Instant replay is like a nosy neighbor: You would rather not have to deal with him, but you understand that one day he may save your butt.
At least that seems to be the general impression of NFL coaches.
While the debate about the value of instant replay rages, commissioner Paul Tagliabue's stern reaction to Ravens coach Brian Billick's criticism of the system sends a message: instant replay isn't going away.
It is true that some coaches, including Billick and the Colts' Tony Dungy, are vehemently opposed to the system, but it seems _ or so the NFL insists _ they are in the minority.
"I'm for instant replay and I've probably got the worst record of anybody as far as challenging things," Falcons coach Dan Reeves told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "So I've probably got as bad a record as anybody, but I think it's a tool that you need. It can correct something. I do think that, just like anything else, you're dealing with humans. It's only as good as the people that work it. So hopefully we'll commit to it and try to make it the best tool you can. But I'm all for it."
Bucs coach Jon Gruden, victimized by the now-famous tuck rule as coach of the Raiders two seasons ago, said the NFL needs to take all those involved in the decisionmaking process and send them on a "retreat, so they can get everything ironed out." But, Gruden said, he supports keeping the system.
"There are some aspects that may be needed to be cleaned up or thrown out of the replay realm," said Gruden, who coached the Raiders in an AFC divisional playoff game against the Patriots and was burned by a reversed call on replay. "In my opinion there are too many things being reviewed now instead of "Did he catch it? Did he fumble it?' There's too much fine print. But I believe it's a good thing. If an official has a bad day and misses a call, and it's obvious, then instant replay is good for football."
Even those who are lukewarm appear ready to give it a chance.
"There are some kinks in the system that we need to consider changing if we're going to move on," Lions coach Steve Mariucci said. "It's not perfect by any stretch. It's interesting."
ROAD WARRIORS: Fires in southern California forced the Chargers to spend the past few days working out in Champaign, Ill., in preparation for today's game in Chicago. Bears players warned that the time spent away from San Diego could help unify the Chargers.
"A sick player is a dangerous player," Bears quarterback Chris Chandler told the Chicago Sun-Times. "Somebody in a situation like the Chargers are right now, a lot of times that will rally a team together and sometimes you can play better. So you have to expect nothing but the best from these guys, and I'm sure they'll give it to us."
Careful not to sound insensitive, free safety Mike Brown suggested it would almost have been better for the Bears if the Chargers had stayed home.
"Actually, I wish they would just stay in California so they have to make that flight (Saturday)," Brown said. "Now they're going to be used to the time, used to the weather, so it's probably an advantage to them that they're coming early."
EDGE VS. RICKY: Running backs Edgerrin James of the Colts and Ricky Williams of the Dolphins were high draft picks, are powerful runners, have had their share of injuries and have an affinity for South Florida.
James, a Miami native, is the cornerstone ball carrier for the Colts and Williams has found his home with the Dolphins since being traded from the Saints.
"We were always compared," James said. "Things are happening real nice for him right now. I'm happy for him. There was a time when he was on the down side and things weren't happening. He had the injuries. But he's bounced back. He's got a nice situation and he's doing his thing. As far as comparing me and him, it's two totally different situations. We're going to do what we do. They're going to do what they do. You really can't compare it. But if you want to "big up' the ratings and everything, that's one thing that's been done in the past."
KICK IN THE GRASS: Todd Peterson is the 49ers' ninth placekicker in nine years. And here's what's particularly interesting: In four of the past five moves, the new kicker was less accurate than the previous one.
Here's the dishonor roll: Jeff Wilkins (1995-96) 32-of-37 (86.5 percent), Gary Anderson 26-of-36 (80.6), Wade Richey (1988-2000) 54-of-72 (75.0), Jose Cortez (2001-02) 36-of-49 (73.5), Jeff Chandler (2002-03) 14-of-19 (73.7) and Owen Pochman (2003), 8-of-15 (53.3).
More unbelievable is that several ex-49ers kickers are still in the NFL. Doug Brien, Wilkins, Anderson and Richey, plus Ryan Longwell, who was signed by San Francisco but released before kicking in a game, have made 52 of 58 field-goal attempts this season.
QUARTERBACK FITS: The Dolphins' announcement that Brian Griese will replace Jay Fiedler in the starting lineup against the Colts has received some endorsement. Former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino showered praise on Griese on Wednesday night's edition of HBO's Inside the NFL.
"They know what they have with Jay," Marino said. "I think Griese gives them a little bit of a spark in the passing game, which they have lacked. Jay Fiedler is a little bit more mobile. He gets out of the pocket and makes some plays here and there, but they don't make those key throws to end the games when you need to win."
Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe, who played with Griese in Denver, said his former teammate is better suited to the Dolphins offensive system.
"That system is for him," Sharpe said. "In boxing, they say that styles make fights. In the NFL, systems make players."
HOLD THAT TOWEL: Just before folks in Steeltown decide to toss their towels down in surrender, some of the Steelers are eager to point out that the 2-5 start is not the beginning of the end.
"We're going to try to rewrite the history books," linebacker Joey Porter told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "What it says right now, 2-5 is not supposed to make it. That's what it says."
Though they play at Seattle (5-2) today, the Steelers are taking solace in the Herculean efforts of at least two teams last season.
The Titans lost four of their first five games, then ran off five in a row and finished 11-5 with a first-round bye.
The Jets were also 1-4, finished 9-7 and made it to the playoffs.
"You have so many games left that you can turn it around," running back Jerome Bettis said. "You look at Tennessee last year, they turned their thing around. It can happen, you just have to be confident that you can do it, your guys can do it."
NFL, ON A ROLL: Bills safety Lawyer Milloy was fined $25,000 by the NFL for bumping an official in the Bills' 24-7 win over Washington. He plans to appeal the ruling. Teammate Izell Reese, a safety, is awaiting word on a $25,000 fine he received for a similar incident against the New York Jets. The Lions are 6-33 since the start of the 2001 season. They've lost 14 of their past 15. Through the first seven games, the Vikings have started the same 11 players on defense. Randy Moss has 58 catches for 1,126 yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games against the Packers.
_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.