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It Was a Rewarding First Half

The NFL’s honors aren’t awarded until after the season, but here are some unofficial feats, frustrations and frivolities worth recognizing from the first half of the schedule:

I Get Knocked Down (But I Get Up Again) Award -- According to STATS Inc., the New York Giants’ Kurt Warner has been knocked down 56 times this season, the most of any quarterback. Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer is second with 53 knockdowns, followed by Cleveland’s Jeff Garcia with 48.

Don’t Blame Me Award -- It’s too early to say the hiring of Joe Gibbs was yet another Dan Snyder disaster, but Gibbs did make a wise move in hiring Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator. The Redskins rank first in total defense under Williams, the Redskins’ sixth defensive coordinator since 1999.

Gone With the Wind Award -- That’s San Diego quarterback Drew Brees, who becomes a free agent after the season. The Chargers, who have rookie Philip Rivers waiting in the wings, could make Brees their franchise player, which would guarantee him a base salary of $9 million. If they don’t work out a trade to Brees’ liking, there’s a good chance the Chargers will have to let him walk.

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Don’t Get Defensive Award -- Indianapolis Coach Tony Dungy is known for assembling good defenses. But not this season. The Colts have given up an average of 402.9 yards a game, 103.6 more than they were giving up at this time last season.

“Tony Dungy is a nice guy,” Mike Ditka told ESPN radio, “but his defense is going to make him say his first curse word.”

MAC Daddy Award -- Four starting quarterbacks played at schools currently in the Mid-American Conference: Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger (Miami of Ohio), the New York Jets’ Chad Pennington (Marshall), Jacksonville’s Byron Leftwich (Marshall), and Minnesota’s Daunte Culpepper (Central Florida, new to the conference this year). Those MAC quarterbacks have a combined record of 22-8 this season, best in the league among quarterbacks from the same college conference.

Keeping Things in Perspective Award -- Hoping to capitalize on Big Ben mania, “Wheel of Fortune” recently invited Roethlisberger to make an appearance on the show. He politely declined. Said agent Leigh Steinberg, “I think the only letter we are focused on right now for him is W.”

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Ode to Billy Joe Award -- Goes to the winner of Sunday’s game between the Saints and Chiefs, who

haven’t met since 1997 when each team was quarterbacked by a Billy Joe. In that game, Kansas City’s Billy Joe Tolliver beat New Orleans’ Billy Joe Hobert, 25-13.

Coach Killer Award -- For those of you keeping score at home, Ricky Williams added another notch to his belt -- first Ditka, now Dave Wannstedt.

Hey, Aren’t You Trent Dilfer? Award -- Baltimore quarterback Kyle Boller has thrown for only three touchdowns this season. Around the league, there have been 32 individual games of three or more touchdown passes. Peyton Manning threw three in one quarter against Green Bay.

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15 Minutes of Fireworks Award -- More on Manning’s jaw-dropping performance against the Packers: In the first quarter, he completed 17 of 22 passes for 247 yards with three touchdowns. The Colts’ lone run in the period was wiped out by a penalty.

Iron Man Award -- New England’s Troy Brown was on the field for 60 plays in the Patriots’ victory over St. Louis, 24 of them at his usual position as third receiver, and 36 at nickel cornerback. He had three catches, one for a touchdown on a fake field goal, as well as three tackles, a pass deflection and a pass-interference penalty.

What a Difference a Year Makes Award -- Carolina’s 1-7 record is the worst for a team that went to the Super Bowl the season before.

Join the Club Award -- The Panthers aren’t the only Super Bowl runner-ups who have struggled the following season. The Raiders went 4-12 last season; the Rams were 7-9 in 2002; and the Giants were 7-9 in 2001.

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Wake Up! Award -- Jacksonville has scored a league-low seven points in the first quarter.

Life Starts at 30 Award -- Who says running backs go downhill fast after their 20s? Helping debunk that this season are Curtis Martin, 31, Jerome Bettis, 32, and Emmitt Smith, 35, who have rushed for 21 touchdowns.

May the Force Be With You Award -- Ram defender Leonard Little has forced 16 fumbles since 2002, which, STATS Inc. says, is the league’s most over that span. Little is followed on the list by Indianapolis’ Dwight Freeney, 15, and Tampa Bay’s Simeon Rice, 13.

What Were We Thinking? Award -- It was widely assumed and written that the NFL wanted to return to Los Angeles, in part to sweeten its new TV deals. Now that the league has worked out six-year extensions with CBS and Fox a year early, though, the notion that the NFL needs to be back in the nation’s second-largest market for TV reasons rings a little hollow.

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What Was He Thinking? Award -- Aaron Brooks’ decision to throw a backward pass to unsuspecting tackle Wayne Gandy last Sunday, a miscue that led to a 23-yard loss, was bizarre and boneheaded.

What Was I Thinking? Award -- Brooks pass was about as bad as my picking Philadelphia to beat Pittsburgh (Steelers won, 27-3) and St. Louis to beat New England (Patriots won, 40-22).


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