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And the award goes to ...

Surprising Saints dominate first half honors

Posted: Tuesday November 7, 2006 12:05PM; Updated: Tuesday November 7, 2006 12:39PM
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Drew Brees has led a resurgence of the Saints on the field while doing his part to help revive the city he now calls home.
Drew Brees has led a resurgence of the Saints on the field while doing his part to help revive the city he now calls home.
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Now that every team has played exactly half its season -- and "played'' is a term I'd use loosely with the Oakland Raiders; with them, I might use "mangled'' -- I'm going to really get the e-mails going on e-mail day. Folks, the Saints have come marching in. My NFL first-half awards:

MVP

1. Drew Brees, quarterback, New Orleans; 2. Peyton Manning, quarterback, Indianapolis; 3. Larry Johnson, running back, Kansas City. I realize it's heresy to not pick Manning as MVP, and he'd probably run away with it, and maybe he should. There is nothing I can say or write to diminish what Manning has done for an 8-0 team. He has been brilliant in every way, in every game. I pick Brees, however, because he has been the single most important figure in picking the Saints up by their bootstraps, against incalculable odds. Brees embraced the Herculean on-field task of making the Saints competitive again, and he embraced the off-field task of doing whatever a player can do in making a city feel like a city again. He's on pace for a 4,406-yard passing season, which would be 836 yards more than he ever threw for in San Diego, and he has done this less than a year after undergoing surgery to repair the torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. The Saints are 6-2, in first place in a division in which everyone thought they were a lock to finish last. Brees, and the Saints, will need a precipitous drop to lose my MVP vote.

Offensive Player

1. Manning; 2. LaDainian Tomlinson, running back, San Diego; 3. Johnson. With all due respect to mega-backs Tomlinson and Johnson (and to NFL rushing leader Tiki Barber as well), I don't know how a quarterback can play the position better than Manning is right now. In my 23 years of covering the NFL, I've never seen a quarterback play this well. John Madden put it best the other night: He's half-quarterback, half-coach. He's on pace for a 4,582-yard passing season, which would be his career best, and a ridiculous 34-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio, which would be his lowest interception year ever.

Defensive Player

1. Champ Bailey, cornerback, Denver; 2. Julius Peppers, defensive end, Carolina; 3. (tie) Brian Urlacher, linebacker, Chicago, and Adalius Thomas, linebacker/defensive end/safety, Baltimore. Got your attention with the Thomas vote, didn't I? Well, when a guy plays all over the map (he lined up against Randy Moss for a snap at corner in Week 2) and leads a great defense with seven sacks, he deserves props.

Urlacher willed his defense to beat the Cardinals, and he's the best sideline-to-sideline player on a great D. But I choose Bailey because of his five red-zone interceptions in a clutch first half -- his end-zone pick of Steve McNair was the key play in Denver's win over Baltimore; his great coverage in snuffing out the New England offense (no points, five short catches by Patriots wideouts in the first 35 minutes in Week 3, while Denver built its 10-0 lead); his two picks of Ben Roethlisberger (join the club) in putting the last nail in the Steelers season.

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