NFL Nation: 2013 NFL awards

Favre-Rodgers: 'That was awkward'

February, 2, 2013
After a long night of writing, I finally got a chance to roll back the DVR and check out the surprise joint appearance of the Green Bay Packers' two most recent starting quarterbacks during the NFL Honors awards show.

Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, who haven't spoken much since Favre's 2008 attempt to return to the Packers, presented the league's Comeback Player of the Year award to Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. The appearance -- and their willingness to joke about that tense time five years ago -- was a sign of a thaw in their relationship. An awkward handshake and hug attempt indicated there is work yet to be done, assuming that was not also part of the script.

[+] EnlargeBrett Favre, Aaron Rodgers
Photo by AJ Mast/Invision/APTheir joint appearance was less tense, if still awkward, for Brett Favre, left, and Aaron Rodgers.
Here's how the funny, if scripted, by-play went:

Rodgers: We're here to present the award for best comeback player.

Favre: You know Aaron, everyone loves when a great player makes a comeback.

Rodgers: Yeah, not always. Sometimes … some people wish that great players would retire and just stay retired.

Favre: Good to see you, Aaron.

Rodgers: You too, man.

As the crowd laughed, Rodgers stuck out his hand. Favre clasped it and seemed ready to hug Rodgers, but neither man knew exactly what to do at that point. After a few moments, Rodgers smiled and said: "That was awkward, uh … ."

(Although their lines were clearly scripted, that moment didn't seem to be. Maybe I'm wrong.)

A lot of you are asking if the joint appearance is a sign that Favre is ready to reconcile with the Packers franchise, retire his number and get involve in its alumni activities. I would guess it is a start. Rodgers and Favre are very different people and unlikely every to be close friends, but joking about their past tension tells me the worst is behind them.

Rodgers could serve as an important conduit between Favre and the team, but ultimately the process will involve many more people, including president Mark Murphy and general manager Ted Thompson. It's worth noting that Favre's seat in the audience was next to Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier. We'll see where it goes.
If I had a vote for the NFL MVP award, I’d probably vote for Peyton Manning over Adrian Peterson.

But I can’t sit here and argue that Manning was disrespected or robbed by Peterson’s victory Saturday night.

Peterson was tremendously deserving of the MVP honor. The performances by Manning and Peterson in 2012 will go down in NFL history. Both players were phenomenal and both are future Hall of Famers who was at their very best this season.

The fact that Peterson -- the Minnesota running back received 30.5 of the votes while Manning received the other 19.5 -- won the award doesn’t take away from Manning’s special season. The same would have been said for Peterson had Manning won.

Peterson, who tore his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in the penultimate game of the 2011 season, but ended the 2012 season nine yards shy of breaking the single-season rushing record, also won the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award. Manning won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award.

I would've thought it a major slight had Peterson would have swept all three awards. But the fact that Manning -- who has won the MVP award four times and who was second another three -- won the Comeback Player of the Year is justified. It was arguably the greatest comeback season of all-time.

Manning, who will turn 37 next month, missed all of the 2011 season with a neck injury that required four surgeries. When Denver signed him last March, Manning’s health was the biggest question in the NFL.

He went on to have a brilliant season. His Total QBR, a rating that measures a quarterback’s total impact, was an NFL-best 84.1, and the second-highest Total QBR of the past five years. He led Denver, which was 8-8 in 2011, to a 13-3 season and an 11-game winning streak to end the regular season. Denver, which had the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, was shocked by Baltimore in double overtime in the divisional round. The MVP vote is all based on the regular season.

I thought Manning was more valuable to his team than Peterson was to his, and Manning elevated the play of all of his teammates. Plus, quarterback is the most important position on the field. But again, I take nothing away from Peterson’s season.

And nothing should be taken away from the success of Manning’s season because of the second-place MVP finish.

The reality is that Manning is still playing at a high level and he should be a top-level player for at least the next two years. The fact that he didn’t snare his fifth MVP award doesn’t diminish anything.

As Adrian Peterson's MVP candidacy grew more realistic this season, we debated what the award means here on the NFC North blog. Should it go to the player who provides the most value to his team -- i.e., does the most to help the team win -- as the "Most Valuable Player" descriptor suggests? Or should it go to the player who simply had the best season?

As it turns out, Peterson's season was so overwhelming in every facet that the Associated Press' 50-person electorate declined to split the hairs. Saturday night, Peterson was announced as both the league MVP and Offensive Player of the Year. It was a fitting conclusion for the second-best season by a running back in league history, a catalyst for a team that flipped its 3-13 record last season to 10-6 and a playoff berth in 2012.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/Jim MoneAdrian Peterson's dominating comeback lifted Minnesota to a huge turnaround and a playoff berth.
It was such a dominating performance that voters seemingly forgot -- or considered it moot -- that it all came within a 53-week period of Peterson tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee. As such, the AP named Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, and not Peterson, its Comeback Player of the Year.

I probably overthought a set of statistics that connected the Vikings' record more closely with the performance of quarterback Christian Ponder than Peterson, whose production didn't waver much between their wins and losses. I still believe that Ponder's improved play over the final four games were a big reason the Vikings made the playoffs, but I agree with many of you that his earlier struggles would have buried this team were it not for Peterson's increasingly dominant play.

We could spend all night hashing through Peterson statistics, but there are two that I think best illustrate his season. He led the NFL with 27 runs of at least 20 yards, more than twice that of the next-highest player. At the same time, he led the league with 1,019 yards after contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Among other things, that means Peterson was by far the most explosive and the most powerful running back in the league this season. Those attributes are often mutually exclusive, but Peterson combined them both in a season that will go down in the ages.

To me, there was never a question about whether Peterson or Manning had the better individual season. Manning was the NFL's top quarterback, ranking No. 1 in Total QBR (84.1) and second in passer rating (105.8). Peterson's season qualified as one of the best of all time, and it shouldn't be diminished by comparing it only to his 2012 contemporaries.

You have to go back to a different era of football to find production that stacks up to Peterson's. For the most part, gone are the days when the running back is a playoff team's first option. But Peterson's total of 2,097 yards was the most in the NFL in 28 years, bested only by Eric Dickerson's 2,105 yards in 1984. Peterson had at least 150 yards in a game seven times, tying Earl Campbell's 32-year-old NFL record for 150-plus yard games in a season. And his average of 131.1 yards per game over a season puts him in some pretty heady company.

All four players who have had better per-game averages in a qualifying season are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Dickerson, O.J. Simpson, Jim Brown, Walter Payton.

Peterson provided us all with a season we won't soon forget. Sometimes, the obvious answer is the right one. I'll remember that next time.

Witten wins best award of the night

February, 2, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- A big night continued for the NFC East when Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten was named the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year. The award is the only one of the night that honors a player's off-field contributions, and Witten beat out fellow finalists Larry Fitzgerald of Arizona and Joe Thomas of Cleveland.

I wrote about Witten and this award a couple of days ago, and it suffices to say that I'm more impressed with this than I even am with Robert Griffin III's Offensive Rookie of the Year Award or any of the other football-based honors being handed out at the NFL Honors show here tonight. Nothing against any of those guys or the remarkable things they accomplish on the football field, but take a moment to realize why Witten's being honored.

Witten is being honored because he helps fund, establish and improve battered women's shelters in Texas and Tennessee. Himself a childhood victim of domestic violence, Witten's SCORE foundation works to install positive male role models in these shelters whose job it is to demonstrate appropriate adult behavior to the children that are growing up in them. This is a guy using his status as a football hero to make the world better. And he's doing that in a real, on-the-ground way -- not just flinging money at a problem.

And yes, there are players all across the NFL and other sports who do this too in their own way, including Fitzgerald and Thomas. I just think it's a great thing the NFL does to incorporate this award into its annual awards show and elevate it to the status of the MVP and other awards on which people spend so much time and attention. Football is great, and we all enjoy it very much, but it's just a game. The work Witten's doing is about real life. And that's why I think he won the best award of the night.

Favre-Rodgers: And you thought ...

February, 2, 2013
Posted without comment (for now) from NFL public-relations man Brian McCarthy, who snapped a picture of the Green Bay Packers' two most recent starting quarterbacks backstage at the NFL Honors award show in New Orleans. I'll have more on the reunion of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers at some point.

My understanding is that Ted Danson and Richard Gere are fighting over who gets to play Favre in the movie.

Tremendous achievement for RG III

February, 2, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year at the league's awards ceremony here Saturday night. The vote wasn't even close. Griffin got 29 votes while Colts quarterback Andrew Luck got 11 and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson got 10.

And while many will and should make the argument that the race was closer than the final vote indicates, the significance of Griffin's accomplishment must not be understated. To win this award in this season from among this field of all-time great rookie quarterbacks is a genuinely outstanding honor. The 2012 rookie class of quarterbacks appears to have been an all-timer, and the debate about which of the three is the best has a chance to rage on for a decade or more. Griffin, by virtue of his award, starts with the lead.

It would have been no great injustice if either Luck or Wilson had won the award. Each of these three was outstanding and made a strong case. Each had plenty of numbers to back him up -- Luck with the rookie passing records, Wilson with the brilliant second-half stats as he also led his team to the playoffs, Griffin with the dazzling rushing numbers (before he hurt his knee) to augment his historically accurate passing stats.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Nick WassRobert Griffin III easily outdistanced fellow QBs Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson to win the award.
What I think probably set Griffin apart in the minds of the voters is the dramatic degree of his impact. All three of these rookie quarterbacks led their teams to the playoffs, and Luck's team had only won two games the season before (which is why they got Luck). But there is a perception, and a pretty well justified one, that Griffin singlehandedly dragged a sagging Redskins franchise from two decades of doldrums and made them exciting, interesting and relevant again. The Redskins' lack of a franchise quarterback over the past 20 years had become the sad story of their entire organization, and the driving force behind the decision to trade three first-round picks and a second-round pick for the chance to draft Griffin. That he made as good as he did on that trade, and that he did so right away and in such breathtaking fashion, may have set him apart.

After all, the Colts weren't that far removed from the excellence of the Peyton Manning era, and the Seahawks had kind of been looking like a team on the come under Pete Carroll. The Griffin story was one of a dazzling young savior come to answer the desperate yearnings of a once-great franchise that was stuck in a ditch. You could argue that he was simply the best of an excellent bunch, and he might well have been. But I think either of those other two guys could have the same said about them. Griffin was somewhat uniquely the perfect man for his time and situation, and what he did in 2012 was no less than transform a franchise.

We don't know what awaits him -- whether the recovery from his ACL reconstruction will delay the start of his second season or limit him in the long term. But this is a Rookie of the Year award, based solely on the accomplishments of this one season. In that context, Griffin is a worthy winner. And as I'm sure he'd tell you, beating out the two brilliant young quarterbacks he beat out makes it even more impressive.
NEW ORLEANS - Somewhere Marty Hurney should be smiling.

He was fired as general manager of the Carolina Panthers in October. But Hurney’s legacy got a lot stronger Saturday night.

Linebacker Luke Kuechly, the last first-round pick by Hurney, was named by the Defensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press.

That comes one year after quarterback Cam Newton won the Offensive Rookie of the Year. There is little doubt Hurney’s tenure had to end when it did.

Amid extremely high hopes, the Panthers got off to a horrid start. Someone had to take the fall because the Panthers haven’t had a winning season since 2008. Hurney left, coach Ron Rivera stayed and, with Newton and Kuechly stepping up in the second half of the season, the Panthers rallied to finish 7-9.

Kuechly finished with a league-high 164 tackles and firmly established himself as the middle linebacker, after opening the season on the outside. Veteran Jon Beason had been Carolina’s middle linebacker, but he suffered a season-ending injury.

It’s pretty obvious the Panthers will keep Kuechly in the middle. Beason either will move to the outside or become a salary-cap casualty.

Hurney’s tenure began in 2002. He did some good things. But he also made plenty of mistakes and things didn’t end well.

Still, Hurney did some positive things that are going to stay with the Panthers in the future.

Hurney gave the Panthers a franchise quarterback in Newton.

He also left them with a quarterback for their defense in Kuechly.

Do your homework on the 2012 Indianapolis Colts, and it’s not hard to learn that while head coach Chuck Pagano missed 12 games battling leukemia, he had a strong hand in what offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was doing as his fill-in.

That’s why the most logical vote for coach of the year would have been a split one, naming both.

But the 50 voters for the Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year award didn’t go that way.

Arians won the award with 36.5 votes. Pagano came in second with 5.5. Pete Carroll got five and Leslie Frazier got three.

Arians is now head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

(How bad would it have been if both getting votes meant neither won?)

Per ESPN Stats & Information, Pagano is officially credited with each win and loss by the Colts this season (11-5), so Arians won the award without an official win or loss on his record. He thrived in circumstances we'll likely never see again.

He is first Colts coach to win the award since the team moved to Indianapolis.

The team’s nine-win improvement from 2011 to 2012 tied for the second-best one season gain in NFL history. The Elias Sports Bureau says the Colts were just the second team in the past 25 years to reach the playoffs the year after winning two or fewer games.

Arians was an outstanding leader, teacher and messenger for the Colts in Pagano’s absence. A year ago, he was fired by the Steelers. Now, a guy who thought that his window for a head-coaching opportunity was past is one of 32 men with the job title.

I’m sure Pagano will say the offensive coordinator and interim coach was completely deserving, and Arians will say he should have shared it with his former boss.
Von Miller's second NFL season was special, no doubt.

The 2011 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year became a complete player in 2012 and established himself as one of the very best defensive players in the league. The future is so bright that Miller could be considered a potential Hall of Famer if he stays on track.

But the fact that he received just one of 50 votes for the 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the year award is understandable. The winner, Houston’s J.J. Watt, was deserving of the award.

Watt was dominant. He had 20.5 sacks, 24 tackles for loss and 16 tipped passes. Miller was also very good. He had a team-record 18.5 sacks. He was very disruptive and he worked hard to get better against the run and in coverage. It was a brilliant year.

But Watt was just a tad better and he deserved to win the award.
NEW ORLEANS -- Bruce Arians became the NFL's coach of the year only weeks after the Arizona Cardinals hired him. If that sounds strange, it should. But the honor was earned.

Arians won the award for posting a 9-3 record as Indianapolis' interim coach last season. His performance in the role made him additionally attractive to Arizona as the team sought a successor to Ken Whisenhunt.

The Colts' performance after first-year head coach Chuck Pagano left the team to undergo cancer treatment certainly merited recognition.

St. Louis' Jeff Fisher and Seattle's Pete Carroll certainly would have been worthy candidates this year as well. But as thing stand, the NFC West is doing just fine on the coaching front. San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh won the award a year ago. Now, the Cardinals have the reigning winner.

Arians was the overwhelming choice with 36.5 votes, followed by Pagano (5.5), Carroll (5) and Leslie Frazier (3).
During Super Bowl week in New Orleans, I don’t believe I encountered anyone who didn’t think J.J. Watt would win the NFL’s defensive player of the year award.

At least two of the others who had big years -- Charles Tillman of the Bears and Aldon Smith of the 49ers -- had big spurts.

But even when he wasn’t dragging down the quarterback, Watt was a consistent impact player, causing offenses to plan and account for him on every snap of the Houston Texans season.

Despite those plans, blockers and quarterbacks often returned to the huddle shaking their heads over their inability to minimize his impact.

Watt is indeed the defensive player of the year, and missed being the unanimous choice by just one vote, collecting 49 nods from a panel of 50 sportswriters selected by the Associated Press.

Reminders of just what Watt did from ESPN Stats & Information:
  • He led NFL with 20.5 sacks this season (tied for the sixth-most all-time). He became one of nine players to register at least 20 sacks since sacks began to be recorded in 1982.
  • He batted or tipped 16 passes this season, most in the NFL
  • He had 24 tackles for a loss.
  • His sacks plus tackles for a loss cost opponents 200.5 yards.
  • Watt led the NFL with 36.5 dropbacks disrupted (sacks, passes defended, batted balls and interceptions). Seattle’s Richard Sherman was a distant second with 23.0.
  • Watt disrupted 5.7 percent of the dropbacks he faced. In the past three seasons, not other player posted a number higher than 4.3 percent (Jared Allen in 2011).

On radio row Thursday, he told me his goals will be even bigger in 2013. It'll be hard to top what he did in 2012, but he came close to some outrageous goals in his second season and there could be plenty more ahead.

UPDATE: From the Texans' news release about Watt's win comes this, from defensive coordinator Wade Phillips on Jan. 10.

“He should be unanimous, I would think. He’s just a great player and he’s had the best year ever. He’s had the absolute best year any defensive lineman has ever had. And I had Elvin Bethea, who’s in the Hall of Fame, and he had some great years, and Bruce Smith had some great years, and Reggie White had some great years, but they didn’t make that many tackles, that many tackles for loss, that many knock-downs and that many sacks in one year. Nobody has done that, so I can’t say enough great things about him because he’s a great player.”
NEW ORLEANS -- The Seattle Seahawks would have been thrilled before the 2012 season if someone had told them quarterback Russell Wilson would finish third in offensive rookie of the year balloting.

They had reason to expect better after Wilson arguably outperformed Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck while leading the Seahawks within 31 seconds of the NFC Championship Game.

Griffin got 29 votes to win the award. Luck drew 11. Wilson finished with 10.

The chart shows regular-season stats for Wilson, Griffin and the other Pro Bowl quarterbacks from the NFC (Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers were the others).

Griffin was certainly a strong candidate even if Wilson was better by season's end. He was more productive than Wilson early in the season and played at a high level consistently before suffering a knee injury late in the year. Wilson was better over the second half of the season and into the playoffs.

No shame for rookies Wagner, Jenkins

February, 2, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- Seattle's Bobby Wagner was second and St. Louis' Janoris Jenkins fifth in defensive rookie of the year balloting by the Associated Press.

Throw in a third-place finish in offensive balloting for Seattle's Russell Wilson and the future appears bright in the NFC West.

Wagner, the Seahawks' starting middle linebacker as a second-round draft choice, finished a distant second to Carolina's Luke Kuechly in balloting.

Kuechly also enjoyed a strong rookie season. He entered the 2012 season amid greater fanfare than Wagner. That gave Kuechly a head start with voters. I suspect the same factor helped Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck finish ahead of Wilson in balloting on the offensive side.
I could make a case for Andrew Luck as offensive rookie of the year in 2012.

But I can’t mount a giant objection to the results. The panel of Associated Press voters gave the award to Robert Griffin III with 29 votes. Luck was second with 11 and Seattle’s Russell Wilson was third with 10.

Alone in any season, each of them would have won. But as one of the great rookie quarterback classes we’re ever going to see, when all three guided teams to the playoffs, two quality guys were going to lose out here.

Luck was better than his numbers as he took a two-win team in the first season of a new regime to an 11-5 season.

He played for an offense that pushed the ball downfield like no one else in the league, which had a lot to do with a completion percentage that qualified as low at 54.1 and was a factor in many of his 18 interceptions. Luck set a new single-season record for passing yards by a rookie with 4,374. Playing in all 16 of the Colts' games, he guided his team to seven come-from-behind wins in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Though Griffin hit a lot of his completions on short stuff, his did connect on 65.6 percent of his passes, threw only five picks and outpointed Luck in passer rating, 102.4 to 76.5.

With 815 rushing yards, he joined Randall Cunningham (1990) as the only players in NFL history with 3,000 passing yards and 800 rushing yards in a season.

I doubt this is the last time Griffin, Luck and Wilson will be slugging it out for big awards. They’ll graduate to offensive player of the year and MVP debates from here.


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