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Awards: Plenty of surprises, but Brady's greatness a constant

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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It's the giving season, right? Or at least it was. So let's not waste time and go straight to what I want to give away today -- which is my 2010 Awards.

I understand that I'm a week behind my colleague, Pete Prisco, but it's not just Jay Cutler that we disagree on. It's the timing of these awards. He gives his before the last game; I give mine after.

Big deal. They add up to the same thing, which is a last chance to recognize those who deserve the attention for what they did -- or did not -- accomplish this season.

Got it? On with the show.

MVP: Tom Brady, QB, Patriots. This one's so easy a cave man could ... OK, never mind. Let's just say there's Tom Brady, and then there's everyone else. Brady not only is the best player in the game; he's the most valuable, too, and it's not close this season. You can make a case for the guy every year, but this season the record speaks for itself. Brady has BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead for running backs and played most of the season without his top offensive lineman and most dangerous wide receiver, yet he produced one of the most magnificent records in NFL history. I'm not going to recite the numbers here. You know them. All I'll say is this is the easiest decision to make since Denver got smart and cut its losses with Josh McDaniels.

First Runner-up: Michael Vick, QB, Eagles

Second Runner-up (tie): Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs; Josh Freeman, QB, Buccaneers

Tom Brady has plenty to smile about after leading the league in passer efficiency. (Getty Images)  
Tom Brady has plenty to smile about after leading the league in passer efficiency. (Getty Images)  
Offensive Player of the Year: Brady. Buffalo had more turnovers last weekend (six) than Brady had all year, but it's not Brady's ability to avoid crucial mistakes that makes him notable. It's the prodigious numbers he puts up. He led the league in touchdown passes. He led the league in passer efficiency. He threw for 3,900 yards. He quarterbacked the league's highest scoring offense. He didn't throw an interception the last 11 games -- a streak that includes 335 passing attempts. He won his last eight starts. And he had the league's best record. Again. It's time we recognize Tom Brady for what he is -- the best in the business and one of the best quarterbacks ever to play this game.

First Runner-up: Arian Foster, RB, Texans

Second Runner-up: Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs

Defensive Player of the Year: Clay Matthews, LB, Packers. He's the first Packer to produce double-digit sacks his first two seasons, and, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, since sacks became an official stat he's the first player anywhere to produce double-digit sacks and a touchdown return in each of his first two seasons. He also was named to the Pro Bowl his first two years, and I'd be shocked if he's not an All-Pro choice this season. The Packers were the league's fifth-ranked defense despite losing four starters, and Clay Matthews is the biggest reason why. He can rush the passer. He can drop into coverage. He rarely misses a tackle. In short, he can do it all -- which is why he's at the top of my list.

First Runner-up: Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants

Second Runner-up (tie): Cameron Wake, LB, Dolphins; Troy Polamalu, S, Steelers

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Sam Bradford, QB, Rams. I know he hit the wall down the stretch, with only one TD pass the last five weeks, but let's look at the body of work. The guy raised the Titanic. The Rams won six games the past three seasons without him. Then he stepped into the huddle, and they won seven. More than that, they were within one victory of winning the division. Bradford isn't just the best offensive rookie out there; he's the best quarterback in the NFC West. A long, bright future awaits him, and let's hear it for GM Bill Devaney and the St. Louis Rams for doing the right thing -- which was taking the franchise quarterback when they had the chance.

First Runner-up: Mike Williams, WR, Buccaneers

Second runner-up: Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Lions. This might have been the second easiest decision on the board. From the very beginning, Suh was a dominant force in the Lions' lineup. He made big plays. He made big tackles. He produced a lot of sacks. He even scored. No rookie had more sacks, and no defensive tackle anywhere did, either. In short, Suh was the player he was supposed to be when scouts everywhere declared him the best prospect in the 2010 draft. Nice going, Detroit. It's about time someone there got something right. The Lions are this close to making it making back from a decade of oblivion, and its future All-Pros like Suh who will make it happen.

First Runner-up: Devin McCourty, CB, Patriots

Second Runner-up: Joe Haden, CB, Browns

Comeback Player of the Year: Michael Vick, QB, Eagles

It's impossible to ignore what the guy did on and off the field. Basically, he put himself back together as a person and as a player. He went into the season as a backup to Kevin Kolb and came out of it as one of the most dynamic -- and feared -- quarterbacks on the board. That's important to mention. Once upon a time, he was a playmaker, not a quarterback. Then this season happened, and he became both -- finishing as the league's fourth-ranked passer, completing 63 percent of his attempts and producing over three times as many touchdown passes (21) as interceptions (6). That's a testament to Vick, as well as offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Both put in the hours of hard work, and both are reaping the rewards.

First Runner-up: Wes Welker, WR, Patriots

Second Runner-up: E.J. Henderson, LB, Vikings

Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick, Patriots. This marks the fourth year he produced at least 14 victories in a season, and, quick now, tell me the last coach to do that. Forget it, I'll do it for you: There wasn't one. Belichick is the first, and this season might have been his greatest year of coaching yet. He won without Randy Moss. He won without a star running back. He won without Logan Mankins for most of the year. And he won with a young, inexperienced and, frankly, not so good defense. But he always wins, and next time you hear the New York Jets talk about how they're the team to beat in this league, keep this in mind: They're not even the team to beat in their own division.

First Runner-up: Todd Haley, Chiefs

Second Runner-up: Raheem Morris, Buccaneers

Assistant Coach of the Year: Dom Capers, defensive coordinator, Packers. I look at what the guy had to work with, which wasn't much after injuries shortened the roster, and it's astounding. The Packers lost four defensive starters, yet finished the season as the league's fifth-ranked defense, with 32 takeaways, 47 sacks and more points off turnovers than anyone but New England. Credit Capers, who took a bruised and battered defense into New York at midseason and blanked the Jets. It's one thing to pull off the road upset; it's another to pull off a road shutout. The Packers are where they are today not because of Aaron Rodgers but because of a defense that allowed an NFC low 240 points, and that doesn't happen without Capers calling the shots.

First Runner-up: Charlie Weis, offensive coordinator, Chiefs

Second Runner-up: Mike Tice, offensive line coach, Bears

Most Surprising Team: Kansas City. I thought the Chiefs would be better. I just didn't think they'd win the AFC West. Credit Haley, his staff, and GM Scott Pioli for achieving the unimaginable. Entering this season Kansas City had lost 36 of its last 41 starts. Then it pushed San Diego out of the way and went straight to the top, thanks to a 7-1 record at home that began with a season-opening defeat of the Chargers. This team is young, good and could be a factor for years.

First Runner-up: Buccaneers

Second Runner-up: Rams

Most Disappointing Team: Vikings

Vick's Miracle at the Meadowlands is the best moment of 2010. (Getty Images)  
Vick's Miracle at the Meadowlands is the best moment of 2010. (Getty Images)  
The Vikings were the best team in the NFL last season. Yeah, OK, so New Orleans won the Super Bowl, and it deserves all that it got. I'm just saying the most complete team was the Vikings, and they should have proved it this season. Only they fell apart, with the wheels coming off so completely that they didn't just lose a lot of games; they lost their head coach and starting quarterback, too. I don't know that I've seen as much bad karma around one team as there was around this year's Vikings, and Brad Childress should consider himself lucky. He escaped the perfect storm. Now it's up to Leslie Frazier to put the pieces back together, and good luck. He's going to need it.

First Runner-up: Cowboys

Second runner-up (tie): Texans, Chargers

Most Surprising Player: Arian Foster, RB, Texans. I sat in on a Fantasy Football draft last September, and I remember what happened when someone drafted Foster in the fourth or fifth round. More than one person in the room asked, "Who?" It was a good question. Aside from last year's season finale he'd done nothing. Yet I guarantee that if those same guys meet this September, Foster will be one of the top five players off the board -- and he should be. He went from obscurity to one of the best and most effective players anywhere, leading the league in rushing, first downs and touchdowns and producing an NFL-best 2,220 yards in total offense. Surprising? Nope. The most surprising.

First Runner-up: Brandon Lloyd, WR, Broncos

Second Runner-up: Peyton Hillis, RB, Browns

Most Disappointing Player: Brett Favre, QB, Vikings. I didn't expect him to come anywhere near his 2009 numbers, but I didn't expect him to stink, either. And let's get this straight: Brett Favre just endured the worst season of his NFL career. On the field. Off the field. It didn't matter. If he was doing something it wasn't good. The NFL last week fined him for not cooperating, but the Vikings -- and Favre -- would have been a lot better off if he hadn't cooperated with the Three Amigos who flew to Mississippi last summer and convinced him to return. Next time someone asks, Brett, just say no.

First Runner-up: Randy Moss, WR, Patriots, Vikings, Titans

Second Runner-up: Donovan McNabb, QB, Redskins

Best Free-Agent Pickup: Jason Babin, DE, Titans. He's the best because of what Tennessee gained for what it paid -- which is a lot of one and not much of the other. An edge pass rusher, Babin had a career season after the Titans made Nashville his fifth stop on his NFL tour. Until this season he hadn't done much of anything. Then he went out and led the Titans in sacks, producing more than all but five players in the NFL and had more than in his last four years combined. Babin strikes a Mr. Olympia pose after each sack, flexing his biceps, and now you know why: The guy is king of his world. I know Julius Peppers was terrific for Chicago, but the Bears paid a fortune for him. Tennessee got Babin on the cheap, and it was one of the best -- and wisest -- investments in years.

First Runner-up: Julius Peppers, DE, Bears

Second Runner-up: Danny Woodhead, RB, Patriots.

Best Trend: The league crackdown on hits to the helmet. I don't care if the NFL is over-legislating here. You can't do enough to protect players from head trauma. Penalties. Fines. Suspensions. You name it. Something must be done to reduce the number of kill shots to the head, and I'll tell you why: Because injuries are far too numerous and far too severe in a game that is far too violent. If the players aren't going to restrain themselves, then someone better convince them to do it. That someone is the NFL office.

First runner-up: Parity, with five newcomers to this year's playoffs.

Second Runner-up: Special teams getting long overdue recognition as difference makers.

Worst Trend: Bizarre and inconsistent officiating. It's late in the game, and Pittsburgh is on the verge of scoring a go-ahead touchdown. Ben Roethlisberger tucks the ball under his arm, darts for the end zone and -- kaboom! -- fumbles after a jarring tackle, with the ball rolling into the end zone. Officials go to a replay review and ... decide they can't tell who had the ball? So they put it at the 1 and give Pittsburgh another chance. Unbelievable. But that play symbolized a season of blown calls and questionable decisions as officiating took a giant step backward. Normally, I defend these guys. They do what most of us can't, and they do it in pressure situations. Normally, they're on or close to the mark, but not this season. You watch last Sunday night's telecast when officials ruled a first down that wasn't and think ... huh?. You see Calvin Johnson open the season with a game-winning catch, only to have officials overrule it, and you think ... huh? I'll be honest: I don't know what's a catch anymore, and I'm not sure some of these officials do, either. Then I watch Roddy White push down Baltimore's Josh Wilson for a game-winning catch, see no flag and hear White say later he can't believe a flag wasn't thrown. I can.

First Runner-up: The NFL's insistence on an 18-game schedule when there are too many injuries in 16

Second runner-up: Coaches failing to recognize the two-minute warning for what it is -- a fourth time out

Best Moment: Philadelphia's Miracle at the Meadowlands, Part Deux. The Eagles were down by 21 points with 7½ minutes left, with only punctuation missing from their obituaries. Then something weird happened, and leave it to Vick to be involved. Most people want to blame this one on Giants punter Matt Dodge for punting the football to DeSean Jackson when common sense -- as well as his head coach -- said to kick it out of bounds. But this wasn't Dodge's fault. He never should have been in that position. Nope, this was all about a defense that blew a 21-point lead, and, in the process, blew the playoffs.

First Runner-up: Tennessee's Jeff Fisher awarding a game ball to cancer-stricken offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger after the Titans' 31-17 defeat of Houston

Second Runner-up: Vick's Monday night performance vs. Washington

Worst Moment: Favre lying face down and motionless after a career-ending sack. I don't care if you like the guy or not. You never want a player -- particularly one of Favre's magnitude -- to end his career like this: Having to be led off the field after suffering a concussion. Favre is one of the game's best and toughest players, and I never tired of watching him play. OK, so I tired of him playing Hamlet every summer, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching him move his team down the field -- no matter the team and no matter his age. He was fun, charismatic and successful, but there was nothing fun, charismatic or successful about his final act. This is what your mother meant, Brett, when she told you to be careful what you wish for.

First Runner-up: Spygate II Second runner-up: Sal Alosi's trip to ignominy

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