Five-win clubs show promise

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 6:52 AM ET

The fives are alive. For the first hint that yet another unpredictable (and unbettable) NFL season awaits, just look to the debuts of the six teams which ended the 2003 season with a 5-11 record.

Five were winners in Week 1, while a sixth -- the Houston Texans -- fell to the lowly San Diego Chargers, who were a mere 4-12 a season ago.

So, which team should people get more excited about after starting the rebound on Sunday?

Let's begin with the Cleveland Browns, who completely shut down the Baltimore Ravens in a 20-3 home win.

Quarterback Jeff Garcia, suddenly deemed useless in San Francisco, wasn't spectacular by the numbers for the Browns. But he threw for one 43-yard touchdown, ran for another TD, and showed he still knows a thing or two about winning.

More impressively, the Browns weren't intimidated by the thug-tough Ravens defence, while their own unit held Ravens back Jamal Lewis to just 57 yards.

Off to Atlanta, where the Falcons' 21-19 win over the 49ers was more of a relief for the Falcons and their fans, not to mention the NFL marketing gurus who want to see Michael Vick's star shine brighter.

The birds' QB was tentative at times with an ordinary 13-of-22 for 164 yards outing. But Vick didn't break a leg and showed enough flashes of brilliance to rekindle the promise that was on hold for a year while he nursed Atlanta's season-wrecking injury.

Of concern, though, could be that an ordinary 49ers defence found a way to contain Vick. That game tape is making its rounds to Atlanta's next 15 opponents as we speak.

Not only did the Detroit Lions start the season on the right cleat, they buried a 24-game road losing streak.

Now, a 20-16 win over the lowly Chicago Bears hardly will fuel Super Bowl talk in the Motor City.

It may have proved that coach Steve Mariucci has the bus pointed in the right direction, though.

Without doubt the luckiest of the fivers to survive was the Jacksonville Jaguars with their last-play-of-the-game filleting of the botching Buffalo Bills.

Attempting to extract sympathy for the Bills' plight fell on deaf ears for Jags coach Jack Del Rio, who has been on the other end of that pile too often.

"This type of finish is all around the league," was Del Rio's way of saying you better play 60 minutes. "We found a way to be on the losing end of those kinds of games last season."

The Jags, who pulled out the 13-10 miracle for their first road win in more than a year, are a physical team and are reminiscent of the Carolina Panthers, only less talented.

The Jags hit hard on defence and the running game of Fred Taylor can be a pounding success. Really, though, they would seem to be at least a year away from being serious contenders.

The most celebrated of the 5-11 teams to begin a turnaround on Sunday surely must be the Washington Redskins, 20-16 winners over the Tampa Bay Bucs.

REDSKINS CREATE BUZZ

The retro-coaching of Joe Gibbs (back after a 12-year sabbatical), the running of Clinton Portis (148 yards) and the re-vamped defence (crafted by former Bills head man Gregg Williams) has created a buzz.

Now comes the tricky part: Which one of this fivesome will be team turnaround come February?

How about none of them?

One win by a recent low-life team does not a season make. As a case study, remember these two Week 1 results from a year ago: Buffalo 31, New England 0 and Tampa Bay 17, Philadelphia 0.


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