Brees beats out Fields in 'Comeback' voting

NEW YORK -- Drew Brees went from forgotten man to one of the
NFL's best quarterbacks this season, a turnaround that resulted in him being named The Associated Press 2004 Comeback Player of the

The San Diego Chargers so doubted Brees after his weak 2003
performance that they added a quarterback in the draft last April -- drafting Eli Manning with the top pick, then trading him to the New York Giants for the rights to another highly rated quarterback prospect, Phillip Rivers. Had
Rivers not held out for half the preseason, Brees, who wasn't chosen as the starter until
six days before the opener, might not have
gotten on the field in '04.

And the Chargers might not have gotten into the

"Obviously, going back to this offseason, and even last season,
I set out with a goal and a purpose in mind," Brees said. "That
was, first of all, to lead this team to a championship. Along with
that, to try to become one of the best quarterbacks in this league,
although neither of those goals have been accomplished. But that's
the path, that's what I strive for."

Brees made his fourth NFL season by far his best, ranking third
in passer rating behind Peyton Manning and Daunte Culpepper, and
making his first Pro Bowl. The former Purdue star and first choice
in the second round of the 2001 draft, Brees 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

"There are negative things that are going to happen, and
that's all part of the building process. You can't give up," he
said. "You always have to have that attitude that your goals will
be achieved. You've just got to keep grinding away. And if not this
year, then next year. And if not next year, then the year after.
You just keep believing, and it will happen."

He could parlay his sensational season into some big money as a
free agent.

Brees earned 18½ 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.

With Brees the starter for most of 2003, San Diego went 4-12. He
played a primary role in that flop with 15 interceptions and just
11 touchdown passes, was benched for five straight games and yanked
from two others.

"I could turn on the film and watch myself last year and say,
'That's not me. That's not the way I play,"' Brees said.

But the Chargers thought otherwise, so they turned to the draft.
When San Diego was unable to reach a contract with Rivers, however,
Brees had ample time to prove himself during the summer.

Brees got more serious about his film study, and the Chargers
got more serious about upgrading personnel around him. The
offensive line is better, Antonio Gates became a star at tight end
and the wide receiver corps was improved.

"I just think it will be very satisfying to him considering the
situation that he was in at the end of last season," said backup quarterback Doug Flutie, who won the first AP Comeback Player award in 1998.
"Redemption, a feeling of accomplishment, all that. Just that it's
showing a lot of resolve and bouncing back up off the floor and
taking the shots and jumping back in and going after it."

Eight players received votes for the award. Buffalo
running back Willis McGahee finished third with six, followed by
Pittsburgh RB Jerome Bettis (4½) and New England's Corey Dillon
(4). Atlanta QB Michael Vick had three, while Tampa Bay QB
Brian Griese and Cincinnati receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh got one each.

Last year's winner was Cincinnati quarterback Jon Kitna.