Season-End Awards: MVP, Comeback Player
Unfortunately, the powers that be announced their picks for a few season-end awards before I got to "cast my vote."
Here's MVP and Comeback Player awards with others to follow soon.
Let's just start with the big one:
Most Valuable Player
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots -- I don't know who these nitwits are that vote for these things. Brady is almost solely responsible for New England to be in any position to make a post-season run. The Patriots had only a handful of players play in every game. Brady hasn't missed one since he took over for Drew Bledsoe. Brady was the guy on the sideline and on the field that led the charge against sometimes impossible odds. I could write for hours about Brady's exploits this season, how he almost literally peeled this mediocre team off the floor, slung it over his shoulder and carried it over the top of the hill. But I won't. The only thing I'm going to mention is the game against Tampa Bay. Brady picked clean a defense that was ranked No. 2 scoring, No. 3 in overall defense, No. 4 against the pass. He connected with nine receivers, including Tom Ashworth, one of twelve Patriots to catch a Brady touchdown pass this season. That day, Corey Dillon had less than 50 yards rushing to lead New England. Tampa Bay came to Gillette Stadium with one of the best defenses in the lead on a mission to stop Tom Brady, and he destroyed them. Oh, in case you didn't know, Brady ended up third in the voting.
2. Shaun Alexander, Seattle Seahawks -- The national media's choice, and a valid one. I've been mentioning Alexander for probably two-third of the season as the team and the player to watch in the NFC. No one is more responsible for Seattle's 13-3 record and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs than Alexander. I like Matt Hasselbeck. I think the has the potential to be a "great" quarterback. But let's face it. If Hasselbeck went down, Seattle probably wouldn't have collapsed. If Alexander went down, they wouldn't be the No. 1 seed -- they might not be any seed. The stats: 1,880 yards rushing (9th all time), a record 28 touchdowns (27 rushing, 1 receiving), 11 100-yard games, only 1 fumble lost.
3. Tiki Barber, New York Giants -- Only 20 yards but almost as many touchdowns behind Alexander, Barber is the only reason the Giants are even anywhere near the playoffs. Anyone who says different hasn't seen a Giants game this year. This team was more prone to mistake after mistake, and yet they won a very competitive division. Someone not named Eli had defenses constantly wondering "How do you stop this guy?" You think that happens if Barber degrades to even a 1,500-yard back? I don't. Oh, Barber also had only one fumble (Alexander had five, but lost only one -- Barber had one), and he also had this matter of 530 yards receiving, making him leader in most yards from scrimmage this season. (Note: Only one running back had more receiving yards than Barber: Philly's Brian Westbrook had 616. Westbrook had 617 yards rushing.)
4. Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals -- What this guy did on a team he did it with is nothing short of commendable, but compared to Brady, Alexander and Barber, Palmer is a distant fourth. Among other things, he showed a propensity to win the big games when they counted, and I'm talking about the Pittsburgh games, which sealed the NFC North for the Bengals. Palmer doesn't have the weapons that Brady has. The difference is that Brady makes his own weapons.
Note: Anyone voting for Peyton Manning should have his vote revoked and his head examined. He did nothing out of the ordinary this season, unless you call beating New England with half its players something. He played against some of the softest defenses in the league, including New England's at the time. Indy faced absolutely no adversity until week 16, but they had already lost to San Diego by that time. Kyle Boller might be pretty successful with that offensive line, Edgerrin James and that receiving and tight end corps. Thirteen votes? You guys should be ashamed.
Comeback Player of the Year
1. Tedy Bruschi, New England Patriots -- Once again, I have to take issue with the national media, many of whom don't seem know which end of the pencil to use. Steve Smith, who tied Bruschi for this award, had a great year after coming back from a knee injury. Note to voters: Tedy Bruschi came back from a stroke. It's never been done before, and most people doubted it could even happen. Just his stepping on the field again should have earned him the award, but wait! There's much more. Bruschi came back three-quarters of a year earlier than expected and had a profound impact on the Patriots. Bruschi ended up fourth on the Patriots in total tackles (62) while playing in only 9 games (one more than half of the other players). Prorate his stats and he would have ended up with 110, two more than Pats leader Mike Vrabel. Bruschi also had two sacks. But if you want to know the true impact of Bruschi, look again at that Tampa Bay game. He had 11 tackles, both of his sacks, a forced fumble and a pass defense. At one juncture, Bruschi was in on tackles on 5 of 7 plays that pretty much ended Tampa's final chance of getting in the game at all. Bruschi has been sorely overlooked year after year for the Pro Bowl and to only allow him a tie here is yet another insult to Bruschi and the whole team.
2. Mark Brunell, Washington Redskins -- Raise your hand if you thought this injury prone quarterback was finished at least four or five years ago. Be honest. Yeah, me too. Brunell is the Vinnie Testaverde of a few years ago, but he may have a few more better seasons ahead of him than Vinnie had. This was Brunell's 13th season, unlucky for some. There aren't many quarterbacks, Brunell and Testaverde are rare, that can make comebacks this late in a career. Do you think he'd play pretty good in Indianapolis?
3. Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers -- There's no doubt Smith had a great season. He led the league in receiving and had his career best season. His performance is certainly noteworthy, and he has been key in the Panthers' struggle to live up to prognosticators' preseason predictions. But let's face it, he came back from a knee injury, which is far from uncommon, and it was nearly a full year before he came back. And outside of the injury, he didn't come back from obscurity the way Brunell did, or from a near-death debilitating event like Bruschi. Maybe in another year. Not this one.
Honorable Mention: Gus Frerotte, Miami Dolphins -- Speaking of obscurity, Frerotte is probably on his way back there. For Miami coach Nick Saban, Gus isn't his guy. He ended up 15th on the yards passing list (2,996), just one spot behind Brunell. His passer rating wasn't great, but the Dolphins were probably the Comeback Team of the year, if there were such a thing, and he played a major role. And really, he hasn't had a good season since 1996. That's a comeback.