Patience pays off for Parcells

Dallas veterans Vinny Testaverde and Keyshawn Johnson say it's scary how much rookie Julius Jones reminds them of a young Curtis Martin, their former teammate with the Jets. His speed and elusive moves give the Cowboys a running threat that's been missing, and he's working hard in practice to improve his pass-catching skills even though he dropped about as many as he caught in Monday night's victory over the Seahawks. Like Martin, Jones is a gem coach Bill Parcells uncovered after the first round. With New England, he took Martin in the third round in 1995. With Dallas, he traded his first-round pick to Buffalo this year for second and fifth-round picks this year and a first-round pick next year, taking Jones with the Bills' second-round pick.

Back for more?
The Chargers still are undecided on what to do after the season with quarterback Drew Brees, but the current chemistry created by the team's run to an unexpected AFC West title makes it more probable they will give him the franchise tag for 2005 at a salary of more than $8 million. The Chargers hedged their bet on the quarterback position by maneuvering to get Philip Rivers in the draft and having more than $20 million of cap room to keep Brees if necessary. Despite the disappointment of having Rivers drafted to take his job, Brees says he'd be happy to stay one more year or longer.

Two-way threat
Defensive end Julius Peppers has expanded his game this season by dropping into coverage to make interceptions, being a threat to block field goals on special teams and leading the Panthers' defense with nine sacks. On Sunday against the Saints, Peppers added his latest wrinkle by lining up as a receiver inside the New Orleans' 10-yard line to use his 6-foot-6 frame to outleap defenders on fade passes into the end zone.

Fresh faces
The NFC has fans shaking their heads by having only four teams with winning records, and the craziness could continue when the NFC Pro Bowl defensive team is selected. With Champ Bailey, Troy Vincent and Warren Sapp moving to the AFC and Michael Strahan, Kris Jenkins and Julian Peterson out for the season, 13 of the 17 defensive positions could be new. The biggest benefactors could be the Eagles, who might have Brian Dawkins, Lito Sheppard, Jevon Kearse, Michael Lewis and Jeremiah Trotter make it.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.