AFC Players of the Month
Thursday, October 3, 2002
By David W. Unkle
SJSports Staff Writer
Quarterback DREW BLEDSOE of the Buffalo Bills, linebacker JUNIOR SEAU of the San Diego Chargers, safety ROD WOODSON of the Oakland Raiders and punter CHAD STANLEY of the Houston Texans are the AFC Offensive, Co-Defensive and Special Teams Players of the Month for September, the NFL announced Thursday.
Bledsoe completed 116 of 165 passes for an NFL-best 70.3 completion percentage and a league-leading 1,345 passing yards. Obtained in an offseason trade with New England, Bledsoe threw 10 touchdowns in September against two interceptions for an NFL-high passer rating among starting quarterbacks of 109.8.
The 10-year NFL veteran from Washington State has thrown 149 consecutive passes without an interception. Two of his 10 touchdown passes have come in overtime for Buffalo's two victories. His four touchdown passes against Chicago on September 29 were the most by a Bills quarterback since Hall of Famer JIM KELLY threw that many in 1995. In addition, with 1,345 passing yards, Bledsoe is on pace to break the NFL record for most passing yards in a season, set by former Miami quarterback DAN MARINO in 1984 (5,084).
"We're focused on one thing and I'm focused on one thing: to continue to improve as a team and to continue to improve as a player," says Bledsoe, who earned his second AFC Offensive Player of the Month award. "We're starting to develop some confidence as a team confidence that we can play with anybody in the league."
Seau and Woodson were both top performers throughout September for two AFC West rivals sporting a combined record of 7-0. This is the first AFC Defensive Player of the Month honor for both perennial NFL All-Stars.
Seau has been the spark in San Diego's defense, which is ranked first in the AFC (264.5 yards per game). In his 13th season out of USC, Seau continues to be a force, evidenced by his 26 tackles, four passes defensed, one interception and a sack in four victories to open the season.
In the Chargers' win against previously unbeaten New England this past Sunday, the 11-time Pro Bowler posted nine tackles to help hold the Patriots to 14 points more than 24 points below their per game average of 38.3 entering the contest. Sixteen of Seau's 26 September tackles have equated to gains of three yards or less and seven were for no gain or negative yardage.
"We have guys who are expecting a lot this year," said Seau.
Oakland's Woodson made numerous momentum-shifting plays in September as the Raiders began 3-0. The 37-year-old safety is tied for the NFL lead in both interceptions (3) and fumble recoveries (3). In his 16th season out of Purdue, Woodson displayed great speed in returning an interception this past Sunday 82 yards for a touchdown, surpassing Hall of Famer EMLEN TUNNELL as the NFL's all-time leader in interception-return yardage (1,340). Woodson is two interceptions away from surpassing KEN RILEY (65) for fourth-place on the league's all-time interception list.
In addition to helping the Raiders build a plus-five turnover ratio (tied for third-best in the AFC), the 10-time All-Star and member of the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team has posted 12 tackles to bolster the league's top defense against the run (52.7 yards per game).
"When I came here from Baltimore (as a free agent in the offseason), it was to win football games," says Woodson. "If I don't get any more turnovers in the rest of our games and we win, I'm the happiest guy in the world."
Houston's Stanley compiled an impressive month-long performance for the expansion Texans. The four-year veteran from Stephen F. Austin is the league's only punter to kick as many as 10 punts inside his opponents' 20 yard-line without a touchback. Stanley is tied for the league's lowest average return yards per punt (4.2) while having kicked six more punts (34) than his closest peer.
Against Dallas on Kickoff Weekend, the 26-year-old Stanley kicked four punts inside of the Cowboys' 20 yard-line. One of those kicks was downed one yard from the Dallas goal line, which led to a Texans safety in a 19-10 Houston victory.
Stanley is largely responsible for eliminating big plays from some of the NFL's most dangerous return men. Against Stanley and the Texans, Dallas' JOEY GALLOWAY returned three punts for eight yards (2.7), San Diego's TAMARICK VANOVER ran back four for no yards, and Philadelphia's BRIAN MITCHELL returned five for 20 (4.0).
The Special Teams Player of the Month Award is the first for Stanley.