NFL Awards Watch: Week 4
Bills coach Dick Jauron deserves recognition for guiding his young team to a surprising 4-0 start. Buffalo, which finished 7-9 last season, has relied on a stingy defense and clutch play from quarterback Trent Edwards to defeat its first four opponents, including two playoff teams (Seattle and Jacksonville) from 2007.
While many predicted the team would contend for a playoff berth, few thought the Bills would have a legitimate shot to win the AFC East division title. But the players in the locker room held high aspirations heading into the season, and Jauron should be credited for instilling the belief and confidence into his young team.
"Do I think that we will make the playoffs? I'm guaranteeing it," Donte Whitner told The Sporting News prior to the season.
Although the quote was met with skepticism, it spoke volumes about the confidence in the Bills locker room. The burgeoning optimism is significant as the team hasn't been in the postseason since 1999 and hasn't won a division title since winning the AFC East with a 10-6 record in 1995.
While the team still has three-quarters of the season left to play, the hopefulness that surrounds Western New York comes with good reason as Jauron has orchestrated a similar turnaround before in his coaching career.
In 2001, Jauron transformed a 5-11 Bears' squad into a 13-3 division winner. Relying on a stingy defense that ranked first in points allowed, the Bears won eight games that were decided by seven points or fewer, and staged five come-from-behind victories. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the 2008 Bills have won three of their four games by overcoming significant deficits on the strength of their fifth-ranked scoring defense.
Jauron won an NFL Coach of the Year Award for engineering the dramatic transformation in 2001, and he is well on his way to securing his second honor with his Bills exceeding expectations in 2008.
Coach of the Year
1. Dick Jauron, Bills (Last week's ranking: 1).
2. Jeff Fisher, Titans (2): Led by a punishing defense and a smash mouth running game, the 4-0 Titans have bullied their way to the top of the AFC.
3. Tom Coughlin, Giants (4): The defending champions are the class of the NFC.
4. Jim Zorn, Redskins (NR): After suffering through a dismal opening night against the Giants, the 'Skins have reeled off three consecutive wins, including an upset of the Cowboys in Dallas. Pretty impressive for any coach, much less a rookie.
5. John Fox, Panthers (NR): The team is becoming the tough, blue collar unit that Fox envisioned when he made wholesale changes in the offseason.
1. Jay Cutler, QB, Broncos (Last week's ranking: 1): The Broncos young signal caller was off for most of the day, and failed to lead his team to a come-from-behind win against the previously winless Chiefs. However, his strong start has been the primary reason the Broncos are unexpectedly 3-1.
2. Trent Edwards, QB, Bills (5): The Bills' 4-0 start has been helped by Edwards' play in the pocket. The second-year pro is completing 65.5 percent of his passes, and has led the team to three come-from-behind wins to open the season.
3. Donovan McNabb, QB, Eagles (2): He's having the best season of his career, and he is showing off the form that made him a five-time Pro Bowl selection.
4. Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys (3): He continues to put up impressive numbers, but his penchant for inexplicable turnovers needs to be addressed. Romo has thrown an interception in seven consecutive games, and in 17 of his past 21 regular season starts.
5. Jake Delhomme, QB, Panthers (NR): The gutty veteran has bounced back from last year's season-ending elbow injury to lead the Panthers to a surprising 3-1 record. With clutch playmaking as his forte, Delhomme is sure to post big numbers with his top playmaker (Steve Smith) back in the fold.
(For all of the readers who have commented about possible MVP candidates being considered as NFL Offensive Players of the Year, I will eventually consider MVP candidates for both awards, but I have chosen to shed light on more players given the early nature of the season.)
Offensive Player of the Year
1. Drew Brees, QB, Saints (4): The NFL's passing leader is putting up big numbers while directing the league's third-ranked scoring offense. Despite living on the big play (league-best six completions over 40 yards), Brees is completing an astonishing 72.3 percent of his passes.
2. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers (1): The gritty quarterback has supplanted LaDainian Tomlinson as the team's top offensive player. Rivers is averaging a league-leading 9.3 yards per attempt and has carried the offense while Tomlinson has been slowed by a nagging toe injury.
3. Brett Favre, QB, Jets (NR): The 39-year old quarterback turned back the hands of time with his sensational six-touchdown performance against the Cardinals. As the league's current leader in passing touchdowns (12), and passer efficiency (110.8), Favre is making his decision to resume his career look like a wise one.
4. Larry Johnson, RB, Chiefs (NR): After opening the season slowly, Johnson caught fire the past two weeks (319 rushing yards and three touchdowns) and is the current rushing leader in the AFC.
5. Michael Turner, RB, Falcons (5): The electrifying runner has topped the century mark twice in four games, and has carried the Falcons to a surprising 2-2 record while leading the league in rushing.