In a 31--24 win over the Bucs on Dec. 12, San Diego linebacker Donnie Edwards had perhaps the finest game by an NFL linebacker this season--16 tackles, two interceptions (one returned for the game-winning touchdown) and four pass deflections. It was the kind of game a great linebacker plays, and that's exactly how Edwards, a nine-year veteran, wants to be pegged. But as he watched a highlight show the night after the Tampa Bay game, Edwards heard himself described as "underrated"--a term he has come to loathe.
"How many years will I be called underrated?" says Edwards, the centerpiece of the Chargers' defense. This is his eighth 100tackle season in nine years as a pro with the Chiefs and the Chargers, but he's never been voted to a Pro Bowl. "Some day, if all the stars align right, maybe I'll get some recognition," says the 6'2", 227 pound Edwards. "I lead my team in tackles every year. I play every play. I think I've been pretty consistent--16 tackles against Tampa, 20 against Denver [on Dec. 5]."
Though he is playing in a 3--4 scheme for the first time in his career, Edwards, at right inside linebacker, is using his quickness and lateral movement to make more of an impact than anyone else on the unit. "In this defense the big plays are there to be made, and he's making them," says coach Marty Schottenheimer. Edwards, who had seven tackles and an interception in a 21--0 win over the Browns on Sunday, has missed one play all year, when he suffered a neck stinger against Tampa Bay.
A slew of AFC inside linebackers are having stellar seasons, including the Steelers' James Farrior, the Patriots' Tedy Bruschi, the Jets' Jonathan Vilma and the omnipresent Ray Lewis of the Ravens. Aside from Farrior, however, it's doubtful any of them has made as many big plays as Edwards.