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Pats' Brady, Giants' Umenyiora 2007's top players ... so far

Opening drive

One man's superlatives after a quarter of the 2007 season:

Offensive MVP
Tom Brady, quarterback, New England. Is there really another choice? Randy Moss, one of Brady's new targets, received serious consideration for going from someone who only performed his best when the mood struck him to a consistent scoring machine. Four other quarterbacks -- Brett Favre of Green Bay, Tony Romo of Dallas, Peyton Manning of Indianapolis, and even Jon Kitna of Detroit -- also merited a close look. But Brady is the choice because with Moss and other Patriot newcomers Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth, he has transformed his game from an efficient passer who usually took what the defense gave him to a dynamic playmaker who takes what he wants.

Defensive MVP
Osi Umenyiora, end, New York Giants. This is not based solely on Umenyiora's amazing six-sack performance against Philadelphia in Week 4, although that certainly was a factor. The more important reason, though, is that he overcame a knee injury to register his first six sacks of the season and take the NFL lead in that category. I know, I know. Winston Justice, who was a woeful replacement for injured Eagles left tackle William Thomas, deserved a great deal of credit for Umenyiora's accomplishment. Still, that doesn't take away from the fact that Umenyiora is one of the top ends in the league and that the Giants' defense has made significant progress in the past two weeks.

Top offensive rookie
Adrian Peterson, running back, Minnesota. He ranks fifth in the NFL with 383 rushing yards and is averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Peterson is powerful and explosive, and extremely tough to stop, especially when running behind left tackle Bryant McKinnie and left guard Steve Hutchinson. The struggling Vikings need to run him more often and take greater advantage of their power-oriented offensive line.

Top defensive rookie
Patrick Willis, middle linebacker, San Francisco. He's strong, fast, instinctive and hits everything in sight. After four games, he is tied for third in the league in tackles. And the best part is that Willis constantly works to improve his game. It also doesn't hurt that he is being tutored by Pro Football Hall of Fame middle linebacker Mike Singletary.

Comeback player
Daunte Culpepper, quarterback, Oakland. What about that serious knee injury that was supposed to have rendered him ineffective for his former team, the Dolphins, and every other club in the league for that matter? Culpepper not only made a miraculous recovery, but is back to being the game-changing passer and runner he once was for Minnesota. Moss was a consideration for this honor, but an attitude adjustment isn't nearly as dramatic as recovering from a major injury.

Top coach
Wade Phillips, Dallas. No new coach is facing the kind of pressure that Phillips faces. On the very first day of Cowboys training camp, owner Jerry Jones said he was expecting an improvement over last year's club that finished 9-7 and was quickly bounced from the playoffs. So far, Phillips is delivering. He has made the Cowboys' defense more aggressive and more effective. It also doesn't hurt that Tony Romo is having a dominant season. Other strong considerations were a pair of rookies, Mike Tomlin of Pittsburgh and Lane Kiffin of Oakland, along with Mike McCarthy of Green Bay and Rod Marinelli of Detroit.

Biggest surprise
Green Bay. I thought the Packers had a chance to be good, but not quite this good. I certainly wouldn't have projected they would be among the NFL's unbeaten teams after four weeks. I thought having Brett Favre at quarterback still would give them their best chance to win, but I never thought he would return to his league MVP form from the 1990s on a consistent basis. I certainly would never have believed he could pull that off without the help of a running game. But Favre does have an impressive defense complementing him and the rest of the Packers' explosive passing attack.

Biggest disappointment
San Diego. The Chargers seem to have way too much talent to be 1-3, which raises a couple of questions. The most obvious, of course, is whether they made a huge mistake by firing Marty Schottenheimer after last year's 14-2 finish and replacing him with Norv Turner, whose poor head-coaching record made him a controversial hire. Another question is whether Philip Rivers was the right choice to be the Chargers' quarterback after Drew Brees was sent packing. Speaking of Brees, his new team, New Orleans, was a strong consideration here as well. However, the Saints are not nearly as talented as the Chargers.

Monday night takes

» It turns out the Patriots don't simply throw the ball all over the place. They can run it with power, too. Sure, the Bengals' porous defense had something to do with all of their rushing success. However, let's give credit to New England's exceptionally talented offensive line. The Patriot blockers are strong, quick, and operate with tremendous precision. They're so good that Sammy Morris, a journeyman backup, can step in for injured starter Laurence Maroney and run for 98 yards in the first half on the way to a 117-yard night (that included a 7-yard touchdown run on fourth down).

» Speaking of Morris, how good are the Patriots at identifying players who can help them? They nailed it with Moss, Welker and linebacker Adalius Thomas. But how about Morris? He was considered a good, tough, solid runner when he played for Buffalo and Miami, but neither team saw him as a star. Maroney is the Patriots' No. 1 back, of course, but Morris continues to demonstrate that he has what it takes to fill the starting job as effectively as anyone.


While the Cincinnati Bengals struggled Monday night on third downs, the Patriots have flourished on first downs, a big reason why New England has been pretty much unstoppable this season, says Pat Kirwan. More ...

» It's one thing to say that the Bengals defense is pathetic, but what's up with their offense? I realize the Patriots have the best defense in the league, but that doesn't explain everything about the Bengals' offensive ineptitude. With Carson Palmer at quarterback, the Bengals shouldn't go 0-for-7 on third-down conversions against any team, including the Patriots. Palmer was too often off the mark with his throws. He did not seem nearly as comfortable or in command as usual.

» Raise your hand if you were happy to hear that Bengals coach Marvin Lewis blasted his team in the locker room after the game? We all want a coach to react that way after his team gives such a sorry performance. But you have to wonder whether the message (which, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer was, "If you don't want to be on the team, don't show up at 4 o'clock" today for a team meeting) came too late. That was the Bengals' third successive loss and sixth in their last seven games, going back to their 0-3 finish in 2006. Whatever is wrong with this team seemed to have taken hold well before the blowout loss to New England. And for Lewis, it might very well be beyond repair.

Short yardage

» A veritable who's who of NFL players is scheduled to return to action after serving four-game suspensions.

Heading the list is Patriots safety Rodney Harrison. Is it possible that the league's top-rated defense could become even stronger with Harrison's savvy and general leadership?

The Raiders are the NFL's top rushing team, with LaMont Jordan and Justin Fargas, and guess what? They now will be joined by Dominic Rhodes, the running back they acquired after he helped the Colts win the Super Bowl.

Despite missing the first four games of the season, cornerback Fakhir Brown will start for the winless St. Louis Rams when they face the Arizona Cardinals in Week 5.

Others due to return from suspensions are: Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive back Torrie Cox, Buffalo Bills defensive end Anthony Hargrove, and Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Ryan Tucker.

With Cox back, the Bucs can feel better about their special teams, which are his forte. He also provides more freedom for Earnest Graham, who had been a key contributor in the kicking game, to continue to pick up the slack at running back now that Cadillac Williams has been lost for the season with a knee injury.

The Bills desperately need Hargrove's help given their injury-depleted depth at defensive end.

» There are three reasons to believe Trent Edwards has a good chance of keeping the Bills' starting quarterback job for the rest of the season.

One is that the Bills' coaching staff has a tremendous amount of trust in his skills and intelligence. Steve Fairchild, Buffalo's offensive coordinator, demonstrated as much by using a spread formation for about half of the Bills' Week 4 victory against the New York Jets, during which Edwards made his first NFL start. Edwards deftly ran the offense, patiently finding open receivers and keeping mistakes to a minimum. He showed superb poise, command and accuracy.

But the defining moment of Fairchild's faith in the rookie came late in the fourth quarter when coach Dick Jauron pulled off the field goal unit on fourth-and-goal from the Jets 1 and sent in Edwards to run the play-fake, rollout pass that he calmly executed in connecting with Michael Gaines for the winning touchdown.

Reason Two: Team owner Ralph Wilson has loved Edwards since the Bills made him their third-round draft pick from Stanford, and became even more enamored with him during minicamp, training camp and the preseason. Now, Wilson is even more convinced that the Bills might have finally hit on the top-notch replacement they have been seeking since Jim Kelly's retirement 10 years ago.

Reason Three: J.P. Losman's knee injury, which opened the door for Edwards in Week 3, could take longer than the originally projected two weeks to heal. However, by the time Losman is healthy enough to play, Edwards could very well have permanently taken the job he once owned.

» Although Matt Leinart has since backed off of comments he made to columnist Michael Silver about being unhappy with alternating with Kurt Warner at quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals, it's pretty clear the situation is, at the very least, uncomfortable for him.

Leinart still starts for the Cardinals, but Warner comes in to run their no-huddle offense. The approach worked in Arizona's huge Week 3 victory against Pittsburgh. But that doesn't mean Leinart likes it, and that could prove to be a problem for Cards coach Ken Whisenhunt.

The Yahoo piece quoted Leinart as saying, "If I'm the franchise quarterback, play me and let me stumble, because I'll fight through it, and that will help me and our team in the long run. I know coaches want to win now, and I guess they have their reasons. But I don't understand it, and this switching back and forth is almost worse than getting benched."

Leinart told reporters in Arizona that some of his comments were taken out of context. While admitting he was not "happy with the way things were going," he did acknowledge that being periodically yanked for Warner was pushing him to "become a better football player."

And that's a big part of why Whisenhunt believes he is doing the right thing. An even larger part is he believes it gives the Cardinals the best chance to win now. Although he is only in his first year as an NFL head coach, Whisenhunt knows he is expected to deliver immediate results, and that is not conducive to waiting for a young quarterback to develop.

Nevertheless, he is flirting with the possibility of creating doubt in Leinart's mind about where he stands now and in the future. It's one thing for a quarterback to believe in himself as a starter. It's another for him to actually believe that his coach shares the sentiment.

Random thoughts

» Did anyone truly expect Brian Griese to be an improvement over Rex Grossman as the Bears' starting quarterback? The switch had much more to do with sitting down Grossman than it did with actually believing that Griese could save the season. Griese long ago demonstrated he is not a top- or even mid-level quarterback. And his performance in Week 4 raises questions about his ability to be even a solid backup.

» Show me a sideline spat between the quarterback and a star receiver or running back, and I'll show you a team in trouble. Cases in point: The heated exchanges between Palmer and Chad Johnson late in the first half of the Bengals-Patriots game, and between Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson during the Chargers-Packers game.

» You think the Vikings might have overestimated the quality of their quarterback situation before the season?

» Ralph Wilson says he has never seen anything like the rash of injuries his Bills have suffered, especially on defense, through the first four weeks of the season. When one considers that Wilson has owned the club since 1959, that's saying plenty.

Have a question for Vic on anything NFL related? Don't just sit there -- send it to, and the best questions will be answered throughout the season right here on!

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