DE Chidi Ahanotu's walkout paid dividends. One week after the defensive lineman stopped showing up for practice because of unhappiness about playing time, the Dolphins granted Ahanotu his wish by granting his release. However, such a move likely will cost Ahanotu money in both cash and recouped salary.
Ahanotu was signed at the end of the preseason to provide veteran depth in light of the trade of defensive end Adewale Ogunleye to Chicago. But Ahanotu barely played after Miami's second game, prompting his walkout before the Bills game.
For defensive line depth in practice, the Dolphins signed ex-San Francisco 49ers lineman Josh Shaw to their developmental squad.
FB Brad Hoover figures to be the Panthers' primary ball carrier this Sunday. DeShaun Foster and Rod Smart have already been declared out, while Stephen Davis did not practice on Wednesday and has returned to the injury report as questionable after his first game back from knee surgery Sunday. If Davis is ready to go, he'll start. But even if he does, the question remains: Will his knee hold up -- and for how long? Hoover carried 11 times for 63 yards Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, replacing Davis late in the game after his knee began to slow him down. Of Carolina's other healthy backs Nick Goings got four carries and rookie Joey Harris none. "It's fairly evident now that Brad Hoover was part of that load as well as Nick Goings with Stephen coming off a knee problem," Panthers head coach John Fox said. "There at the end (of the game), rather than risk further injury (to Davis), we went with different guys."
DT Kevin Williams has 29 tackles, 17 of them solo. That's 22 tackles more than fellow starting DT Chris Hovan, including 14 solos.
DE Lance Johnstone, a situational pass rusher, is quietly having one of the best seasons of any defensive player on the team. He has three sacks and two forced fumbles. The Vikings sometimes give him the freedom to choose his gap and rush from a two-point stance.
LB Raonall Smith is by far the team's most improved player. Injured for much of his first two seasons, the former second-round draft pick finally is healthy in his third season. He leads the team in special-teams tackles with 11. He also will start for the second time in three weeks because weak-side linebacker Chris Claiborne is out with a strained left calf.
RB Moe Williams has played in 100 regular-season games as a Viking. That's sixth highest by a running back in team history.
TE Walter Rasby became coach Joe Gibbs' first in-season cut of note came when he was given his walking papers this week. The move followed a strong performance by Chicago DE Alex Brown against Rasby in Washington's win at Soldier Field. Rasby was replaced with nondescript veteran Fred Baxter, who spent training camp with the Redskins but missed the latter stages of it with a partially torn knee tendon. Baxter was cut just before the season but held onto hope that he would be back in Washington. Gibbs' hope is that Baxter can perform better in the true tight end role than Rasby, who was brought in almost exclusively to handle defensive ends in pass situations and seal off the edge for sweeps by RB Clinton Portis. Baxter must get into shape, though, which means three-year pro Robert Royal could start Oct. 31 against Green Bay.
New England Patriots
RB Kevin Faulk will continue to see his offensive role expand this week. Corey Dillon entered last week with a foot injury and suffered a stinger vs. Seattle. Faulk will be needed in the passing game, but will have a tough matchup against the Jets fast linebackers. New England may split him out of the backfield when it goes to a four-wide formation with a tight end in for protection. Faulk has five catches for 51 yards in his two games back, including four for 37 yards against Seattle last week.
TE Jeb Putzier will need to have a good all-around game with Dwayne Carswell out because of a suspension. Putzier, a wide receiver in college, has improved on his blocking and will have to be a big part of the run game this week.
St. Louis Rams
LB Tony Newson is the first casualty of the Rams' poor performance on kickoff coverage against the Buccaneers. Newson was on the coverage unit that allowed Torrie Cox to have returns of 59 and 44 yards. Newson was placed on waivers Tuesday.
SS Adam Archuleta is feeling the best he has all season after playing the first five games with a back injury. Archuleta started against Tampa Bay after not starting the previous two games and also played on kickoff coverage. He made the defensive play of the game by stripping RB Michael Pittman of the ball, then recovering it and running 93 yards for a touchdown. "His back is much better," coach Mike Martz said, "and he said it was the best it felt all year. And he played like it. He looked terrific in the game."
CB Jerametrius Butler continues to make big plays, especially with Travis Fisher still sidelined by a broken arm. Butler had an interception and fumble recovery Monday night against the Buccaneers along with 12 tackles and three passes defensed.
San Francisco 49ers
LB Jamie Winborn continues to make a big impact when he's on the field. Winborn, starting just his second game of the season, responded with 13 tackles, including 11 solo stops, in the 49ers' 22-14 loss to the N.Y. Jets.
TE Eric Johnson, who has a league-leading 45 catches, can figure on seeing a lot more double-teams in the second half of the season. But that also might mean that the 49ers' wide receivers will get a lot more single coverage on the outside. Split end Brandon Lloyd, who had been quiet for most of the season, took advantage of some single coverage (as well as a blown coverage or two) to catch six passes for 93 yards against the Jets. "First they double-teamed me and Eric emerged," Lloyd said. "Now, they're doing it with Eric. Sooner or later, it's got to be somebody else."
QB Josh McCown finally threw a TD pass this season. He hadn't thrown once since the final play of 2003 until he threw three scoring passes at San Francisco, a likely byproduct of a made-over offensive line and having young receivers playing without Anquan Boldin. While McCown wasn't necessarily to blame for the drought, he said the TD tosses gave his confidence a lift.
WR Larry Fitzgerald, the third player chosen overall in the April draft, has had a rough initiation into the NFL without Anquan Boldin on the opposite side to draw defensive attention. The rookie is seeing double teams regularly but says it has helped him learn more quickly how to play and what to expect from the pro game.
New York Giants
RB Tiki Barber lost his NFL rushing lead by having the week off. His figure remained at 577 yards, but Washington's Clinton Portis has 593 while three AFC rushers, Curtis Martin of the Jets (613), Chris Brown of the Titans (608) and Duce Staley of the Steelers (582) moved ahead of him, too. But Barber maintained his NFC lead in total yards from scrimmage (817, based on his 577 rushing and 240 receiving).
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