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Freeney dominates even when facing the best

Some of it is that the high-scoring Colts always seem to be ahead, forcing opponents to throw. And when opponents pass, defensive ends are busy.

But it's hard to overlook Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney in any situation. The third-year player out of Syracuse leads the league with 16 sacks and is turning into one of the game's most prolific defensive forces.

He is being mentioned for defensive player of the year.

"I would think that he would have to be considered," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "(Ravens safety) Ed Reed has been like that. Dwight has been like that."

And the 6-foot-1, 268-pound Freeney, who turns 25 Tuesday, isn't getting any cheapies. He had two sacks Dec. 19 against Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden, considered the best at his position.

"Every time I watch a game, the guy changes the course of a game," said Denver safety John Lynch, who as a Buc played alongside Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, who won defensive player of the year in 1999 and 2002, respectively. "He's a guy who's fun to watch. I sit there and forget all about the (defensive backs), this guy is faster for 10-15 yards than anyone in this league. He's a guy I really enjoy watching."

The 11th overall pick in 2002 has 40 sacks in three seasons; numbers which, according to his contract, trigger a base salary increase from $765,000 this season to $5-million next season.

"I know all about that," Freeney told the Indianapolis Star. "I like that kind of motivation."

COSTLY AWARD: It's fairly common for players to have financial bonuses in their contracts for making the Pro Bowl. That had better be the case for Texans receiver Andre Johnson.

The second-year player out of Miami was named to the Pro Bowl last week and will have quite the entourage for the trip to Hawaii.

Not only does Johnson have to pay for family and friends, he promised to take the entire Texans receiving corps.

"That was the deal we made," Johnson told the Houston Chronicle. "My mom really wanted to go. She's never been to Hawaii. She's really been bugging me about it. Now we can make some plans."

BAD TIMING: Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper is putting up some ridiculous numbers and getting little love for it. With one game left, Culpepper has set team records with 37 touchdowns and 4,418 passing yards.

He leads the NFL in completion percentage (69.8) and has a passer rating of 112.2.

If Culpepper throws for three touchdowns today in Washington, he will become the fourth quarterback in history with at least 40. Dan Marino (twice), Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning are the others.

UNLIKELY LATE BLOOMERS: After a poor start and a series of discipline problems, Saints coach Jim Haslett was again on the chopping block.

Called a high school team by owner Tom Benson, the Saints proceeded to beat the Cowboys, Bucs and Falcons to improve to 7-8 and remain alive in the playoff race with only today's game remaining against the Panthers.

"We've played better the last three weeks, that's the bottom line," Haslett said. "Sunday will be a great challenge for us. It's something our guys are going to enjoy, but we've been in this mode for the last three weeks: win or you're out."

WHERE'S THE OFFENSE?: You know things are bad when Jeff George is brought in late in the season at quarterback. How bad has Chicago's offense been? The team is last in the league in points, yards, passing, pass completion percentage, percentage of sacks allowed, total first downs, third-down efficiency and red zone efficiency. Oh, the Bears do lead the league in something: 21 fumbles lost.

Information from other news organizations was used in the report.


LAST WEEK: Mills, 8-8; 6-9-1 vs. spread. Nicholas, 11-5; 6-9-1 vs. spread

SEASON: Mills, 148-92; 107-125-8 vs. spread; Nicholas, 145-95; 117-115-8 vs. spread

Staff writer Roger Mills squares off against his 12-year-old son, Nicholas, above.