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MVP Faulk Takes Offensive Honors

Marshall Faulk is the perfect player for the St. Louis Rams' wide-open offense. So perfect that for the second straight season, Faulk has been voted The Associated Press NFL Offensive Player of the Year.

Faulk, selected the league's Most Valuable Player last week by a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover pro football, is a defensive coordinator's nightmare. This season, he set an NFL record with 26 touchdowns, led the NFC with 2,189 combined yards (1,359 rushing and 830 passing) and had 81 receptions, the most by an NFC running back.

That was good enough to collect 32 votes in balloting announced Thursday, easily outdistancing running backs Eddie George of Tennessee and Edgerrin James of Indianapolis, who had four apiece.

Faulk, who helped the Rams win the Super Bowl last season and virtually carried them into the playoffs in 2000 by scoring 11 touchdowns in the final three games, credits the offensive scheme for much of his success.

"It is matchups, obviously," he said. "If they called a blitz and I'm in the backfield, I could be running the ball or going out for a pass. They ID the personnel, but they don't know who will be doing what, and they gamble."

It doesn't hurt to have Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Az Hakim and a solid line on his side, either. But, still, it is Faulk who makes it all work, the prime threat in the league's premier attack.

"There are no limitations to what Marshall does or can do," coach Mike Martz said. "He wants to be the best in the game and he's proven he is. We'll always challenge Marshall and he always responds."

Faulk, 27 and in his seventh NFL season, came to the Rams in a trade with Indianapolis two years ago. The price was a second-round and a fourth-round draft choice, making the acquisition one of the biggest bargains in NFL history.

At first, he was uncertain how he would fit in, particularly after working in 1998 with a rookie quarterback with a great future, Peyton Manning.

But almost from the outset, when then-coach Dick Vermeil and offensive coordinator Martz outlined their plans for Faulk, he was energized by the possibilities.

"It looked like it could be a very special, dangerous offense, and I liked the way they wanted to attack dfenses, keep them off-balance," Faulk said. "It was a great atmosphere compared to what I'd been used to."

Not getting back to the Super Bowl was a huge disappointment for Faulk, but he sees nothing but bright days ahead. He can't wait for next year's challenges.

"For me, it is easier when you get in big games like that and situations like that," he said. "It motivates you. It is games like that, the big games, you bring your best or you go home."

Also receiving votes were Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb, with three; Minnesota running back Robert Smith and wide receiver Randy Moss, two each; Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon (2); and Manning (1).

Eric Dickerson in 1986 is the only other Rams player to win the award.

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