With the NFL season at the midway point, the debates have begun about the races for the major awards -- most valuable player, coach of the year and rookie of the year. Here's how one ballot would look if voting were done now:
MVP: Terrell Owens, WR, Eagles
Other candidates: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers; Drew Brees, QB, Chargers; Peyton Manning, QB, Colts; Daunte Culpepper, QB, Vikings; Donovan McNabb, QB, Eagles.
Manning and Culpepper are threatening many of the single-season passing records. Roethlisberger has not lost in six outings as a starter. Brees has been the catalyst behind the league's most surprising success story, and McNabb perhaps has the Eagles finally on their way to a Super Bowl. Each is a deserving candidate, and it would be tough to quibble with picking any of them. But Owens has been the primary difference-maker for a team that might be the league's best. Whether you like his antics or despise them, you have to admit that he has transformed the Philadelphia offense into something far more explosive than it previously has been during the club's run of success. He has made big plays when necessary. He has gotten into the end zone regularly. He has helped McNabb become a better quarterback. He has opened things up for other members of the Eagles' offense, and he has brought a swagger to a team desperately in need of it after losing the last three NFC title games.
Coach of the Year: Marty Schottenheimer, Chargers
Other candidates: Tom Coughlin, Giants; Bill Cowher, Steelers; Jim Mora Jr., Falcons.
Cowher, Mora and other coaches have done fine jobs, but this is a two-candidate race at this point. Think back to draft day, when the two teams pulled off the Eli Manning-Philip Rivers trade. There was every reason to believe that the two rookie quarterbacks would be playing a lot this season, having learning experiences with awful teams to hopefully build for the future. Each club was coming off a 4-12 season, and there was little or no reason to expect much improvement. Schottenheimer had tailback LaDainian Tomlinson and, it seemed, little else. San Diego had traded its most talented wide receiver, David Boston, and had a quarterback, in Brees, that it didn't particularly want. The Chargers' front office did Schottenheimer no favors by emerging from the early stages of the draft with a quarterback instead of a player who might help immediately -- and then it failed to sign Rivers until halfway through the exhibition season, virtually ensuring that he wouldn't be able to help as a rookie. But Schottenheimer has the Chargers leading the NFL in points scored and tied for first place in the AFC West, and he gets the nod over Coughlin only because Coughlin has a few more talented players. But that doesn't diminish the job that Coughlin has done in turning around a team that lost its final eight games last season under Jim Fassel and gave no indication early on that it would respond favorably to the new coach's rigid ways.
Rookie of the Year: Roethlisberger
Other candidates: Roy Williams, WR, Lions
On the day before the draft, Roethlisberger was asked at a media luncheon in New York about all the attention Manning was receiving for snubbing the Chargers and trying to force a trade to the Giants. Roethlisberger replied that he didn't mind because once he and Manning got into the NFL, it would be his turn in the spotlight. There was no way to know at the time just how right he was. He fell to the Steelers with the 11th overall pick on draft day, and Cowher -- under pressure to win after a string of mostly disappointing seasons and an offseason in which the club waited longer than usual to extend his contract -- went with veteran Tommy Maddox as his starting quarterback. But a Week 2 elbow injury to Maddox gave Roethlisberger his chance, and all he's done is win every game he's started and immediately establish himself as one of the league's most accurate and reliable passers. Dallas Cowboys Coach Bill Parcells called him the most impressive quarterback prospect in the league since Dan Marino, and Williams can't overcome that even while establishing himself as one of the league's best half-dozen or so receivers as a rookie.
Desperate Times For Martz
After losses to Miami and New England dropped St. Louis to 4-4, Rams Coach Mike Martz put his players through a full-contact scrimmage Wednesday. He also called his club's recent play "embarrassing'' and issued a public warning to any locker-room dissenters.
"We don't hold hands and get in a séance and [sing], 'Kumbaya, my Lord,' '' Martz said during a news briefing that he cut off after about five minutes. "I'm not into that. We've got a direction we're going in. You're on the train or you're not. Get out. Period. I know where I'm going. You're either with me or you're not.'' . . .
Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre took all the snaps during Wednesday's practice after his sprained hand and thumb healed during the Packers' bye week. But veteran safety Darren Sharper remained unable to practice Wednesday because of a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. . . . The Packers activated cornerback Chris Johnson from the physically unable to perform list.
Barber Done For Season
Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Shawn Barber will miss the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury last weekend. He was placed on the injured reserve list Wednesday, and the Chiefs promoted linebacker Rich Scanlon from the practice squad to take Barber's spot on the roster. Monty Beisel is to start in Barber's place at outside linebacker but is slowed by a calf injury this week and could be replaced by Quinton Caver. . . .
The Chiefs say they expect to be without tailback Priest Holmes for Sunday's game at New Orleans. Holmes sat out Wednesday's practice and was on crutches because of what the club called a strained right medial collateral ligament. Derrick Blaylock and Larry Johnson are preparing to fill in for Holmes. . . .
Dolphins General Manager Rick Spielman indicated he has been told by owner Wayne Huizenga that he will keep his job for next season. But that doesn't mean that Huizenga won't make another attempt to restructure the front office. Huizenga hired Marino as senior vice president of football operations last offseason, but Marino quit the job before starting it. Huizenga could make another attempt to fill a position like that one, or could give power over personnel decisions to his new coach. . . .
The Dolphins released safety Antuan Edwards, a starter for the first eight games of the season. The starting job likely goes to Arturo Freeman, who lost a training-camp competition with Edwards for the position. . . .
Buffalo offensive tackle Mike Williams missed the Bills' practice Wednesday and might not be able to play Sunday against the Patriots. Doctors have not cleared him to play after he suffered a neck injury during Sunday's triumph over the New York Jets and was taken off the field on a stretcher with his head immobilized. . . . Bills veteran cornerback Troy Vincent's participation in practices remains limited as he tries to return from knee surgery. . . .
San Francisco released Otis Leverette and signed fellow defensive lineman Chris Cooper. . . . Cornerback Ahmed Plummer has missed San Francisco's last two games because of a bulging disk in his neck and the 49ers say they expect him to be sidelined for two to three more games. . . .
Tampa Bay placed center John Wade on the IR list because of a dislocated kneecap and signed veteran defensive end Chidi Ahanotu, who was released recently by the Dolphins after leaving the team because he was unhappy about his playing time. . . .
Denver officially announced the dismissal of David Gibbs as defensive backs coach and replaced him with Jimmy Spencer. It was the first in-season firing of an assistant during Coach Mike Shanahan's tenure. . . .
Jose Cortez, who'd been working as a Federal Express delivery-truck driver in Portland, was signed by Minnesota as a kickoff specialist after winning a seven-way competition during a Wednesday tryout. He replaces the injured Aaron Elling, who had his season ended by a broken ankle suffered during the Vikings' loss Monday night at Indianapolis. Travis Dorsch was the favorite to win the job entering Wednesday's kick-off but was outperformed by Cortez. . . .
Vikings linebacker Raonall Smith, who sat out the Colts game after suffering concussions two weeks apart, missed Wednesday's practice because he still has headaches and was sent to be examined today by brain-injury specialists at the University of Pittsburgh. . . .
The Chargers signed tight end Billy Baber, who was released by the Chiefs last week. He replaces suspended fullback Andrew Pinnock on San Diego's roster. . . .
Carolina waived guard Mike Gandy after he failed his physical. The Panthers had claimed Gandy off waivers from Chicago. Carolina signed defensive back James Whitley. . . .
The Jets promoted quarterback Ricky Ray from their practice squad to their 53-man roster. He'll be the club's third quarterback, behind Quincy Carter and Brooks Bollinger, with Chad Pennington sidelined by a rotator-cuff injury.