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QB Brees' focus is validated

When the Chargers reported to training camp in late July, they were summoned to a players-only meeting by Drew Brees.

It might have been a bold move, because it would be several weeks before coach Marty Schottenheimer decided Brees would keep his job as starting quarterback.

Brees still considered himself the starter even after a rough 2003 season, and his message was simple: Don't listen to the naysayers who thought there was no way the NFL's worst team would be better.

"Well, you know what? The people who were going to determine what we were going to do were in that room," Brees recalled after he was voted Associated Press 2004 Comeback Player of the Year.

"So that was my point: "Look around, guys. It's just us. Know that we control our own destiny. Nobody else does. Don't worry about what people say, just focus on what we do.' "

Brees has gone from forgotten man to one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. He'll make his playoff debut Saturday night when the AFC West champion Chargers host the wild-card New York Jets.

Brees made his fourth NFL season his best by far, ranking third in passer rating behind Peyton Manning and Daunte Culpepper, and making his first Pro Bowl. He completed 262 of 400 passes for 3,159 yards, 27 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. His 104.8 rating was a 37.3-point improvement over the previous year.

Brees earned 18{ votes from a national panel of writers and broadcasters who cover pro football, easily beating Carolina linebacker Mark Fields, who received 10 votes. Fields was sidelined last season with Hodgkin's disease.

JETS: For the sixth time in their checkered history, the Jets are preparing for a playoff game west of the Mississippi. When they departed Thursday for San Diego, it was the third time in coach Herman Edwards' four season with the Jets that he was leading the club to the West Coast for the postseason.

This time, he was hoping for a different result. The Jets have not won a playoff game in the West since 1982, when they toppled the Raiders, who were then playing in Los Angeles. Since then the Jets have dropped postseason games in Houston (after the 1991 regular season), Denver (after 1998) and Oakland (after 2001 and 2002).

Edwards was asked earlier this week if he had learned anything about playing a team from the West.

"Yeah, leave a day and a half early, which we always do," he said. "So that kind of helped us a little bit in the regular season. Didn't help us in the playoffs." He was referring to the final week of the 2001 regular season, when the Jets beat the Raiders in Oakland, then returned a week later and lost a playoff game to the same team.

A year later, the Jets defeated the Indianapolis Colts in a playoff game at Giants Stadium, then went to Oakland for the next postseason round and were routed. But it is far from an impossible feat to win on the road in the playoffs, or even to go far as a wild-card team.

Since the wild card was added to the playoff format, eight teams that did not win their division have played in a Super Bowl. And if Jets fans need any additional reason to hope, a wild-card team has won a playoff game on the road in 12 of the last 14 seasons.

A CHAMP: Winning awards is nothing new to Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. Being chosen an AP first-team All-Pro certainly is, though. Bailey made the first team for the first time in his six-year career, adding one of the most prestigious awards out there to his ever-growing resume. He was selected to his fifth straight Pro Bowl this season.

_ TIMES WIRES

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