February 28, 2014

MVP Profile: Adrian Peterson, 2012

Running Back, Minnesota Vikings



Age: 27
6th season in pro football & with Vikings
College: Oklahoma
Height: 6’1”   Weight: 217

Prelude:
Taken by the Vikings in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft, Peterson made an immediate impact as he rushed for 1341 yards as a rookie, including a single-game record 296 yards against San Diego. If there was any downside, it came in the knee injury that caused him to miss two games, his lesser numbers as defenses stacked the line to stop him when he returned, and his mediocre pass blocking. Still, with his speed complemented by power, he was named Offensive Rookie of the Year and was selected to the Pro Bowl. Peterson followed up by leading the NFL in rushing (1760 yards) and yards from scrimmage (1885) in 2009 and received the Bert Bell Award as well as consensus first-team All-NFL and Pro Bowl honors. In 2009, he compiled 1383 rushing yards and a league-leading 18 TDs while also catching a career-high 43 passes as the Vikings went 12-4 and advanced to the NFC Championship game. While a tendency to fumble was still a concern (he lost the ball 9 times in 2008 and 7 in ’09), Peterson was again a consensus first-team All-Pro and was named to the Pro Bowl. Turmoil touched the team in 2010, which dropped to 6-10, but Peterson was a bulwark who ran for 1298 yards, scored 13 TDs, fumbled only once, and was selected to a fourth straight Pro Bowl. However, it appeared that his career was in jeopardy when he went down with a torn ACL twelve games into the 2011 season that required surgery.

2012 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Rushing
Attempts – 348 [2]
Most attempts, game - 34 (for 199 yds.) vs. Green Bay 12/30
Yards – 2097 [1]
Most yards, game – 212 yards (on 24 carries) at St. Louis 12/16
Average gain – 6.0 [2]
TDs – 12 [3, tied with Stevan Ridley]
200-yard rushing games – 2
100-yard rushing games - 10

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 40      
Most receptions, game – 7 (for 50 yds.) at Washington 10/14
Yards – 217
Most yards, game - 50 (on 7 catches) at Washington 10/14
Average gain – 5.4
TDs – 1

All-Purpose Yards – 2314 [2]

Scoring
TDs – 13 [3, tied with Eric Decker & Alfred Morris]
2-pt PAT – 1
Points – 80

Postseason: 1 G (NFC Wild Card playoff at Green Bay)
Rushing attempts – 22
Rushing yards – 99
Average gain rushing – 4.5
Rushing TDs – 0

Pass receptions – 1
Receiving yards – 8
Average gain receiving – 8.0
Receiving TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL MVP: AP, PFWA, Sports Illustrated, Bert Bell Award
NFL Offensive Player of the Year: AP, Sporting News
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA, Pro Football Focus
Pro Bowl

Vikings went 10-6 to finish second in the NFC North and qualify for a Wild Card playoff spot while ranking second in the NFL in rushing (2634 yards). Lost NFC Wild Card playoff to Green Bay Packers (24-10).

Aftermath:
Following up his remarkable comeback in 2012 that nearly resulted in a new NFL rushing record, Peterson ran for 1266 yards in 14 games in ‘13 and had 1437 yards from scrimmage. Through the 2013 season he had rushed for 10,115 yards on 2033 carries (5.0 avg.) and caught 206 passes for 1697 yards, totaling 91 touchdowns. He has been a consensus first-team All-NFL selection on three occasions, received at least some first- or second-team recognition after three other seasons, and has been named to the Pro Bowl six times in seven years.

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MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself). 

February 26, 2014

1984: Anderson TDs Lift Bandits Over Gamblers


The Tampa Bay Bandits commenced their second United States Football League season by hosting one of six expansion teams, the Houston Gamblers, on February 26, 1984.

The Bandits, coached by Steve Spurrier, had featured an exciting passing attack in the inaugural ’83 season, with 33-year-old QB John Reaves successfully reviving his career until breaking his wrist seven weeks into the schedule. WR Eric Truvillion was an All-USFL selection and all-purpose RB Gary Anderson joined the club as a high-profile rookie midway through the year, played well, and was now available for a full season. Tampa Bay just missed qualifying for the playoffs and was looking to move up in 1984.

Houston had a high-profile rookie of its own in QB Jim Kelly, formerly of the Univ. of Miami and now starting behind center for the first-year club. While Head Coach Jack Pardee was known for his skill with building defenses, the team would be operating a wide-open “run-and-shoot” offense.

There were 42,915 fans in attendance at Tampa Stadium. It looked good for the Bandits when they took the opening kickoff and drove to the Houston 14, but Zenon Andrusyshyn missed wide to the right on a 31-yard field goal attempt.

Now it was Houston’s turn, and Jim Kelly completed four consecutive passes on a nine-play, 80-yard possession, the last of which resulted in a nine-yard touchdown to WR Ricky Sanders. Jeff Brockhaus added the extra point and the visitors had the early 7-0 lead.

The Bandits again moved the ball effectively on their next series, but on a first down play at the Houston 27, John Reaves fumbled the snap and LB Rickey Young recovered for the Gamblers. Finally, at 3:15 into the second quarter, the Bandits got on the board when Andrusyshyn booted a 25-yard field goal.

Andrusyshyn kicked another field goal for Tampa Bay with just under two minutes remaining in the first half, this time from 32 yards, making it a one-point game. They got the ball back and went ahead before halftime on a two-yard run by Gary Anderson. Reaves threw to WR Willie Gillespie for a two-point conversion and the home team took a 14-7 lead into the intermission.

Houston came back in the third quarter to tie the score when RB Sam Harrell caught a pass from Kelly for a seven-yard TD and, with Brockhaus adding the point after, the tally was 14-14.

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Gamblers drove deep into Tampa Bay territory, but on a third-and-goal play at the four yard line, an option run lost four yards and they had to settle for three points. Still, Houston went ahead when Brockhaus successfully kicked a 26-yard field goal.

It seemed as though the field goal might be enough to pull off the upset. Tampa Bay appeared to be in trouble when, facing third-and-20 at the Houston 45, Anderson dropped a short throw from Reaves. But far from the play, Houston CB Donald Dykes was flagged for an illegal hit on Gillespie and the Bandits stayed alive with a first down at the 30. Reaves threw to Eric Truvillion for 17 yards and, with 2:33 remaining, Anderson took a handoff and ran 12 yards for a touchdown. The extra point attempt was unsuccessful, but the home team was ahead by three points.

There was still plenty of time for the Gamblers, and they reached the Tampa Bay 39 with 57 seconds left on the clock. But on fourth-and-six, Kelly kept the ball on an option play and was stopped short of a first down by DE James Ramey. The Bandits ran out the clock to win by a final score of 20-17.

Tampa Bay led in total yards (435 to 316) and time of possession, holding onto the ball some 15 minutes longer than the Gamblers. The Bandits also held a 28 to 18 edge in first downs, but they had difficulty making the most of scoring opportunities despite being inside the Houston 20 on five occasions. Each team turned the ball over twice.



Gary Anderson had a big day , rushing for 114 yards on 26 carries that included two touchdowns and catching 6 passes for another 100 yards. With Houston’s defensive backs playing deep coverage, John Reaves used short throws effectively and completed 25 of 42 passes for 308 yards with one interception. Willie Gillespie, like Anderson, had 6 receptions, gaining 70 yards, and Eric Truvillion contributed 73 yards on his four catches.

For the Gamblers, Jim Kelly had a strong performance in his pro debut, completing 24 of 41 throws for 229 yards and two TDs, although he also gave up two interceptions. Ricky Sanders caught 7 passes for 64 yards and a touchdown. WR Richard Johnson added 6 receptions for 44 yards and Sam Harrell gained 44 yards on 5 catches that included a TD to go along with his team-leading 57 yards on 10 rushing attempts. On defense, LB Andy Hawkins, formerly of the NFL Buccaneers, was credited with 11 tackles in his Tampa homecoming.

“We moved the ball and had a lot of yards, but it seemed like all the bad plays were happening to us,” said Tampa Bay’s Coach Spurrier. “A lot of penalties, a missed field goal, a missed extra point.”

Tampa Bay went on to win their next two games on the way to a 14-4 finish that was good for second place in the Southern Division. Qualifying for the postseason as a Wild Card, the Bandits lost their First Round playoff game to the Birmingham Stallions. The Gamblers recovered from their first week loss to win three straight contests on the way to a 13-5 record and first place in the Central Division. They also lost in the initial round of the postseason, to the Arizona Wranglers.

Gary Anderson gained 1008 yards on 268 carries (3.8 avg.) and led the USFL with 19 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 66 passes for 682 more yards and another two TDs for a total of 21, tying for the league lead with New Jersey’s Herschel Walker.

John Reaves stayed healthy and ranked second in passing yards (4092), attempts (544), and completions (313) while accumulating 28 touchdown passes against 15 interceptions. Ahead of him was Jim Kelly, who ranked at the top in yards (5219), TDs (44), attempts (587), and completions (370) in putting together a remarkable rookie year. He received consensus Player of the Year and All-USFL honors.

February 24, 2014

1985: Zendejas Field Goals Propel Outlaws Over Breakers


The season-opening United States Football League game in Tempe, Arizona on February 24, 1985 featured the Arizona Outlaws and the Portland Breakers, two teams that had undergone transformations over the course of the offseason.

The Outlaws were a combination of clubs that played as the Arizona Wranglers and Oklahoma Outlaws in 1984. From Oklahoma came QB Doug Williams, previously of the NFL Buccaneers, who performed well until knocked out of action by a knee injury. WR Alphonso Williams and TE Ron Wheeler were capable receivers. From the previous Arizona franchise that had reached the USFL Championship game came such savvy veterans as RB Kevi n Long, DT Kit Lathrop, and DE Karl Lorch (although they were missing WR Trumaine Johnson, who held out). One newcomer was rookie PK Luis Zendejas out of Arizona State, where he set a NCAA record with 368 career points. Also new was Head Coach Frank Kush, long-time coach at ASU who had most recently been with the NFL Colts.

The Breakers, coached by Dick Coury, were in their third city in three USFL seasons. Originally based in Boston with an inadequate home venue, they moved to New Orleans for ’84 but, with the announced plan to shift to a Fall schedule in 1986, the club was forced to move again, this time to Portland, Oregon. The Breakers had featured an exciting offense led by QB John Walton, but he was now retired and being replaced by backup Doug Woodward. Still, there were good receivers in WR Frank Lockett and TE Dan Ross and capable runners in RBs Buford Jordan and Marcus Dupree. LB Marcus Marek was the keystone of a solid defense.

There were 20,321 fans in attendance at Sun Devil Stadium in what would prove to be a low-scoring struggle. The Outlaws scored first eight minutes into the opening period when Luis Zendejas kicked a 25-yard field goal. Zendejas added another field goal, from 29 yards, in the second quarter. It was set up by a pass from Doug Williams to WR William Davis that covered 46 yards to the Portland nine yard line (it would be the only catch of the year for Davis). The Outlaws took a 6-0 lead into halftime.

Late in the third quarter, the Breakers drove 80 yards on 15 plays and scored on an 11-yard touchdown carry by Marcus Dupree. Tim Mazzetti’s extra point put Portland ahead by 7-6.

In the final period, an interception by Arizona CB Carl Allen gave the Outlaws the ball at the Portland 39, and that set up a Zendejas field goal from 43 yards with 6:33 remaining to play. The Breakers reached the Arizona 37 in a last-gasp effort to pull the game out, but Doug Woodward fumbled the ball away on a fourth down play with 32 seconds left on the clock and the Outlaws came away with a 9-7 win.

Arizona had more total yards (279 to 210), although only 31 of those yards came on 25 rushing attempts while New Orleans had more balance on offense (108 rushing, 102 passing). The teams were even with 11 first downs apiece. Each team turned the ball over two times.

Doug Williams completed 16 of 26 passes for 254 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Ron Wheeler had three catches for 85 yards while WR John Mistler and RB Allan Clark also contributed three receptions apiece, for 30 and 28 yards, respectively. Kevin Long led the miniscule running attack with 18 yards on 11 carries. Luis Zendejas was the scoring star, with three field goals in as many attempts in his pro debut.

For the Breakers, Doug Woodward was successful on just 11 of 26 throws for 140 yards and had one intercepted. Marcus Dupree ran for 69 yards on 17 carries but had to be carried off the field on a stretcher with just over two minutes remaining in the contest. TE David Bayle caught three passes for 33 yards and Dan Ross gained 49 yards on his two receptions.

Dupree’s knee injury proved to be severe and finished him for the season. It would be a disappointing one for the Breakers, who were less productive on offense and finished at 6-12 and fifth in the Western Conference. Arizona ended up not being much better, going 8-10 in placing fourth in the conference.

Luis Zendejas was the USFL’s seventh-leading scorer (tied with Danny Miller of Birmingham) as he connected on 24 of 33 field goal attempts and added 36 extra points, albeit with five misses, in compiling 108 points. He went on to play in the NFL, with the Cowboys and Eagles, as did two of his brothers, Tony and Max (a cousin, Joaquin, kicked in one game for the Patriots).

February 22, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Mark Carrier, 1990

Safety, Chicago Bears



Age: 22
College: Southern California
Height: 6’1”   Weight: 180

Prelude:
Recipient of the 1989 Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top collegiate defensive back, Carrier was chosen by the Bears in the first round (sixth overall) of the 1990 NFL draft. The pass defense had ranked 24th in the NFL in ’89, and Carrier moved directly into the starting lineup at free safety. What he lacked in size and speed, he made up for with outstanding instincts and was a solid hitter.

1990 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Interceptions – 10 [1]
Most interceptions, game – 3 at Washington 12/9
Int. return yards – 39
Most int. return yards, game – 14 (on 1 int.) at Phoenix 10/28
Int. TDs – 0
Fumble recoveries – 2
Forced fumbles – 5
Tackles – 122

Postseason: 2 G
Interceptions – 1
Int. return yards – 0
TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: AP, PFWA
NFC Rookie of the Year: UPI
1st team All-NFL: Pro Football Weekly
2nd team All-NFL: AP
1st team All-NFC: UPI, Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

Bears went 11-5 to finish first in the NFC Central while leading the NFL in interceptions (31). Won NFC Wild Card playoff over New Orleans Saints (16-6). Lost NFC Divisional playoff to New York Giants (31-3).

Aftermath:
Carrier was hampered by a broken wrist and his interception total dropped to two in 1991, but he was still chosen to the Pro Bowl, along with SS Shaun Gayle. A disappointing season in ’92, which was also a down year for the team, was followed by much improved play in 1993 and a return to the Pro Bowl. He remained in the starting lineup for another three seasons with the Bears before being released in 1997 and picked up by Detroit. Carrier intercepted five passes, his most since his rookie year, as he overcame a back injury early in the year. After three solid seasons with the Lions, he moved on to Washington as a free agent in 2000 where he played one last year. Overall, Carrier intercepted 32 passes, one of which he returned for a TD. He received at least some All-NFL honors after two seasons and was selected to the Pro Bowl three times.  

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Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL (including NFC/AFC), AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year). 

February 20, 2014

MVP Profile: Cortez Kennedy, 1992

Defensive Tackle, Seattle Seahawks



Age:  24
3rd season in pro football & with Seahawks
College: Miami (FL)
Height: 6’3”   Weight: 293

Prelude:
Kennedy was taken by Seattle as the third overall draft choice in 1990, with the hope of improving a chronically-deficient defensive line as the club switched to a 4-3 alignment. A lengthy holdout slowed his progress, but he began to show signs of his potential late in the season, especially in a 10-tackle performance against Miami. With surprising speed and great strength, Kennedy emerged in ’91 and was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time.

1992 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Sacks – 14 [9, tied with Bryan Cox, Bruce Smith & Reggie White]
Most sacks, game – 3 at New England 9/20
Multi-sack games – 3
Interceptions – 0
Fumble recoveries – 1
Forced fumbles – 4
Tackles – 92

Awards & Honors:
NFL Defensive Player of the Year: AP
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA, NEA, Sporting News
1st team All-AFC: UPI, Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

Seahawks went 2-14 to finish fifth in the AFC West.

Aftermath:
Kennedy was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection in 1993 and ’94, although he was consistently double- and triple-teamed and had just 10.5 sacks over the two years. While he took some criticism as a result, Kennedy benefited from the team’s improvement. His string of Pro Bowl appearances ended at six when knee and ankle injuries cost him half of the 1997 season, but he came back to regain Pro Bowl recognition in 1998 and ’99. Kennedy retired following the 2000 season and, overall, in a career that was played entirely with the Seahawks, he was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection after three seasons, gained at least All-AFC honors after three others, and was selected to the Pro Bowl a total of eight times. He was credited with 58 sacks and 668 tackles. Kennedy’s #96 was retired by the Seahawks and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2012.

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MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself). Also includes Associated Press NFL Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year.

February 18, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Ronnie Bull, 1962

Halfback, Chicago Bears



Age: 22
College: Baylor
Height: 6’0”   Weight: 200

Prelude:
An all-purpose star in college, where he gained 1990 yards from scrimmage, Bull was taken by the Bears in the first round of the 1962 NFL draft (seventh overall; he was also chosen third overall by the Dallas Texans of the AFL). With veteran Willie Galimore a fixture at halfback, Bull started the season as a defensive back and saw scant action, but was shifted to offense when Galimore went down with a knee injury.

1962 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Rushing
Attempts – 113 [19, tied with Tom Watkins]
Most attempts, game - 18 (for 72 yds.) vs. LA Rams 12/9
Yards – 363
Most yards, game – 72 yards (on 18 carries) vs. LA Rams 12/9
Average gain – 3.2
TDs – 1

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 31      
Most receptions, game – 6 (for 90 yds.) at Dallas 11/18
Yards – 331
Most yards, game - 90 (on 6 catches) at Dallas 11/18
Average gain – 10.7
TDs – 0

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 9
Yards – 235
Average per return – 26.1
TDs – 0
Longest return – 35 yards

All-Purpose yards – 929

Passing
Attempts – 3
Completions – 0
Yards – 0
TDs – 0
INT – 0

Scoring
TDs – 1
Points – 6

Awards & Honors:
NFL Rookie of the Year: UPI, Sporting News

Bears went 9-5 to finish third in the NFL Western Conference.

Aftermath:
Bull followed up in 1963 by splitting time with Galimore and rushing for 404 yards on a career-high 117 carries while the defense carried the Bears to the NFL Championship. The arrival of HB Jon Arnett from the Rams cut into Bull’s playing time in ’64, and with outstanding HB Gale Sayers joining the team in 1965, he was used more at fullback. So it remained through 1970, a total of nine seasons with the Bears, as Bull split time with other backs. He lacked ideal speed at halfback and, with his blocking ability, was more successful at fullback, although he was small for the position. His highest rushing total was 472 yards, on 107 attempts, in 1968 when he played in tandem with HB Brian Piccolo after Sayers went down with a knee injury. Bull was with the Eagles for one last season in 1971, where he led the club in rushing but with just 351 yards. Overall, he ran for 3222 yards (2871 with the Bears) while averaging 3.7 yards per carry and caught 172 passes for 1479 yards (163 for 1404 in Chicago), scoring a total of 14 touchdowns.

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Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL, AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year). 

February 16, 2014

MVP Profile: Peyton Manning, 2009

Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts



Age:  33
12th season in pro football & with Colts
College: Tennessee
Height: 6’5”   Weight: 230

Prelude:
Son of NFL quarterback Archie Manning and a star in college, Manning was chosen by the Colts with the first overall draft pick in 1998. It didn’t take long for him to justify the selection as he set NFL rookie records with 3739 passing yards and 26 TD passes. He led the league with 575 pass attempts, also a record for a rookie at the time, but also with 28 interceptions on a 3-13 club. The record turned around to 13-3 in ’99, the Colts qualified for the postseason, and Manning was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time as he passed for 4135 yards and, while he again threw 26 TD passes, his interceptions dropped to 15. A classic drop-back passer, he lacked his father’s mobility but made up for it with a quick release – not to mention an excellent work ethic. Manning led the NFL with 357 completions, 4413 yards, and 33 TD passes in 2000 and again was chosen for the Pro Bowl. Following a lesser year in ’01 as the Colts dropped to 6-10, he bounced back with a third Pro Bowl season in 2002, passing for 4200 yards (his fourth straight year over 4000) and 27 touchdowns. Manning received MVP recognition in 2003 after leading the NFL in completions (379), yards (4267), and completion percentage (67.0). He again received MVP honors and was a consensus first-team All-Pro in 2004 as he set a record with 49 TD passes while leading the league in passing (121.1 rating) for the first of three straight years and also topped the NFL in TD percentage (9.9) and yards per attempt (9.2). He was consensus first-team All-Pro for the third consecutive year in 2005 and, in ’06, finally overcame years of frustration in the playoffs as the Colts won the Super Bowl. Manning led the NFL in TD passes with 31 that year, against just 9 interceptions. In 2008, he was selected to his seventh straight Pro Bowl (ninth overall) and was over 4000 passing yards for the ninth time, and again received MVP recognition (AP, PFWA, Sporting News), although the team lost to the Steelers in the AFC Championship game.

2009 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Passing
Attempts – 571 [2]
Most attempts, game – 50 vs. Houston 11/8
Completions – 393 [2]
Most completions, game – 36 at Tennessee 10/11
Yards – 4500 [2]
Most yards, game – 379 at Arizona 9/27
Completion percentage – 68.8 [2, 1st in AFC]
Yards per attempt – 7.9 [8, tied with Brett Favre & Eli Manning]
TD passes – 33 [2, tied with Brett Favre, 1st in AFC]
Most TD passes, game – 4 at Arizona 9/27, vs. New England 11/15, vs. Denver 12/13, at Jacksonville 12/17
Interceptions – 16 [7, tied with Matt Cassel]
Most interceptions, game – 3 vs. Denver 12/13
Passer rating – 99.9 [6]
300-yard passing games – 9
200-yard passing games – 14

Rushing
Attempts – 19
Most attempts, game - 3 (for -4 yds.) vs. Jacksonville 9/13, (for -3 yds.) vs. Denver 12/13, (for -3 yds.) at Jacksonville 12/17
Yards – -13
Most yards, game – 3 yards (on 1 carry) at Miami 9/21
Yards per attempt – -0.7
TDs – 0

Postseason: 3 G
Pass attempts – 128
Most attempts, game - 45 vs. New Orleans, Super Bowl
Pass completions – 87
Most completions, game - 31 vs. New Orleans, Super Bowl
Passing yardage – 956
Most yards, game - 377 vs. NY Jets, AFC Championship
TD passes – 6
Most TD passes, game - 3 vs. NY Jets, AFC Championship
Interceptions – 2
Most interceptions, game - 1 vs. Baltimore, AFC Divisional playoff, vs. New Orleans, Super Bowl

Rushing attempts – 3
Most rushing attempts, game - 2 vs. Baltimore, AFC Divisional playoff
Rushing yards – -2
Most rushing yards, game - 0 vs. NY Jets, AFC Championship
Average gain rushing – -0.7
Rushing TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL MVP: AP, PFWA, Sporting News
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA
2nd team All-NFL: Pro Football Focus, Sporting News
Pro Bowl

Colts went 14-2 to finish first in the AFC West with the best record in the conference while leading the AFC in touchdowns (53). Won AFC Divisional playoff over Baltimore Ravens (20-3) and AFC Championship over New York Jets (30-17). Lost Super Bowl to New Orleans Saints (31-17).

Aftermath:
Manning was again a Pro Bowl selection in 2010, but after starting 208 regular season games at quarterback, he was sidelined for all of 2011 with a neck injury. Released by the Colts and signed by the Denver Broncos for 2012, Manning made a successful comeback and led the NFL in completion percentage (68.6) while passing for 4659 yards and 37 TDs, and had an even bigger year in 2013 as he set records with 5477 passing yards and 55 TD passes, again attaining MVP honors while the Broncos won the AFC title. Through 2013, he had passed for 64,964 yards, with 13 seasons over 4000, and 491 TD passes.

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MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself). 

[Updated 12/2/14]

February 15, 2014

1996: Ravens Hire Ted Marchibroda as Head Coach


On February 15, 1996 the newly-relocated Cleveland Browns, now in Baltimore and without a name (not to mention a franchise history that was left in the former city), hired Ted Marchibroda as head coach. Marchibroda, a familiar figure in Baltimore where he had once coached the Colts, signed a three-year contract.

In their last season in Cleveland, the Browns went 5-11 under Bill Belichick, who was fired along with Mike Lombardi, the personnel director. It had been a tumultuous year, with Belichick briefly benching veteran QB Vinny Testaverde in favor of backup Eric Zeier and WR Andre Rison, a costly free agent acquisition, producing little and complaining loudly. Following the announcement that the club would be moving, the Browns went 1-6 to close out the season.

It was hoped that Marchibroda, who was a month short of his 65th birthday, would not only be an identifiable face on the sideline for Baltimore fans, but someone who could turn the team’s fortunes around quickly. He had done just that in 1975, when he took over a Colts team coming off a dismal 2-12 record and led them to a 10-4 division-topping tally. It was the first of three straight years atop the AFC East, although they lost in the Divisional round of the playoffs each time. With injuries knocking QB Bert Jones out of the picture, the team dropped to 5-11 in both 1978 and ’79, and Marchibroda was gone. His record over the five years was 41-33 in the regular season, 0-3 in the playoffs.

Marchibroda had come out of the University of Detroit to play quarterback for the Steelers and Cardinals over the course of four seasons. He first became an assistant coach in the NFL under Head Coach George Allen with the Rams and was Allen’s offensive coordinator in Washington immediately prior to his first head coaching stint with the Colts.

Afterward, he served as offensive coordinator with four teams before again becoming head coach of the Colts, now in Indianapolis. Marchibroda’s record was 30-34 in his second stint, but Indianapolis had gone 9-7 in 1995 and reached the AFC Championship game. He was fired after refusing to accept a one-year contract extension and offensive coordinator Lindy Infante was promoted to head coach in his place.

“I couldn’t think of any better scenario,” said Marchibroda of his returning to Baltimore. “It was a great feeling when we made the turn onto 33rd Street and I saw the lights and the front of Memorial Stadium.”

It may have felt like a homecoming for the new coach, but it was a chaotic time for the franchise. Owner Art Modell, as part of a settlement brokered by the NFL, was required to change the team colors as well as leave behind the franchise history, which led to oddities like the players wearing generic black-and-white uniforms during a minicamp. The team was eventually renamed the Ravens with colors of black, purple, and gold.

As both a head coach and an assistant, the ex-QB Marchibroda had been known for his success in working with quarterbacks, including Bert Jones, Jim Kelly of the Bills, and Jim Harbaugh in Indianapolis.  The success continued with Vinny Testaverde (pictured below), whose career had been decidedly uneven since being the first overall draft choice by the Buccaneers in 1987. He had a fine season in ’96, achieving career highs with 4177 passing yards and 33 touchdowns and receiving Pro Bowl recognition for the first time.



Wide receivers Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander each accumulated over a thousand receiving yards and TE Brian Kinchen caught 55 passes while filling in for the oft-injured Eric Green. RB Bam Morris started the year on drug suspension, but when he arrived seven weeks into the schedule, he played very well and rushed for 737 yards in 11 games. 34-year-old RB Earnest Byner held his own, contributing 634 yards. All were helped by outstanding play by the offensive line

But for all of the fine offensive display, the team finished at 4-12. The Ravens put 371 points on the board, but the defense gave up 368.1 yards per game and a total of 441 points. That unit ranked last in the NFL and was especially bad at protecting leads in the fourth quarter. While one of the team’s first draft choices, Ray Lewis, was an immediate hit at middle linebacker, and FS Eric Turner was selected to the Pro Bowl, there were too many holes in the defense at large, which was hit hard by injuries. The Ravens were further hindered by a poor salary cap situation in the offseason that made addressing issues problematic.

The defense improved in 1997, with rookie linebackers Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper joining Lewis to create a solid group. DE Michael McCrary and DT Tony Siragusa, obtained from the Seahawks and Colts, respectively, performed well on the line. The unit as a whole, coached by coordinator Marvin Lewis, was showing signs of coming together.

However, the offense regressed. While tackles Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Brown were stalwarts on the line, Testaverde had a lesser year and was lost for three games with a knee injury. Bam Morris continued to have off-field problems and rushed for 774 yards in 11 games.  The overall record of 6-9-1 was better, but still a losing one.

For 1998, the pressure was growing to show improvement, especially with the team moving into the new PSINet Stadium. Testaverde was waived, moving on to the Jets, and Jim Harbaugh, a 12th-year veteran who had prospered under Marchibroda in Indianapolis, was obtained to take his place. RB Errict Rhett came from the Buccaneers to improve the ground game, but neither acquisition worked out well.

Rhett’s failure was mitigated by the fine performance of RB Priest Holmes, a second-year player who had made the club as an undrafted free agent and played on special teams as a rookie. Taking over for Rhett, he rushed for 1008 yards and also led the Ravens with 43 pass receptions. Rookie CB Duane Starks stepped successfully into the starting lineup as the defense continued to jell.

The team had trouble putting points on the board, especially during a four-game losing streak that followed a 2-2 start, on the way to a 6-10 final record. It was the end of the line for Marchibroda, whose three-year tally was 16-31-1. It also proved to be the end for his coaching career and he became a radio commentator for Colts broadcasts for the next several years.

The Ravens hired another offense-minded head coach, Brian Billick, who kept Marvin Lewis on as defensive coordinator. In 2000, it was the defense, which Lewis was building up during the Marchibroda era, that led the way to a NFL Championship.

February 13, 2014

2005: Manning TDs Spur AFC to Win in Pro Bowl


There was a sellout crowd of 50,225 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu for the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl on February 13, 2005, marking the 26th consecutive season that the contest had been staged in Hawaii. The coaches of the teams were Pittsburgh’s Bill Cowher for the AFC and, for the NFC, Jim Mora Jr. of the Falcons.

The AFC scored first on a 62-yard pass play from QB Peyton Manning (pictured above) to Indianapolis teammate WR Marvin Harrison. New England’s Adam Vinatieri added the extra point. LB Joey Porter of the Steelers then intercepted a pass by Eagles QB Donovan McNabb and Manning led the AFC on another scoring drive, going 69 yards in five plays and finishing with a throw to wide-open Pittsburgh WR Hines Ward for a 41-yard TD. With Vinatieri’s conversion, the score was 14-0 heading into the second quarter.

The NFC put together a long scoring series of 10 plays that covered 84 yards and concluded with RB Brian Westbrook of the Eagles running for a 12-yard touchdown. David Akers, also of Philadelphia, added the extra point. However, when the NFC attempted an onside kick, Ward leaped to grab the ball and then ran 39 yards for a TD (pictured below) – the second on a kickoff return in Pro Bowl history (Detroit’s Jack Christiansen ran won 103 yards in 1956 at the time of the old East vs. West format). Vinatieri kicked the point after and the AFC was again in front by 14 points at 21-7.



Buffalo LB Takeo Spikes intercepted a pass by QB Daunte Culpepper of the Vikings and, adding in a lateral to Porter, the AFC had the ball once again in NFC territory. They added more points, driving 38 yards in eight plays. Manning tossed his third TD pass of the game, connecting with TE Antonio Gates of the Chargers from 12 yards out.

The NFC finally got on the board again before the end of the half, driving 65 yards in 10 plays. Akers kicked a 25-yard field goal with 1:45 left on the clock and the AFC took a 28-10 lead into halftime.

The AFC defense was exceptionally aggressive during the first half, which led to grumblings by NFC players and coaches that they were blitzing – something not allowed in the Pro Bowl.

Heading into the third quarter, Atlanta QB Michael Vick rallied the NFC on three straight scoring drives. In his first possession behind center, Vick completed four of six throws, including a 27-yard touchdown pass to WR Torry Holt of the Rams. It finished off an eight-play, 73-yard series and, with Akers adding the PAT, made the score 28-17.

The next NFC series, following an interception by Philadelphia CB Lito Sheppard of a pass by QB Tom Brady of the champion Patriots, went 69 yards in nine plays. It concluded with the elusive Vick running three yards and diving into the end zone for a TD, despite his helmet being knocked off by Baltimore SS Ed Reed.

The AFC came back to add points early in the fourth quarter as Vinatieri kicked a 36-yard field goal to finish a 13-play, 54-yard possession. However, the NFC responded by driving 68 yards in 12 plays and, midway through the fourth quarter, Akers kicked a 21-yard field goal to narrow the tally to 31-27.

That was as far as the NFC got, however. On the next series, the AFC drove 71 yards in six plays to add to their lead. QB Drew Brees of the Chargers passed on a flea-flicker play to his San Diego teammate Gates for a 33-yard gain to set up a four-yard TD carry by yet another Charger, RB LaDainian Tomlinson.

There was still plenty of time, but the AFC defense stopped the next NFC series in five plays and then finished things off when Buffalo CB Nate Clements picked off a Vick throw with two minutes remaining to play. The AFC came away with a 38-27 win.

The NFC had more total yards (492 to 343) and first downs (26 to 15) but also committed three turnovers, to two by the AFC, as well as the TD on the botched onside kick.

Peyton Manning was the game’s MVP after completing 6 passes in 10 attempts for 130 yards, with three for touchdowns. Tom Brady made good on just four of nine tosses for 48 yards and gave up an interception, while Drew Brees completed both of his passes for 58 yards. RB Rudi Johnson of the Bengals was the AFC’s top rusher with 33 yards on six carries. Hines Ward had three catches for 63 yards and a TD, as well as the kickoff return for a score, and San Diego TE Antonio Gates also had three receptions, for 51 yards and a touchdown. Thanks to the long scoring catch, Marvin Harrison accumulated 66 yards on his two pass receptions.

For the NFC, Michael Vick completed 14 of 24 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown with one interception. Also rushing for 10 yards on three carries, he became the first quarterback to both throw and run for a touchdown in a Pro Bowl contest (although a running back, Marcus Allen, had done it in 1986). Daunte Culpepper was successful on 9 of 15 throws for 124 yards, with one intercepted, but Donovan McNabb was a disappointing one-of-eight for 24 yards and also had one pass picked off. RB Tiki Barber of the Giants ran the ball 9 times for 70 yards and Torry Holt pulled in 5 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown.

 “I’m not going to say I wasn’t holding my breath over there once Vick started to roll around, but our defense did a great job of stopping him,” said Manning, who was making his fifth Pro Bowl appearance. “It was good we got the game this year after we let the lead slip away last year.” He was referring to the wild 55-52 contest of the preceding year that was pulled out by the NFC.

The win was the fourth in five games for the AFC and broke a tie to give them an 18 to 17 edge over the NFC since the Pro Bowl had adopted the AFC vs. NFC format following the 1970 season.

February 11, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Robert Brazile, 1975

Linebacker, Houston Oilers



Age: 22
College: Jackson State
Height: 6’4”   Weight: 235

Prelude:
Originally a tight end in college, Brazile was shifted to linebacker with great success, achieving All-conference honors in 1974 and participating in the Senior Bowl. Jackson State won back-to-back SWAC championships in 1972 and ’73. The Oilers chose Brazile in the first round of the 1975 NFL dratt (sixth overall, and the first linebacker taken), and proved to be a good fit on the outside as new Head Coach Bum Phillips shifted to a 3-4 defense.

1975 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Sacks – N/A
Interceptions – 0
Fumble recoveries – 5

Awards & Honors:
NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: AP, PFWA
AFC Rookie of the Year: UPI, NEA, Sporting News
2nd team All-AFC: UPI

Oilers went 10-4 to finish third in the AFC Central while leading the conference in fewest rushing yards allowed (1680). It was the team’s first winning record since 1967.

Aftermath:
“Dr. Doom” followed up his outstanding rookie season by gaining selection to the Pro Bowl for the first of seven straight years in 1976. A hard hitter with great range, he was highly effective as a pass rusher. He didn’t miss a game in his ten-year career, appearing in a total of 147 regular season contests and seven in the postseason. In addition to his Pro Bowl selections, he was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection twice, in 1978 and ’79, and received all-league or all-conference honors after five other seasons. While sacks were not an official statistic during his prime years, he was unofficially credited with 48 (officially he had 11 in his final three seasons) and the team also credited him with 1281 tackles. Brazile also intercepted 13 passes and recovered 14 fumbles.

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Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL (including NFC/AFC), AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year). 

February 9, 2014

2002: Gannon Leads AFC from Early Deficit to Beat NFC in Pro Bowl


On Saturday, February 9, 2002 the NFL’s top players came together in the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl. The coaches were Pittsburgh’s Bill Cowher for the AFC and Andy Reid of the Eagles for the NFC, whose teams had lost at the conference championship level in the playoffs.

The patriotically-themed opening ceremony featured a bald eagle flying through the stadium and a squadron of F-15s soaring over it. The previous day had been marked by heavy rain that forced both teams to cancel practice, but it was 74 degrees and sunny for the opening kickoff with a sellout crowd of 50,301 at Aloha Stadium. It was the 23rd consecutive year in which the contest was held in Honolulu.

The NFC scored in record time, after Oakland QB Rich Gannon (pictured above) fumbled on the first play from scrimmage as he attempted to pitch the ball to RB Curtis Martin of the Jets. Philadelphia DE Hugh Douglas recovered to give the NFC the ball at the two yard line. From there, RB Ahman Green of the Packers went in for a touchdown with just 27 seconds expired. David Akers of the Eagles added the extra point.

Following a three-and-out series by the AFC, the NFC was ahead by 10-0 after Akers kicked a 29-yard field goal that was set up by St. Louis QB Kurt Warner’s completion to Arizona WR David Boston that covered 23 yards.

However, Gannon and the AFC caught fire at that point. Two plays later, Gannon threw to WR Marvin Harrison of the Colts for a 55-yard touchdown, beating Tampa Bay CB Ronde Barber. Denver’s Jason Elam added the PAT to narrow the score to 10-7.

The AFC took the lead after CB Deltha O’Neal of the Broncos intercepted a pass that he returned 24 yards to the NFC six, which set up a four-yard touchdown carry by RB Curtis Martin of the Jets. Elam’s extra point made the tally 14-10.

The NFC had a short series and punted, and the AFC needed just five plays to score again. Gannon threw a flea-flicker pass to WR Troy Brown of the Patriots that was wobbly and badly underthrown, but Brown made the catch for a 30-yard gain. Kansas City RB Priest Holmes finished off the possession by running 39 yards for a TD and Elam again booted the extra point.

The NFC put together a 10-play series that ended with Akers kicking a field goal from 41 yards on the last play of the eventful opening period. The teams had combined for a Pro Bowl-record 34 points in the first quarter, with the AFC leading by 21-13.

The ensuing kickoff was returned 54 yards by WR Jermaine Lewis of the Ravens, and that set up another scoring series. Gannon threw his second touchdown pass, this one to Indianapolis TE Ken Dilger from 19 yards out over a leaping LB LaVar Arrington of the Redskins. Gannon called it a day with the AFC up by 28-13.

That was it for the first half scoring until Akers booted his third field goal with six seconds remaining in the half to make the score 28-16 at the intermission.

Early in the fourth quarter, the NFC drove into AFC territory, but Philadelphia QB Donovan McNabb was picked off by San Diego LB Junior Seau. However, CB Champ Bailey of the Redskins returned the favor, intercepting a pass by New England’s Tom Brady that allowed the NFC to narrow the margin to 28-23 in the third quarter when McNabb threw to WR Terrell Owens of the 49ers for an eight-yard TD and Akers added the extra point.

The AFC came back with a drive that featured runs by Cincinnati RB Corey Dillon of 29 and 16 yards and was capped by Elam kicking a 38-yard field goal. Two plays later, with 2:49 left on the clock, CB Ty Law of the champion Patriots intercepted a McNabb throw and ran it 31 yards before tossing a lateral to Ravens LB Ray Lewis (pictured below), who went the last 13 yards for a touchdown, dragging three NFC players into the end zone.



The NFC scored once more in the last two minutes as McNabb connected with San Francisco RB Garrison Hearst for a 15-yard touchdown. The NFC attempted an onside kick, but safety Rod Woodson of the Ravens recovered for the AFC to end the threat. The AFC won by a final score of 38-30.

The AFC had more total yards (398 to 346) although the NFC had the edge in first downs (23 to 19). The AFC gained 201 yards on the ground, to 197 through the air, while the NFC, playing from behind for most of the contest, ran the ball only 12 times for 36 yards and had 310 passing yards. The AFC recorded two sacks and consistently maintained pressure on the three NFC quarterbacks. The NFC also turned the ball over four times, to two turnovers by the AFC.

After a rocky start, Rich Gannon completed 8 of 10 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, and was named MVP for the second straight year. Pittsburgh’s Kordell Stewart was 6 of 12 for 45 yards and Tom Brady, who entered the game in the fourth quarter, was successful on two of five throws for 22 yards with one interception. Priest Holmes was the leading rusher with 77 yards on 7 carries that included a TD and Corey Dillon contributed 58 yards on six attempts. Marvin Harrison was the AFC’s top receiver with four catches for 80 yards and the one long touchdown. Shane Lechler of the Raiders had punts of 70 and 73 yards, the two longest in Pro Bowl history.

For the NFC, Donovan McNabb completed 12 of 25 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown but also was intercepted twice. McNabb also tied for the team rushing lead with one 12-yard carry while RB Marshall Faulk of the Rams also gained 12 yards, on five rushing attempts. QB Jeff Garcia of the 49ers was successful on 11 of 19 throws for 111 yards and Kurt Warner, who started the game, went 6 of 14 for 63 yards with one interception. Terrell Owens topped the receivers with 8 catches for 122 yards. David Akers kicked three field goals, but his try from 62 yards in the fourth quarter fell short.

“You look around and you’ve got the best receivers, the best tight end, and the best line,” said the 36-year-old Rich Gannon, who became the first player to win back-to-back Pro Bowl MVP awards since the format had changed to the AFC vs. NFC following the 1970 season. “It’s like a dream come true for a quarterback. If I could have this every week, we’d be in business.”

Gannon was playing in his third straight Pro Bowl, a streak that would reach four following the 2002 season.

It was the fifth win in the last six games for the AFC, tying the series since the contest had moved to the AFC/NFC format at 16 wins apiece.

February 7, 2014

MVP Profile: Ray Lewis, 2000

Linebacker, Baltimore Ravens



Age: 25
5th season in pro football & with Ravens
College: Miami (FL)
Height: 6’1”   Weight: 245

Prelude:
Lewis was chosen by the Ravens in the first round of the 1996 NFL draft and inserted into the starting lineup at middle linebacker as a rookie, and had an immediate impact. He was chosen to the Pro Bowl for the first time in ’97 and was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection in 1999. With outstanding instincts, intensity, and speed that allowed him to cover a large area and make plays, Lewis was well-established as one of the premier linebackers in the NFL. The only concerns about him following the ’99 season pertained to off-field issues surrounding an altercation outside an Atlanta nightclub that ended in two stabbing deaths, but following a plea bargain that included his testimony against two associates, he was back in action in 2000 (and was also heavily fined by the NFL).

2000 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Sacks – 3
Most sacks, game – 2 vs. Cleveland 11/26
Interceptions – 2
Most interceptions, game – 1 at Cleveland 10/1, vs. Dallas 11/19
Int. yards – 1
Most int. return yards, game – 1 (on 1 int.) at Cleveland 10/1
Int. TDs – 0
Fumble recoveries – 3
Fumble recovery TDs – 0
Forced fumbles – 0
Tackles – 107
Assists – 30

Postseason: 4 G
Sacks – 0
Interceptions – 2
Int. return yards – 54
Fumble rec. – 1
TD – 1

Awards & Honors:
NFL Defensive Player of the Year: AP
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA, Sporting News
1st team All-AFC: Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

Ravens went 12-4 to finish second in the AFC Central and qualify for a Wild Card playoff spot while leading the NFL in fewest rushing yards (970) and points allowed (165), both records for a 16-game season. Won AFC Wild Card playoff over Denver Broncos (21-3), AFC Divisional playoff over Tennessee Titans (24-10), AFC Championship over Oakland Raiders (16-3), and Super Bowl over New York Giants (34-7).

Aftermath:
Lewis was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection for the third straight year in 2001 as well as Pro Bowl choice for the fifth consecutive season. He adjusted well to a shift to inside linebacker as the Ravens switched to a 3-4 defense in ’02 but he was limited to five games due to a shoulder injury. Lewis bounced back to again be named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2003 and, other than a hamstring injury that cost him time in ’05, remained a regular Pro Bowl choice through 2011, his next-to-last season at age 36. Overall, Lewis played for 17 years, all with Baltimore, and recorded 41.5 sacks, intercepted 31 passes, and was credited with over 1500 tackles. He was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection seven times, received at least some second-team recognition after four other seasons, and was chosen to the Pro Bowl on 13 occasions. Lewis capped his career in 2012 by playing in another Super Bowl, also won by the Ravens.

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MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself). Also includes Associated Press NFL Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year.