Notebook: Farrior team MVP

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> James Farrior doesn't anticipate any problems with motivation when the Steelers play at Buffalo on Sunday.

"We only know one way to play," said Farrior, who was honored yesterday for doing so. Farrior was voted the team's Most Valuable Player award by his teammates.

Farrior leads the 14-1 Steelers with 118 tackles, including a team-high 81 solo tackles. He's also forced five fumbles, recovered three fumbles, recorded four sacks and intercepted four passes this season. As the inside "buck" linebacker, Farrior anchors a defense that's ranked first overall and against the run in the NFL.

"I was surprised," he said of the award. "You're always surprised when anyone gets an honor like that. Everybody had their pick on who they thought was the MVP, but nobody ever expects it to be themselves."

Farrior voted for running back Jerome Bettis, who replaced Duce Staley and rushed for 941 yards in only seven starts this season.

"I was a little surprised because I really feel that he is the heartbeat of the team right now," Farrior said.

Farrior was named a defensive co-captain prior to the start of the season. In July, he signed a five-year contract with the team for $16.5 million that included a $4.5 million bonus.


After an 0-4 start, the 9-6 Buffalo Bills can make the playoffs with a win against the Steelers and a loss by either the Denver Broncos or New York Jets.

Bills coach Mike Mularkey was asked if running back Willis McGahee has been the key to the turnaround. The Bills are 9-1 since McGahee became the starter.

"It looks that way," Mularkey said. "I won't put it on one guy but I know our offensive line has played better than it did earlier in the year. That is very similar to what happened in Pittsburgh last year."

Mularkey, of course, was the Steelers' offensive coordinator from 2001-03. He was asked for the difference in last year's 6-10 Steelers and this year's 14-1 version.

"They are getting a great performance out of their rookie quarterback," he said. "The line has been together and I think playing extremely well. The defense again is swarming and aggressive, maybe more. They are running the ball effectively. Jerome looks like a different back to me. He has his feet looking similar to maybe four or five years ago. They are not making a lot of mistakes. When you have seven penalties in three games, that has a direct influence on the outcome of the game when you are not beating yourself."


Duce Staley is expected to start at running back in place of Bettis on Sunday. He got the week off to a good start when he was named the Ameriquest Mortgage Neighborhood MVP. He was chosen for his dedication to helping single mothers become financially stable and involved in their communities.

Through Staley's Catch 22 Foundation, he's provided resources and tools to help single mothers faced with hardships get back on their feet and build better living environments for their families. He's provided clothes, shoes, food and holiday gifts at several shelters in Pittsburgh.


Missing the Steelers' practice on Wednesday, along with Ben Roethlisberger, were Deshea Townsend (hand), Bettis (ankle), Clark Haggans (groin), Plaxico Burress (hamstring), Verron Haynes (knee) and Brett Keisel (hamstring).

Townsend has been ruled out of Sunday's game, while Bettis and Haggans are doubtful. Burress, Haynes and Keisel are probable.

Kendrell Bell, who is questionable, participated in his first full practice since re-injuring his groin Nov. 21.

Missing practice for the Bills on Wednesday were back-up running back Travis Henry and right guard Chris Villarrial (abdomen) of nearby Indiana University of Pa. Both players are questionable for the game.

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