Awards Watch (cont.)
Defensive Player of the Year
1. Ed Reed, S, Ravens (3): The former Defensive Player of the Year led the Ravens to nine victories in their last 11 games by coming up with turnover after turnover down the stretch. Reed made eight of his league-leading nine interceptions in the Ravens' last six games and produced 11 turnovers on the season. With three defensive scores on the season, Reed continues to prove that he is the league's quintessential playmaker on defense.
2. James Harrison, LB, Steelers (1): The most disruptive player on the team's top defense has been outstanding in all areas. Harrison recorded 16 sacks and forced a league-high seven fumbles while amassing over 100 tackles. In addition, Harrison added a safety and an interception. If those numbers weren't impressive enough, the two-time Pro Bowl linebacker continued to make contributions on the Steelers' special teams as one of their top cover guys.
3. Joey Porter, LB, Dolphins (4): The three-time Pro Bowl linebacker silenced his critics with his stellar season. After tallying only 5.5 sacks a season ago, Porter bounced back to record 17.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. His re-emergence as a top flight pass rusher keyed the Dolphins' surprising run to the AFC East title.
4. DeMarcus Ware, LB, Cowboys (2): The Cowboys' star terrorized opponents off the edge on the way to a league-high 20 sacks. Though Ware's Herculean effort was unable to salvage the team's disappointing season, it ranks as one of the top single-season performances in league history.
5. Albert Haynesworth, DT, Titans (NR): The two-time Pro Bowl tackle was a favorite to win the Defensive Player of the Year award before an injury forced him to the sidelines during the final weeks of the season. At the time, Haynesworth was leading all defensive tackles in sacks (8.5), and anchoring the Titans' ferocious defense with his dominating play in the middle.
Coach of the Year
1. Tony Sparano, Dolphins (1): Some would suggest that Bill Parcells is the biggest reason for the Dolphins' surprising turnaround, but such chatter would diminish the outstanding coaching job that Sparano has done in his first season. From the implementation of the "Wildcat" formation to the fundamentally sound execution exhibited on both sides of the ball, Sparano deserves recognition for transforming the Dolphins into division winners this year.
2. Mike Smith, Falcons (2): The rookie head coach was the right man to guide the Falcons past the darkest period in their team history. The ever-optimistic coach has been outstanding as a tactician, and his impressive leadership skills sparked the team to a surprising 11-5 record.
3. Bill Belichick, Patriots (3): While Belichick has long been recognized as one of the game's best coaches, the remarkable job he did this season puts him in a class by himself. Working with an unproven quarterback (Matt Cassel) and an injury-plagued roster, Belichick still led the Patriots to an 11-win season.
4. John Harbaugh, Ravens (NR): The blue-collar Ravens have the look of a title contender behind a dominating defense, a smash-mouth running game and an emerging rookie quarterback. With the team clicking on all cylinders, the Ravens have reeled off five wins in their last six games.
5. Mike Tomlin, Steelers (NR): The second-year coach guided the Steelers to 12 wins and the AFC North title while facing the most difficult schedule in the league.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
1. Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons (1): The ultra-cool quarterback had the trophy wrapped up by midseason and received official notice Tuesday. With the Falcons making the playoffs behind the stellar play of the rookie sensation, some are saying that Ryan may be the best rookie quarterback ever.
2. Matt Forte, RB, Bears (2): The versatile runner anchored the Bears' offense with his multi-faceted skills. Forte finished the season as the league's seventh-leading rusher (1,238) and led all running backs in receptions (63).
3. Chris Johnson, RB, Titans (3): The flashy runner added an explosive element to the Titans' offense with his exceptional speed and quickness. Johnson produced 12 runs over 20 yards and finished with an impressive 4.9 yards per carry average. With 1,228 rushing yards, Johnson was the AFC's third-leading rusher and ranked as the eighth-best rusher overall.
4. Steve Slaton, RB, Texans (4): The diminutive playmaker has been outstanding as the Texans' feature back. Slaton amassed over 100 yards from scrimmage in nine games and finished as the league's sixth-leading rusher (1,282 yards).
5. Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens (NR): The rookie's transformation from "game manager" to playmaker has been essential to the Ravens' surprising offensive success. After getting off to a shaky start, Flacco guided the team to nine victories in its last 11 games by connecting on 58 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. Though Flacco didn't rank in the top 10 in any passing statistic, the rookie's uncanny ability to direct his team to 11 wins merits his inclusion on the list.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
1. Jerod Mayo, LB, Patriots (1): The Patriots' star linebacker has been outstanding. Not only does Mayo lead the team in tackles, but also he has more total stops than any other rookie defender (128) and ranks as the league's tenth-leading tackler.
2. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Cards (3): The athletic cover corner has made quite an impression since stepping into the starting lineup. Although he didn't crack the starting lineup until midseason, Rodgers-Cromartie has proven to be a big time playmaker by tallying four interceptions and 19 breakups in 11 starts.
3. Curtis Lofton, LB, Falcons (2): He has been a rock in the center of the Falcons' defense. Though he hasn't generated many splashy plays, his consistency at the "Mike" position has enabled Keith Brooking and Michael Boley to become playmakers.
4. Chris Horton, S, Redskins (NR): He was a key contributor on the league's fourth-ranked defense. The savvy playmaker excelled as the team's "free hitter" in eight-man fronts, and flashed impressive ball skills while manning the middle of the field in passing situations. His three interceptions were the second-most of any rookie defender.
5. Jason Jones, DT, Titans (5): Although critics will say that Jones' production was mostly generated in one standout performance (he had 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles against the Steelers), the fact that the promising interior rusher finished the season as the rookie leader in sacks (5) makes his inclusion on the list a must.