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AP honors Dolphins' Taylor as top defender

Jason Taylor was one hard man to find on the Miami defense this season. Until, that is, the ball was snapped and he was making the play.

NEW YORK (Jan. 5, 2007) -- Jason Taylor was one hard man to find on the Miami defense this season. Until, that is, the ball was snapped and he was making the play.

Taylor's superb all-around performance for the Dolphins earned him The Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. While Miami finished just 6-10 in 2006, the dynamic Taylor was having the best season of his nine-year pro career.

The end who sometimes lines up at linebacker or inside had 62 tackles, 13 ½ sacks, 14 quarterback hurries, two interceptions -- both returned for TDs -- 11 passes defensed, 10 fumbles forced and two fumbles recovered. Yes, 10 fumbles forced, making Taylor a takeaway machine.

"It's just making big plays, feeling like you elevate the guys around you sometimes, and helping them to play better," Taylor said of his role. "Being able to take attention away from other areas and free up things for other people. At the end of the day, it's just making plays and trying to lead the team by example emotionally.

"You can sit around and talk about it, but you have to go out and do it and we all like to be able to get up and go do it."

While dozens of defenders were doing it well this season, Taylor outdistanced five who received votes, in particular Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. Taylor earned 22 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL, and Bailey got 16.

It is a measure of how effective Taylor was that he took the award playing on a losing team. But Miami's defense ranked fourth in the NFL -- thanks greatly to No. 99, naturally.

"I am playing a more complete game than I have at any point in my career," Taylor said. "I think the biggest thing that sticks out is the big plays, the touchdowns that are catching more attention.

"I think I have had some other decent years in this league, but this is probably my best."

It needed to be for Taylor to beat out Bailey, who tied for the league lead with 10 interceptions (one touchdown) even though opponents rarely test him. Bailey also is a stalwart run defender, something few cornerbacks can claim.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick, whose team faced both the Dolphins (going 1-1) and the Broncos (a loss), praised Taylor as the top guy.

"I can't imagine him not being the Defensive Player of the Year this year," he said. "There's nobody I've seen that has played anywhere near close to the level that he's at. He ruins a lot of games offensively for teams."

With the Dolphins in turmoil after coach Nick Saban dumped them for the Alabama job this week, Taylor's achievement provides at least momentary relief and pride.

"It's always a flattering point, but this is the ultimate team game on the planet," Taylor said.

He is the first Dolphins player to win the award since DE Doug Betters in 1983. Ten years before that, safety Dick Anderson won it.

San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman, who missed four games for violating the NFL's steroids policy, got six votes. Last week, Taylor said he didn't believe any player who served such a suspension should be considered for league awards.

Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher received four votes, followed by two Baltimore Ravens with one apiece: LB Ray Lewis and lineman Trevor Pryce.

Urlacher won the award last year.

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