Marshall Faulk's record-setting ride for the St. Louis Rams earned him the NFL's Most Valuable Player award in balloting conducted by the Associated Press and announced Wednesday.
Faulk, whose 26 touchdowns beat Emmitt Smith's league mark by one, carried the defending Super Bowl champion Rams into the playoffs with his late-season efforts. He scored 11 of those touchdowns in the last three weeks and had three four-TD games.
The swift running back also had 220 yards rushing in Sunday's victory at New Orleans that helped St. Louis squeeze into the post-season.
"This season was pretty high up there, a very special one just because of all the things we faced," said Faulk, who finished with 1,359 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing, plus 81 receptions for 830 yards and eight touchdowns.
Faulk said it was especially gratifying to break a record set by "a warrior" like Smith and that the mark also showed what the Rams were capable of as a team.
"But the thing that overshadows it for me and doesn't allow me to harp on it is we were fighting for our lives to try to get into the playoffs," Faulk said.
Faulk, 27 and in his seventh NFL season, received 24 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters. He beat Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb (11), Tennessee running back Eddie George (8), Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon (5), Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning (1) and Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis (1).
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Ratings fell 7 percent this year to an all-time low in the show's first season with a revamped broadcast team that included comedian Dennis Miller.
ABC's broadcasts of 17 regular-season Monday night games averaged a 12.7 national rating and 22 share, a drop of 7 percent from last season's record low of 13.7/23.
Each rating point represents a little more than 1-million television households. Share is the percentage of in-use TVs tuned to a program.
The Titans' 31-0 victory over the Cowboys in the season finale on Monday drew an 11.0 national rating. That was 9 percent higher than last season's final ABC game.
The show ranked fifth among prime-time programs during the NFL season. And it remains a strong draw among male viewers; it was the top-rated prime-time program among men 25-54.
PANTHERS: Assistant coach Tony Wise, whose offensive line yielded the most sacks in the NFL this season, chose not to renew his contract.
"It's difficult for me to suggest what his real reasons were," coach George Seifert said. "We had conversations that were personal and I can't really speak for Tony."
STEELERS: Kevin Gilbride was fired as offensive coordinator because coach Bill Cowher saw no progress in what has long been one of the NFL's worst passing offenses.
Gilbride, 6-16 as Chargers coach before being fired in 1998, had one year left on a three-year contract. Because of that, team president Dan Rooney had to sign off on the third firing of an offensive coordinator since 1996.
Ron Erhardt was ousted a day after the Steelers lost to Dallas in the Super Bowl in January 1996. Chan Gailey left after two successful seasons to become Cowboys coach, but his successor, Ray Sherman, lasted only one season before being replaced by Gilbride.
Asked of Gilbride's reaction to being fired after what was a turnaround 9-7 season by the Steelers, Cowher said, "He was surprised."
"We gave it (Gilbride's system) two years to see how it would progress, and it was not progressing to where I felt it needed to go," Cowher said. "We need to develop a passing game."
GILLIAM FUNERAL: Former quarterback Joe Gilliam's funeral is Friday at Tennessee State University's Kean Hall in Nashville, with burial to follow. Gilliam, one of the first black quarterbacks to start an NFL game, died of an apparent heart attack Monday in Nashville while watching the Titans-Cowboys game with friends, his father, Joe Sr., said. He was 49.
BEARS: Coach Dick Jauron said he takes the blame for the 5-11 record and knows next season may be his last if the team doesn't improve. Jauron also said Cade McNown is "quite a ways" from being a bonafide starting quarterback and Curtis Enis "still may be a year away" from being a capable running back.