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Midseason report: Bucs' surprising start earns Morris honors


Judge: Brady leads hardware haul | CBS analysts make their picks

You look at the numbers associated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and you wonder how they are 5-2 and tied for first place in the NFC South.

The Bucs are ranked 21st in total offense, 25th in total defense, 30th in rushing defense, 32nd in yards allowed per rush and they have a point differential of minus-33.

Second-year quarterback Josh Freeman wins for Raheem Morris' Bucs. (Getty Images)  
Second-year quarterback Josh Freeman wins for Raheem Morris' Bucs. (Getty Images)  
Again, I say the word: How?

That's why I picked Bucs coach Raheem Morris as the best coach at the halfway mark of the season. He edges out Kansas City Chiefs coach Todd Haley in a close race.

I went with Morris because he has a younger quarterback and his team is the youngest in the NFL. That isn't to simply dismiss the job that Haley has done. He has taken a team that wasn't very good last season and turned it into a real playoff threat. But he has the top-ranked rushing offense and a run defense ranked in the top seven. Tampa Bay has none of that.

Morris, a flamboyant second-year coach who likes to speak his mind, recently called his team the "best in the NFC." Scanning the numbers, it's hard to imagine that being true, but you have to love the brashness.

What the Bucs do have is a good young quarterback in Josh Freeman and some young players growing up around him. This might not be their year to make a real playoff push -- I think they fall off some the rest of the way -- but watch out in the future.

General manager Mark Dominik has taken a lot of heat from the national media -- as has Morris -- but they have something building in Tampa.

Now if they could only get their fans to show up.

The Bucs have a huge division game at Atlanta this week, with first place up for grabs. If they win that one, the playoffs are truly possible.

If that happens, Morris might not just be the choice as the league's best at the halfway mark, but he just might be the Coach of the Year, period.

Here's the rest of the Halfway Awards:

MVP: Tom Brady, QB, Patriots. To have his young team at 6-1, considering his best receiver was traded, is amazing. The Patriots are also low in the offensive and defensive rankings.

Midseason Grades
Arizona Cardinals C-
Atlanta Falcons B
Baltimore Ravens B-
Buffalo Bills D
Carolina Panthers D
Chicago Bears C
Cincinnati Bengals D
Cleveland Browns C
Dallas Cowboys F
Denver Broncos D
Detroit Lions C+
Green Bay Packers B-
Houston Texans B-
Indianapolis Colts B
Jacksonville Jaguars C
Kansas City Chiefs B+
Miami Dolphins C+
Minnesota Vikings D
New England Patriots B+
New Orleans Saints C+
New York Giants B
New York Jets B
Oakland Raiders B+
Philadelphia Eagles C+
Pittsburgh Steelers B
St. Louis Rams A
San Diego Chargers D
San Francisco 49ers C-
Seattle Seahawks C
Tampa Bay Buccaneers A
Tennessee Titans B
Washington Redskins C

Runners-up: Peyton Manning, QB, Colts; Josh Freeman, QB, Bucs; Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons.

Offensive Player of the Year: Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers. He is on pace to break the single-season passing record for yards and he has been throwing to guys picked up off the street. What a start it has been for Rivers

Runners-up: Manning; Brady; Arian Foster, RB, Texans; Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers; Roddy White, WR, Falcons; Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings; Chris Johnson, RB, Titans; Frank Gore, RB, 49ers; Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers.

Defensive Player of the Year: Clay Matthews, OLB, Packers. He leads the NFL with 9½ sacks and he has played the run well.

Runners-up: Tamba Hali, OLB, Chiefs; Haloti Ngata, DT, Ravens; Richard Seymour, DE, Raiders; Troy Polamalu, S, Steelers; Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants.

Coach of the Year: Raheem Morris, Buccaneers. Maybe all those early-career death notices were a bit premature.

Runners-up: Haley; Tom Coughlin, Giants; Bill Belichick, Patriots.

Assistant coach: Ron Rivera, Chargers defensive coordinator. He has the top-ranked defense in the NFL, despite not having any real stars.

Runners-up: Romeo Crennel, Chiefs defensive coordinator; Hue Jackson, Raiders offensive coordinator; Mike Pettine, Jets defensive coordinator; Mike Nolan, Dolphins defensive coordinator; Perry Fewell, Giants defensive coordinator; Dick LeBeau, Steelers defensive coordinator; Kevin Gilbride, Giants offensive coordinator.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Sam Bradford, QB, Rams. His 11 touchdown passes are more than Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez and some others have. He has taken care of the football in recent weeks as well.

Runners-up: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Steelers; Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots; Mike Williams, WR, Bucs; Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys; Jahvid Best, RB, Lions.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Lions. He has 6½ sacks and has been a force in the middle of the Lions' defense.

Runners-up: Earl Thomas, S, Seahawks; Nate Allen, S, Eagles; T.J. Ward, S, Browns; Eric Berry, S, Chiefs; Devin McCourty, CB, Patriots.

Comeback player: Mike Williams, WR, Seahawks. He was out of the league the past two seasons, overweight and seemingly a draft bust. Now he's Seattle's best receiver.

Runners-up: Wes Welker, WR, Patriots; LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Jets; Umenyiora; E.J. Henderson, LB, Vikings.

Perplexing trend: Concussion issues. Why is this more prevalent now? Or are we just more cautious about it?

Runner-up: Poor offensive line play. They just aren't skilled anymore coming into the league because of the college spread offenses.

Best trend: Being more concussion aware. Of course, let's not turn this into flag football.

Runner-up: Parity. That's great for December games that will matter all over the league.

Best free-agent pickup: Jason Babin, DE, Titans. He leads the AFC in sacks with seven and he came at a bargain price.

Runners-up: Dunta Robinson, CB, Falcons; Tomlinson, RB, Jets; Terrell Owens, WR, Bengals; Karlos Dansby, LB, Dolphins; Aaron Kampman, DE, Jaguars.

Fan Poll

Who is the midseason MVP?

Tom Brady
Peyton Manning
Josh Freeman
Matt Ryan

Total Votes: 38,433

Biggest disappointment (team): Cowboys. At 1-6, with Tony Romo out, they're done.

Runners-up: Vikings; Chargers; Bengals.

Biggest disappointment (player): Jared Allen, DE, Vikings. One sack. Really. Did his talent go with his hair?

Runners-up: Brett Favre, QB, Vikings; Felix Jones, RB, Cowboys; Carson Palmer, QB, Bengals; Beanie Wells, RB, Cardinals.

Most-improved player: Foster, RB, Texans. He flashed late last season, but he's second in the NFL in rushing and he's averaging 5.7 per carry. Nobody could have imagined that.

Runners-up: Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants; Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders; LaRon Landry, S, Redskins; Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jaguars; Cameron Wake, OLB, Dolphins.

Surprise team: Buccaneers. How long it lasts who knows, but they get the nod now.

Runners-up: Chiefs, Raiders; Rams.

Surprise player: Brandon Lloyd, WR, Broncos. He leads the NFL in receiving yards and he's averaging 20.9 yards per catch.

Runners-up: Foster; Michael Vick, QB, Eagles; Danny Amendola, WR, Rams; Babin; Mike Williams, WR, Seahawks.

Best game: Falcons 27, Saints 24 (OT), Week 3. The Saints missed a chip-shot field goal to win it and the Falcons nailed one on the next drive in overtime to pull off the upset.

Runners-up: Texans 35, Chiefs 31 in Week 6; Texans 30, Redskins 27 (OT) in Week 2; Saints 25, 49ers 22 in Week 2; Cardinals 24, Raiders 23 in Week 3; Jaguars 31, Colts 28 in Week 4; Ravens 17, Steelers 14 in Week 4; Titans 34, Cowboys 27 in Week 5; Bucs 38, Cardinals 35 in Week 8.

Taking a mulligan: I actually picked the Bengals to make the playoffs and the Steelers to miss out. Nice going.

Best moment: Eagles fans actually cheering for Donovan McNabb in his return to Philadelphia. So they do have a soft spot?

Worst moment: The one-fingered peace sign Titans defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil fired off to the referees.

Runners-up: Randy Moss' postgame press conference after the Vikings lost to the Patriots -- bizarre; Seeing players sprawled on the turf after nasty hits; Tony Romo going down with a broken clavicle. You hate seeing starting quarterbacks of his caliber not playing.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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