Best of the Best, Part II
Pats Pulpit's NFL Regular Season Awards
A couple notes: I do not differentiate between AFC and NFC players of the year, nor do I select offensive and defensive rookies. I also ran out of steam toward the end, and with games coming up this weekend, I just needed to wrap this up, so the discussions get a little thinner as you go along.
I'm looking forward to your feedback on this one. Let's hear your picks.
(Here a my selections from last year for your entertainment.)
Most Valuable Player
You know what's funny? What's funny is when some people allege that the Patriots played to get Tom Brady records. The say he "forced the ball" to Randy Moss to break records. But the evidence does not support that.
Exhibit A: 16 wins in 16 attempts. The Patriots did not put a single game at risk simply to break records.
Exhibit B: The team and many other individuals set and broke a truckload of records. If the sacred Peyton Manning record was all that was at stake, you might be able to make that argument, but in the real world it doesn't make any sense. Records fell as a matter of course because the Patriots are that good. Simple. End of story.
Exhibit C: If Brady was forcing it to Moss (like he didn't have any other receivers), why did he have a completely unbelievable 1.4 percent interception ratio? Brady threw just 8 interceptions all season. That was also better than Manning's 2004 season, in which he threw 10 interceptions and had an interception ratio of 2.0 (better than any year in Manning's career, by the way).
In fact, Brady's 1.4 percent is the 13th best ever, and of those ahead of him only Steve DeBerg and Bart Starr played every game in their teams' seasons. Brady's touchdown percentage of 8.7 is the 19th best ever and the best this season.
Brady led the league with 4,806 yards passing (3rd best NFL history), nearly 400 yards better than second-place Drew Brees of New Orleans. He had a passer rating of 117.2, second only to Manning's 2004 rating of 121.1. Brady had a completion percentage of 68.9 (7th best ever; Ken Anderson, 70.55 percent, 1982 [309 passes]). Do those sound like the numbers of someone "forcing passes" into bad situations?
Brady had a career-high 578 attempts and a career-high 398 completions, 5th best ever (Brees broke the NFL record with 440 completions this year, but he threw 655 passes). For Brady, that's an average of 300.4 yards per game, the 6th best ever and the only cold-weather quarterback ever to accomplish that. (Kurt Warner did it twice, 2000, 2001; and Warren Moon did it missing a game in 1990.)
One more quick set of stats: Brady ran the ball 37 times (3rd lowest of his career) for 98 yards (3rd best of his career) and 2 touchdowns (career best).
Oh, did I mention the 50 passing touchdowns?
Stats like these for a quarterback that plays outdoors in the northeast are incredible. Brady played just one game in a domed stadium all season and the final seven of the season in outdoor stadiums in the northeast. Quite simply, it's the best season for a quarterback ever.
And, as we all know, the Patriots don't win all those games in past seasons, and, more importantly, don't win all those games this season, without Brady.
There simply is no question: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is the National Football League's 2007 Most Valuable Player.
Brady is the first Patriots player to earn the award.
Runner-up: LaDanian Tomlinson, running back, San Diego. With the year Philip Rivers had, do you think the Chargers even sniff the playoffs --especially in the AFC -- without Tomlinson?
Associated Press MVP selection: Tom Brady.
Getting back to Exhibit A: As we all know, Brady greatly benefitted by the greatly improved receiving corps New England put together this season -- a corps similar to those other quarterbacks have had for years. Brady and his receivers put it all together in a single season, a tribute to all of them, but it's nothing we haven't seen from Brady year after year after year.
The shock is not that one person voted for Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre. Lame, but whatever. No, the real shock is that this is the first time Brady has won this award.
Few players can change the entire strategy of a game, just by his simple presence. Brady is one. As cited in my Patriots regular season awards, so is Randy Moss, my selection for offensive player of the year.
Moss doesn't just change the way his own team plays offense (like attempting to convert 4th-and-4 instead of attempting a field goal, among the more subtle differences), he changes the way the opponent plays defense, and then not just one phase of the game (passing vs. running). And the more success he has, the more he impacts the opponent's strategy. The longer the Patriots offense was on the field, the longer the opponent's defense was on the field, and that wore them down, enhanced by all the facets of New England's offense they had to try to defense against.
And not only does he affect both teams' strategies when he's on the field, he affects how his team's opponent plays their offense. That's because the longer the Patriots offense had the ball, the less time opponents had to keep pace or to play catch-up; the more opponents had to consider forcing attempts to score touchdowns for fear of falling too far behind.
That's a heck of a case for MVP, but this is about offense. So let's look at some stats.
Moss was 8th in receptions in the league with 98, but the threat Moss posed made it easier for teammate Wes Welker to tie for the league lead of 112 with Cincinnati's T.J. Houshmandzadeh. (Moss is 3rd on the Patriots all-time list behind Welker and the 101 by Troy Brown in 2001.)
But for a team's No. 2 receiver to fall just short of 100 receptions is pretty amazing. Moss was 2nd in the league in receiving yards (28th best ever) with 1,493, just behind Indy's Reggie Wayne (if you want to talk about stats for the sake of stats, there's your 2007 poster boy -- the Colts made every effort to get Wayne stats, not caring about the outcome of the game).
Moss edged Stanley Morgan's 1986 effort for New England's all-time best by 2 yards. In turn, Moss had 93.3 yards receiving per game, just ahead of Morgan's 93.2 in '86. That 1,493 yards is also the 8th most yards from scrimmage this season.
Now the big numbers: First in receiving touchdowns -- ever -- with 23. First this season in rushing/receiving touchdowns and all-purpose touchdowns with 23, 8th all-time in both categories. First this season in points scored with 138, 31st best ever. (Incidentally, 3rd all-time on Patriots behind place-kickers Adam Vinatieri, 141 in 2004, and Tony Franklin, 140 in 1986).
Runner-up: Brian Westbrook, running back, Philadelphia Eagles. Westbrook led the league with 2,104 yards from scrimmage, 150 more than Tomlinson.
Associated Press offensive player of the year selection: Tom Brady.
It's easy to pick the guy with some very good stats on one of the best defenses. It's another to pick a guy with some astounding stats on a terrible defense. Sure, his team was bad enough that they had more opportunities to make more tackles, but ultimately the team had just 13 tackles more than one of the league's best defenses.
So my defensive player of the year is San Francisco 49ers rookie linebacker Patrick Willis.
Willis had 174 tackles, 135 of those solo efforts. Only two other players had as many combined tackles as Willis had solo. His 174 is the most this decade. Add in 4.0 sacks, a pair of forced fumbles and a fumble recovery, and that's a pretty unbelievable season -- especially considering Willis had nearly double the number of tackles and solo tackles and half-a-sack more than the AP's selection.
Imagine what he could have done on a team on which he didn't have to do all the work?
Runner-up: Mike Vrabel, linebacker, New England Patriots: 77 solo tackles, 55 solo, 12.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles. As I mentioned in my Patriots awards, and as several of you noted all season, Vrabel was often an influencing force, even when his actions did not result in personal statistics.
Associated Press offensive player of the year selection: Bob Sanders. I remember a lot of people saying they wouldn't vote for Rodney Harrison in years past because he's a dirty player. I refuse to credit Sanders for the same reason.
Special Teams Player
Rookies are not new to my selections. Repeating his appearance in this spot following his rookie year last season, my Special Teams Player of the Year is Chicago Bears return specialist Devon Hester.
Last year: 3 punt returns for touchdowns, 2 kickoff returns for touchdowns, and a missed field goal return for touchdown. It was a new NFL record in returns for touchdowns (including interceptions and fumbles). Hester matched that record this year with 4 punts returned for touchdowns and 2 kickoffs returned for touchdowns -- and teams have been trying to kick away from him.
And if those numbers don't impress you for some reason, Hester returned 43 kickoffs and 42 punts for combined yardage of 1,585 yards. He also had 20 receptions for 299 yards, giving him a total of 1,884 all-purpose yards.
Runner-up: Josh Cribbs, return specialist, Cleveland Browns. Cribbs had 89 kick and punt returns for a combined 2,214 yards and 3 returns for touchdowns. (He also had 37 receiving yards, 61 rushing yards, and played on special teams coverage teams, accumulating 20 tackles.)
Rookie of the Year
Like my rookie of the year pick last year, this player missed two games due to injury and still torched defenses, even when they knew he was the man to stop. And like last year's pick, he was held back a bit in the waning of the season.
Still, he was his team's main weapon. He carried much of the load for lesser players around him. This season's Rookie of the Year is Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
Peterson's 1,341 rushing yards were second in the league only to Tomlinson, but his 5.6 yards per carry were the most of any full-time running back (with Fred Taylor right behind at 5.4). That maybe was just a function of the Minnesota running game, as backup running backs Chester Taylor averaged 5.4 yards per carry on 157 attempts and Mewelde Moore averaged 5.6 on 20 attempts.
Still, Peterson's numbers and impact are impossible to ignore, as he had 1,609 yards from scrimmage (4th in the league) and 13 touchdowns (12 rushing, 1 receiving), good for 6th in the league. Peterson also had two 200-yard rushing games, a first for a rookie, including an NFL single-game rushing record of 296 yards.
Runner-up: Patrick Willis, linebacker, San Francisco 49ers.
Associated Press rookie selections: Offensive, Peterson; Defensive, Willis.
Honorable Mention: Cleveland offensive tackle Joe Thomas.
Coach of the Year
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
Runner-up: Mike McCarthy, head coach, Green Bay Packers.
Comeback Player of the Year
Randy Moss. Written off as unrecoverable and shunned by many as a terrible teammate, Moss nearly tripled his yardage production from 2006, scored nearly eight times as many touchdowns, and proved himself to be a model citizen, an elite receiver, a leader and one player who understands what it means to be part of a team -- the kind of guy who proves that you get out what you put in, from his perspective and his team's.
Honorable Mention (but not runner-up): 44-year old Carolina Panthers quarterback Vinny Testaverde.
Most Improved Player
When Jack Del Rio released starting quarterback Byron Leftwich, some people questioned his talent evaluation skills. Del Rio made the right decision, and, as a result, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard is my Most Improved Player of 2007.
Garrard ended up being third in the league with a passer rating of 102.2. No, he wasn't entrusted with throwing the ball a whole lot -- just 325 times, which put him in the bottom third of the league -- but he did what his coach asked and what his team needed, and he did it much better than he did last year when he had a passer rating of just 80.5. In fact, barring 2003 when he had a high rating on just 12 attempts, his 102.2 is nearly 20 points higher than his career best.
His other career bests achieved in 2007 are a completion percentage of 64.0 (previous 60.2, 2006), 18 touchdown passes (previous 10, 2006), and 2,509 passing yards (previous 1,735 in 2006).
Garrard had a league-best 0.9 percent interception ration (just 3 in 325 attempts). It's not quite as good as his career-best of 0.6 in 2005 when he threw 168 passes (and ignoring 2003 altogether), but it's much better than his 3.7 percent last year.
Executive of the Year
The New England Patriots replaced the field surface of Gillette Stadium twice in short order last season. Until then, the Patriots had been known as a good defensive team with one of the better running games, and a great quarterback with second-rate receivers. When the surface changed, the overall team architecture changed. In one season, the Patriots morphed into by far the best passing team in the league and the most potent offense in history.
Thus, most deserving is my NFL Executive of the Year, New England Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli.