- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2008

With every NFL team having played at least eight games and 22 of the 32 teams still in serious playoff contention, the next seven weeks should feature an intriguing stretch run as Tennessee continues its quest to go undefeated, Detroit tries to avoid 0-16 and the entire NFC East aims to finish above .500.

Before the second half starts, here are some first-half awards:

OFFENSIVE MVP

Kurt Warner, Arizona

The pick here last week would have been Clinton Portis, but the Redskins’ running game was shut down against Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Warner threw for 342 yards in a win over St. Louis that gave Arizona a three-game cushion in the NFC West.

Warner’s story is remarkable. He entered camp as the backup to Matt Leinart, and the consensus in the desert was that Ken Whisenhunt would go back to him after the Cardinals’ tough early schedule. But Warner has been fantastic: He has completed 69.9 percent of his passes for 2,431 yards, 16 touchdowns and a 104.2 rating.

Honorable mention: Portis and New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees

DEFENSIVE MVP

Joey Porter, Miami

Taking over Jason Taylor’s role, Porter already has 11.5 sacks for the surprising Dolphins (4-4).

The outspoken Porter entered the season with two 10.5-sack seasons on his resume, and on a defense that can’t stop the pass (26th), he has three multisack games, including four in a Week 3 win at New England.

Honorable mention: Tennessee’s Albert Haynesworth and Pittsburgh’s James Farrior

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Chris Johnson, Tennessee

The Titans’ first-round pick seized the starting job from LenDale White and has been a workhorse.

Entering this week, Johnson ranks fourth in rushing (715 yards) and is averaging an impressive 4.9 yards. Tennessee’s run game is third in the NFL.

Honorable mention: The Redskins’ Chris Horton and New England’s Jerod Mayo

COACH OF THE YEAR

Jeff Fisher, Tennessee.

Granted, the Titans reached the postseason last year but 8-0? With Kerry Collins at quarterback? And a rookie at running back?

The Titans are one of the few teams to benefit from losing a starting quarterback, but Fisher made the correct decision when a healthy Vince Young was cleared to play. Because of Johnson’s running and a stout defense, Collins is the right quarterback for this team - he’s managing the game, not trying to win it single-handedly.

Honorable mention: Atlanta’s Mike Smith, Miami’s Tony Sparano and the Redskins’ Jim Zorn

NON-TENNESSEE SURPRISE

Baltimore

A rookie coach and a rookie quarterback usually equal a rebuilding year. That’s especially true when the coach’s only coordinating experience was as a special teams coach and the quarterback finished his career in Division I-AA.

But the Ravens start the second half 5-3 and on a three-game winning streak. The players have bought into John Harbaugh’s program, and first-round pick Joe Flacco has been allowed to develop thanks to a running game that has three backs over 300 yards and a defense ranked second in the league.

Honorable mention: Chicago (5-3) and Arizona (5-3)

NON-DALLAS DISAPPOINTMENT

Jacksonville

Was it only a year ago that the Jaguars won twice at Pittsburgh, including a first-round playoff win? Seems like longer with the way Jacksonville has performed in the first half (3-5).

The Jaguars are 1-3 at home, David Garrard has more interceptions than touchdowns (6-5), the defense can’t stop the run or get to the passer and offensive line injuries have taken a toll on the running game. Home defeats by Buffalo and Cleveland will come back to haunt the Jaguars.

Honorable mention: Indianapolis (4-4) and San Diego (3-5)

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