AFC East: John Madden
Now they have the best offensive line, too.
John Madden -- the actual guy, not the video game -- announced the Patriots won the 2010 Madden Most Valuable Protectors Award, an honor established last year to recognize the NFL's best offensive line.
The award is based on a combination of criteria including O-line stats (sacks allowed, rushing and passing yardage, time of possession, penalties, conversion percentages and red-zone efficiency), fan voting and Madden's evaluation.
"All season long, these guys proved they had the mental and physical toughness that enabled the Patriots offense to put up impressive numbers on the ground and in the air," Madden said.
Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia's boys beat out the other finalists: the Atlanta Falcons, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints and New York Giants.
Patriots left guard Logan Mankins was first-team All-Pro and started in the Pro Bowl despite a contract dispute that caused him to miss the first seven games of the season. Left tackle Matt Light was chosen for the Pro Bowl as an alternate. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was voted second-team All-Pro.
The Patriots also endured two significant O-line injuries. Last year's right tackle and projected left guard Nick Kaczur missed the entire season with a back injury. A bad shoulder placed right guard Stephen Neal on injured reserve after eight games. Dan Connolly was the super sub who filled in at left guard for Mankins and Kaczur and then at right guard for Neal.
The Patriots led the NFL in scoring. They ranked eighth in total offense, ninth in run offense, 11th in pass offense and fourth in sacks allowed.
New England surrendered 25 sacks. Ten of them came in a three-game stretch in October and nine more in a three-game stretch in December. That left 10 games in which New England gave up zero or one sacks.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell created the award a year ago "to honor exemplary football coaches at all levels of the sport that display the integrity, achievement, and leadership demonstrated by the winningest coach in NFL history."
Candidates must be active coaches at the youth, high school, college or pro levels.
Those nominated from AFC East clubs:
- Buffalo Bills: Tom Goddard from Clarence High in suburban Buffalo.
- Miami Dolphins: George Smith from St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
- New England Patriots: Ian Cotterell, a youth league coach from Brookline-Jamaica Plain.
- New York Jets: Clayton Kendrick-Holmes from SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx.
Five teams nominated their own head coaches: the Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks.
The Tennessee Titans nominated assistant Mike Heimerdinger, who was diagnosed with cancer in November but kept coaching while undergoing chemotherapy.
The judging panel includes Shula, Goodell, former Oakland Raiders coach John Madden, former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Gen. Raymond Odierno (commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command), IBM boss Sam Palmisano and Aplington-Parkersburg athletic director Aaron Thomas (son of legendary prep coach Ed Thomas).
The winner of the national Shula Award will receive $25,000 and will be invited to the Super Bowl.
The three-point stance could be outlawed as a safety measure to reduce helmet-to-helmet contact. Goodell, appearing Sunday on "Face the Nation," acknowledged the possibility while explaining to host Bob Schieffer even basic football chestnuts are on the table when it comes to addressing brain injuries.
ESPN.com reader mistH2O doesn't like it.
Take it easy, fella.
Two voices of reason say the three-point stance is moot.
One legendary analyst notes it's becoming as obsolete as the jump pass, fumblerooski and single-bar facemask. And a former NFL lineman from the Ivy League contends interior collisions don't cause concussions in the first place.
Last week, I attended the news conference for the inaugural Madden Most Valuable Protectors Award, given each year to the league's best offensive line. The New Orleans Saints beat out the New York Jets for one of the handsomest trophies I've seen -- five men crouched and ready to fire out of a three-point stance.
John Madden, the award's namesake, appeared via satellite. A reporter asked how offensive line play has changed over the decades.
"One of the big things that I see is that they don't get in a three-point stance much anymore," Madden said. "It's all about pass protection. There was a time for an offensive lineman in NFL where maybe it was maybe half run block, half pass protection. ... Now it's about 90 percent pass protection. You see so much shotgun, spread formations. When you're in that, you're going to run a draw anyway so there's no reason to get in a three-point stance.
"The three-point stance is out. Drive blocking is kind of dying out. I'm sure that bothers old offensive linemen, but it's a passing league, it's a spread league and it's a pass-protection league."
Whatever vestige of the three-point stance remains, former Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots offensive lineman Ross Tucker doesn’t see any reason to abolish it. Tucker is a Princeton alum and columnist for SI.com.
"You don't generate big hits on defensive linemen because you just don't get enough momentum," Tucker told me. "So I don't know what Goodell's talking about. I don't think that would fix the problem.
"It would be a different game, and you would have to start that all the way at Pop Warner, and it would be a lot easier to run the football. It would be very difficult for the defensive linemen to hold their ground [when starting out of a two-point stance] than for the offensive linemen to attack them.
"I respect the fact that everything's on the table, but that's not something worth considering."
But it wasn't the NFL's best.
In an award that was long overdue and bestows a pretty cool statue, the New Orleans Saints were given the inaugural Madden Most Valuable Protectors Award on Wednesday at the Super Bowl media center.
Other finalists for the award were the Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans and Philadelphia Eagles. Voting was handled through a combination of fan ballots and NFL Network analysts.
The Jets didn't do enough, apparently. I thought it would come down to the Jets and the Titans, who blocked for a 2,000-yard rusher and allowed only 15 sacks, second fewest in the league after the Colts.
The Jets had All-Pro center Nick Mangold and two other Pro Bowlers, left guard Alan Faneca and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. They blocked for an offense that averaged an obnoxious 172.2 rushing yards a game.
"They were really impressive, especially towards the end of the season," John Madden said. "I liked them earlier in the season, but at the end of the season, when they were making their playoff run, they led pro football in rushing. You know that has to go to the offensive line, and they were just fun to watch."
The Saints also had three Pro Bowlers. They anchored an offense that led the NFL in scoring and averaged 131.6 yards rushing and 272.2 yards passing a game.
AFC East clubs have been involved in many unforgettable moments, and in attempting to put together a list, the heartbreakers seemed more distinguished than the triumphs. Rather than combine them, I've decided to break down the five best plays and the five worst.
Think I missed one or disagree with the way I ranked them? Add your suggestions in the comments section below.
1. Vinatieri's field goal clinches Patriots' first title: With broadcaster John Madden advising the New England Patriots to kneel out the clock and go to overtime, Tom Brady orchestrates a drive against the St. Louis Rams that lays the foundation for a Hall of Fame career. Adam Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard field goal as time expired to win Super Bowl XXXVI.
3. Law's interception: In the second quarter and with the favored Rams ahead 3-0, Law made a statement when he intercepted a Kurt Warner pass and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown. The Patriots went on to score 17 straight points. The Rams never led again, and the Patriots launched a mini-dynasty.
4. Walker's kickoff return TD: In a game full of big plays, Fulton Walker returned the first kickoff for a touchdown in Super Bowl history. Walker went 98 yards to give the Miami Dolphins a 17-10 halftime lead, but the Washington Redskins scored 17 points in the second half to win.
5. Maynard's incomplete bomb: Speedy receiver Don Maynard was a significant contributor to the New York Jets' championship team, but he was shut out in Super Bowl III. "I didn't catch a single pass," Maynard recently told the Bergen Record, "but I really had a great game." With no score, Maynard raced behind the Baltimore Colts secondary for what should have been a long touchdown. Joe Namath barely overthrew him, but the play spooked the Colts enough to double- and triple-team Maynard the rest of the game, leaving George Sauer free to catch eight passes for 133 yards.
1. Wide right: So many fates swung on Scott Norwood's right hip socket when he attempted a 47-yard field goal that would've beaten the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV. Norwood's kick sailed wide ride, spoiling what would turn out to be the Bills' best shot to win any of their four straight Super Bowls. The kick also propelled Bill Parcells to legend.
3. Riggins' run: Redskins locomotive John Riggins made an iconic run in Super Bowl XVII that still symbolizes power football at its finest. On a fourth-and-1 play in the fourth quarter, Riggins ran off left tackle and steamrolled Dolphins cornerback Don McNeal on his way to a 43-yard touchdown to give the Redskins their first lead.
4. Howard's 99-yard return: Desmond Howard sealed a victory for the Green Bay Packers when he returned a kickoff 99 yards in the fourth quarter against the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI. Howard was awarded the MVP for rolling up 244 return yards.
5. Yepremian's blunder: The Dolphins were trying to achieve perfection in 1972 and seemed to have everything under control against the Redskins in Super Bowl VII. The Dolphins were ahead 14-0 with about two minutes left, when Garo Yepremian lined up for a 51-yard field goal. The kick was blocked and ricocheted to Yepremian, who comically tried to pass. The ball rolled off his hand and was bobbled. Mike Bass snatched it out of the air and ran 49 yards for a touchdown.
The Madden Curse won't strike anybody in the AFC East this year.
The cover boy for Madden NFL 10, the most popular football video game since George Plimpton told us how realistic Intellivision was, will be revealed Friday afternoon at the Edison Ballroom in New York.
None of the nine cover finalists hails from the AFC East -- anymore.
But one made his mark last year for the New England Patriots. Here's the list:
- Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel
- Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald
- New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs
- Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning
- Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson
- Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu
- Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed
- Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger
- Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware
I thought Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington or running back Ronnie Brown -- the Wildcat formation supposedly has been installed in the upcoming game, due on shelves Aug. 14 -- easily could be justified on that list.
Does Cassel really belong on that list? He might be the one actually chosen for the cover. Cassel, Fitzgerald and Jacobs were the only candidates invited to Friday's unveiling.
I predict Fitzgerald will be selected for the cover.
NFL analyst Cris Collinsworth, the man replacing John Madden in the "Sunday Night Football" booth, and veteran play-by-play man Tom Hammond break down each player in a series of nine videos at the Madden NFL 10 site.
"Probably the most stunning story that I can remember in a long time in the NFL," Collinsworth says. "Here's a guy that didn't even play college football. It was at USC and standing in line behind some great players.
"But you think of taking off not only that gap in years of college but that gap in years behind Tom Brady and then being asked to come in and take over for an undefeated team and the pressure that went with it. He wasn't perfect, but to be put in that situation ... I thought he handled himself tremendously well.
"As far as a great story of what happened in the NFL a year ago, [Cassel] was as good as it got."
As much as Mike Smith, Tony Sparano and Jeff Fisher deserve coach-of-the-year consideration, I still contend Bill Belichick is doing the best job of his career.
When Belichick's ramshackle team shellacked the Oakland Raiders 49-26 on Sunday, he recorded his 100th victory in 142 games with the New England Patriots.
Only three other NFL coaches reached the century mark faster with one team: John Madden (136), Don Shula (137) and Paul Brown (138).
I hear those guys were somewhat respected in their day.
New England's victory also guaranteed a winning record for the eighth consecutive season and improved an already-gaudy late-season win percentage over the past six seasons.
Since 2003, the Patriots are 23-3 in regular-season games played after November. All three losses were to the Miami Dolphins. Go figure.
The Patriots have won 10 straight games in December.
Here are the top five regular-season records after November since 2003:
- New England Patriots 23-3
- San Diego Chargers 19-6
- Pittsburgh Steelers 18-7
- Indianapolis Colts 17-8
- Green Bay Packers 16-8
|Tony Tomsic/Getty Images|
|Joe Namath was the first to throw for 4,000 yards in a season.|
Readers' pick: Joe Namath, QB
Four decades later, when you think of the New York Jets, you still think of Joe Namath.
Jets fans whose fathers weren't even born when Namath made his famous Super Bowl III guarantee know all about it. They've seen the slow-motion trot into the Orange Bowl tunnel, his finger defiantly wagging No. 1 after beating the favored Baltimore Colts.
Namath received the most votes in our poll, finishing ahead of defensive end Mark Gastineau and running back Curtis Martin, who last year had the team's MVP award named after him. Namath's favorite target, Don Maynard, was a distant fourth.
But there was little doubt Broadway Joe would be chosen the greatest Jet.
His celebrity magnetism and majestic passes drew fans to the AFL and forced the NFL to acknowledge the brazen start-up. Namath helped revolutionize the passing game. He was the first to throw for 4,000 yards in a season -- in 14 games, no less.
"Some guys have had a lot of accomplishments," John Madden said while criticizing Namath's omission from the NFL's 75th anniversary team. "But with Joe, here's a guy who made a league."
Let alone a franchise.