First safety in 20 years to win defensive award

Updated: January 7, 2005, 10:59 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Ed Reed wasn't just the best defensive player on the Baltimore Ravens, which is no small feat with Ray Lewis as a teammate. This season, Reed was the best defender in the NFL.

Ed Reed
Baltimore Ravens
Tot Ast Solo FF Sack Int
78 67 11 3 2 9

The Ravens safety outplayed even his illustrious buddy and training partner in winning The Associated Press 2004 Defensive Player of the Year award. No one was more impressed than Lewis.

"He deserves it," said the two-time winner of the honor. "He prepares like a coach. He loves to play, period. He brings joy to work. He's tough and smart."

Reed showed just how tough, smart, resourceful and skilled he is by dominating games from the safety position. Usually, it's linebackers such as Lewis or ends who get lots of sacks or cornerbacks who shut down opponents who control games.

But Reed, in his third season out of the University of Miami -- also Lewis' college -- had a greater impact than any other defender. He earned 20 votes from a national panel of writers and broadcasters who cover pro football, beating Steelers linebacker James Farrior, who had 16.

He is the first safety to win the award in 20 years.

"A lot of great players have truly achieved this award and I'm just in my third year," said Reed, who led the NFL with nine interceptions and set an NFL mark with 358 return yards on those picks."I love football. I just want to have fun with it, and whatever else comes with it, comes with it."

Although the Ravens (9-7) fell short of the playoffs, no one could blame Reed. He was dynamic every week, and his 106-yard interception return against Cleveland, another NFL record, was among the most memorable plays this season.

Reed grabbed a deflection off the hands of tight end Aaron Shea deep in the end zone and rather than take a knee, he sped down the right sideline for the score.

"It's really just exciting for me to go out and play the game, to get up on another Sunday and have the same kind of fun you've been having since you were a kid," Reed said. "That's just me. It's really just me enjoying the game for what it is. To know that I can make a play, or maybe even win the game, that's exciting to me."

Ed Reed
Safety Ed Reed nabbed nine interceptions, including returning one for a 106-yard touchdown.

And to everyone else in Baltimore. Particularly Lewis.

"It's funny," Lewis said. "We talked about who would be defensive MVP when we trained together. One of us would run one more sprint in the sand and say, 'That's to win the championship.' Then we'd run another and say, 'That's to win the Super Bowl.' Then another and say, 'That's to win the Defensive Player of the Year.' We did the same thing lifting weights, with sets."

It certainly worked.

Farrior had a career season, making his first All-Pro team -- joining Reed and Lewis on it -- and helping Pittsburgh lead the league with a 15-1 record, a franchise best. He was trailed in the balloting by Indianapolis end Dwight Freeney, the NFL sacks leader with 16, who got seven votes.

Carolina end Julius Peppers received three votes. Lewis, the 2000 and 2003 Defensive Player of the Year, got one vote. So did San Diego linebacker Donnie Edwards.

Kenny Easley of Seattle was the last safety to take the award, in 1984.

Deion Sanders, the 1994 winner, said Reed's winning"shouldn't even be a question."

"I played with Tim McDonald, a Pro Bowler, Mert Hanks, tremendous safety, Darren Woodson, and none of them compare with Ed Reed," Sanders said."The guy's tremendous, by far. He should win the Player of the Year. What else does he have to do?"

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press