for, situations like this. I have nothing negative to say to MADD because this is the situation: I admitted my guilt."
Memo to Lions Coach Bobby Ross: Since the two-point conversion was instituted in 1994, teams that have gotten within four points of the lead on a touchdown in the fourth quarter have attempted the extra point to get within three 78 of 79 times. The only team to try for a two-point conversion was Ross's team Sunday, when it lost to Arizona by four.