NFL Awards Watch, Final Edition
Most Valuable Player race resembled presidential primary
Late charge by Ravens' Ed Reed shakes up Defensive POY order
Dolphins' Tony Sparano deserves Coach Of The Year honor
"It's not a sprint, it's a marathon."
That phrase is often used by coaches to describe the long and arduous regular season, but it also accurately illustrates this season's MVP race.
In a rare year in which there was never a clear-cut frontrunner, the race for MVP has resembled the presidential primary, with candidates emerging and then fading a few weeks later.
Jay Cutler opened the season as an unlikely favorite after leading the Broncos to a surprising 3-1 start on the heels of three 300-yard passing days. He quickly fell from grace when the Broncos lost three of their next four.
Clinton Portis took over as the favorite by tallying five consecutive games with over 120 yards rushing. However, a series of nagging injuries slowed him in the second half of the season.
Kurt Warner took over the top spot after leading the Cardinals to the top of the NFC West with five consecutive 300-yard passing games. The two-time MVP was on fire as the league leader in passer rating and passing touchdowns at that point. But a series of poor performance against playoff caliber opponents (Eagles, Vikings and Patriots) derailed his bid for a third award.
That left the door open for an old favorite to jump back into the mix in the season's final month.
Peyton Manning, a two-time league MVP, was simply at his best when his team needed him the most. He completed over 71 percent of his passes during a nine-game winning streak, and tossed 17 touchdown passes with only three interceptions during the span. The scintillating finish to the season gave Manning his league-record ninth 4,000-yard passing season, and put the Colts into the playoff for the seventh straight year.
While Manning's numbers (4,002 passing yards, 27 passing touchdowns, 12 interceptions and 95.5 passer rating) don't rank at the top of the league's passing list in any category, the argument could be made that this is his finest season of his career given the circumstances. The veteran overcame his own career threatening injury to direct an offensive unit that has been plagued by numerous injuries to starters and key personnel. Despite a reshuffled lineup, the nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback adapted his game to maximize the unit's potential. The results were outstanding as the offense scored over 30 points in five of the team's last eight games and re-emerged as one of the frontrunners to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLIII.
The league's MVP award goes to the player who is most instrumental to the success of his team, and I think the consistency, leadership and perseverance that Manning displayed makes him deserving of the league's top individual honor.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Colts (last week's ranking, 1)
2. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings (2): The league's leading rusher carried the Vikings to their first-ever NFC North title. Though defenses were intent on stopping the Vikings' potent running game, Peterson finished with 1,760 rushing yards and led the league with 10 100-yard rushing games.
3. Chad Pennington, QB, Dolphins (4): After being unceremoniously dumped by his previous team, Pennington orchestrated one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in league history by guiding the Dolphins to an 11-5 record and the AFC East crown. The nine-year veteran finished ranked in the top 10 in several passing categories (completion percentage, passer rating and passing yards), and has been singled out by those within the organization as the biggest reason for the team's dramatic reversal of fortunes.
4. Michael Turner, RB, Falcons (NR): Though the Pro Bowler's outstanding season has been overshadowed by the superb play of his rookie teammate (Matt Ryan), the argument can be made that Turner has been the biggest catalyst to the team's dramatic resurgence. He finished as the league's second-leading rusher (1,669 yards) and tallied 17 touchdowns on the ground. While those numbers are impressive, it's the team's 8-0 record when Turner has rushed for over 100 yards that truly reveals his impact.
5. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers (NR): The fifth-year pro's greatness was revealed as he led the Chargers to their third consecutive AFC West title with his sizzling play down the stretch. Rivers completed over 66 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and only one interception during the team's critical four-game winning streak. Although Rivers was inexplicably left off the AFC's Pro Bowl roster, he finishes the season as the league leader in passing touchdowns (34) and passer rating (105.5).
Offensive Player of the Year
1. Drew Brees, QB, Saints (2): The Saints' signal caller joined Dan Marino as the only passers in league history to throw for over 5,000 yards in a season. Brees' remarkable year included 10 games with over 300 yards passing, and six games with at least three passing touchdowns.
2. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings (1)
3. Michael Turner, RB, Falcons (4)
4. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers (5): The electrifying runner capped an impressive second half stretch by topping the century mark for the seventh time in nine games. As the league's third-leading rusher, Williams finished the season with 1,515 rushing yards and a league-high 20 touchdowns.
5. Andre Johnson, WR, Texans (NR): The three-time Pro Bowl receiver enjoyed a sensational season while leading the league with 115 receptions. Johnson established a new league record with seven games with 10 or more receptions, and amassed 1,575 receiving yards, the highest total of any receiver since 2003.