Urlacher named AP Defensive Player of the Year
NEW YORK -- Brian Urlacher, the latest leader of the Monsters of the Midway, won The Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year award Friday.
The Chicago Bears' star middle linebacker and the face of a ferocious defense that allowed the fewest points in the league this season, Urlacher adds the honor to his 2000 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Chicago's turnaround from the bottom of the NFC North pack to 11-5 and division winner was paced by the defense, which yielded 202 points, 45 fewer than Indianapolis, the next-stingiest team. He had 121 tackles, six sacks and a fumble recovery, but stats don't define Urlacher.
Full-field coverage, intimidating hits and big plays do.
"People are realizing we have some good players here," Urlacher said. "Anytime you lose, nothing really matters except winning. ... People realize that when you win, you obviously have some good players on your team."
Chicago has enough of them on defense to draw votes for four. Urlacher's 34 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL gave him a runaway victory. Teammates Alex Brown at end, Lance Briggs at outside linebacker, and Nathan Vasher at cornerback each received one vote.
"Best player on the best defense. He should be the defensive MVP," Pro Bowl safety Mike Brown said. "He makes a lot of impact plays, but just him being on the field, teams have to scheme against us. They have to do different things to stay away from him. He's the leader of our team."
Second to Urlacher was Colts DE Dwight Freeney with four votes. Also receiving votes were Steelers safety Troy Polamalu (3), Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson (2), Giants end Osi Umenyiora (2), Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey (1) and Jaguars tackle Marcus Stroud (1).
But Urlacher was unchallenged.
"He's the best linebacker in the league," said Briggs, who plays next to Urlacher and had a breakout season himself. "He's making it happen all day, every day."
Added DE Adewale Ogunleye: "I don't think anyone in the league deserves that award more than him. "He's busted his tail inside and out. Everybody's saying he's overhyped and overrated. He really did everything he had to do to be a leader."
Chicago's defense had to be overwhelming for the Bears to become winners. The offense has been mediocre at best, inept at times.
So it was left to Urlacher and crew to carry the team. They did, allowing fewer than 14 points 10 times. At home, the Bears went 7-1 and yielded a mere 61 points in those games. Only Cincinnati, which beat the Bears 24-7 in Game 3, scored more than nine points at Soldier Field.
And guess where the Bears play their first playoff game next week.
"He runs all over the field," Briggs said. "He chases down guys like Michael Vick. He creates havoc."
The only other Bear to win the award was another great middle linebacker, Mike Singletary, in 1985 and '88.
Urlacher is the fifth player to win a top defensive rookie award and also the AP Defensive Player of the Year. Pittsburgh's Joe Greene was rookie of the year in 1969 and defensive player in '74. The Steelers Jack Lambert did it in 1974 and '76. Lawrence Taylor had the rarest double, winning both honors in 1981. He also was the top defensive player in 1982 and '86 for the Giants. San Francisco's Dana Stubblefield was top rookie in 1993 and No. 1 defensive player in '97.
Last year's winner was Baltimore safety Ed Reed.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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