7th annual Packer Report awards

Admit it, you didn't pick the Packers to win 12 games when you sat down and looked over their 2001 schedule. But after missing the playoffs in 2000, Green Bay was back to their winning ways. That all came to an end in St. Louis, but rather than focus on a game that players, coaches and fans would like to forget, we'll hand out our 7th Annual Packer Report Awards to the playmakers who got Green Bay back on the right track and into the second round of the playoffs.

The envelopes please...

Offensive Most Valuable Player: tie QB Brett Favre & RB Ahman Green

As painful as it was to watch, we won't deny Favre a share of this award based on the St. Louis debacle. Without him, there are no playoffs for Green Bay. Or a winning record. Or much reason to watch. When Favre is on, he makes your beer colder and your brat taste better. He's that good. With 32 touchdowns and just 15 interceptions, Favre had his best regular season since 1997 when he won his third straight NFL MVP award. He threw for 3,821 yards and his 94.1 passer rating was fourth best in the NFL this year.

Catching the majority of his passes was Ahman Green. That‘s not a great sign for the receiving corps, but it certainly demonstrates No. 30‘s value. In earning his first Pro Bowl nod, Green became the first player in Packer history to lead the team in rushing and receiving two years in a row. He was second in the NFC in rushing yards (1,387) and total yards from scrimmage (1,981) and his seven 100-yard games on the year, tied Packer great Jim Taylor. Green also snared 62 passes for 594 yards. He still had five fumbles (down from six a year ago), but did so only once in the second half of the season.

Defensive Most Valuable Player: CB Mike McKenzie

Not only was McKenzie the Packer's top cover man in 2001, he was one of the best in the NFC. He tied safety Darren Sharper for the team lead with 24 passes defensed, got his hands on a couple of interceptions and took one of them 38 yards for a score against Minnesota. Despite quarterbacks throwing deep on him throughout the season, McKenzie didn't allow a single long completion. The dread-locked corner also provided several memorable lock downs of the league's elite receivers. The Vikings' Randy Moss had just two catches for 10 yards on Dec. 30 thanks to McKenzie. Terrell Owens of the 49ers had 40 yards on four receptions in their playoff contest and McKenzie made the defensive play of the game, knocking a sure touchdown away from Owens and into the arms of teammate Tyrone Williams. In the Packer's second-round loss to the Rams, he held Pro Bowl receiver and fellow Memphis alum Isaac Bruce to just one catch for 19 yards.

Special Teams Most Valuable Player: P Josh Bidwell

His 2001 season was a dramatic turnaround from the one he had a year ago. Bidwell's gross punting average improved from 38.5 (tied for 29th) in 2000 to 42.5 (13th) in 2001 and his net average improved from 34.6 (tied for 19th) to 36.5 (tied for eighth). He also showed off his leg strength on national television twice this season, booming a 68-yard career best at Jacksonville and a 60-yarder on Thanksgiving Day at Detroit.

Rookie of the Year: DB Bhawoh Jue

He may have been a third-round pick, but he flashed first-rate talent when needed. It could have doomed the defense when strong safety LeRoy Butler suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against Atlanta on Nov. 18, especially considering backup Antuan Edwards, had been on injured reserve since Oct. 3 with a torn ACL. But Jue stepped into the starting role the next week at Detroit and responded with one of the best defensive plays of the year when he chased down Lions receiver Johnnie Morton from behind on Detroit's first offensive play of the game and punched the ball loose. Not only did he prevent the touchdown on that play, but teammate Tyrone Williams recovered the fumble and Green Bay went on an 80-yard touchdown drive. Jue went on to start the remainder of the regular season in place of Butler, before giving way to Billy Jenkins in the playoffs. He finished the year with 31 solo tackles and two interceptions. More suited to corner than safety, his future looks bright.

Most Improved Player: DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila

After starting out on the practice squad, seeing action in just seven games and notching 1.5 sacks in 2000, the second-year player from San Diego State morphed into a tornado on the tundra, piling up 13.5 sacks this year as a situational pass-rusher and becoming the first Packer to post double-digit sacks since Reggie White had 16 in 1998. He tied Mark Gastineau (1984 Jets) and Kevin Greene (1998 Panthers) for the most sacks in the first four games of the season with nine and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Month for September.

But KGB wasn't a secret for long and as offenses began to double-team him later in the year, sacks became harder to come by. He collected just 1.5 over the final five games of the season, but finished fourth in the league overall. In Nigerian, his name translates to "Big Man Come and Save Me," but that definitely doesn't apply to quarterbacks.

Surprise of the Year: TE Bubba Franks

We just can't decide which is the biggest surprise - that Franks caught nine touchdowns during the regular season (including two two-touchdown games against Baltimore and Cleveland) and made the Pro Bowl or that none of his scores was longer than six yards and he often vanished between the 20-yard lines?

Franks will never be mistaken for the second coming of Keith Jackson, but his ability to hook up with Favre in the redzone can't be denied. He must average more than 8.9 yards a catch as he did this year, but his adjustment on a route and subsequent 19-yard touchdown in a playoff victory over San Francisco was an encouraging.

Hit of the Year: G Mike Wahle

Wahle might need a flashier nickname than Beagle if he ever pursues a pro wrestling career, but against the Buccaneers on Nov. 4th, he definitely showed he had at least one of the moves down. His beautifully brutal clothesline tackle on Tampa Bay's Donnie Abraham at the Packer's 38-yard line following a 46-yard interception return saved a touchdown and forced the Bucs to settle for a field goal in a game Green Bay went on to win 21-20.

Play of the Year: Donald Driver's 31-yard TD on a Reverse vs. Minnesota

Down 3-0 at home in the second quarter against the Vikings, Green Bay reached into the bag of tricks. With a first-and-10 at the Vikings 31-yard line, Favre handed off to Green who bolted to his right only to hand off to receiver Donald Driver who came flying by in motion from the right side and raced around the left end into a wide open field. As Driver got into the open, his lead blocker was none other than Favre, who took an angle on safety Orlando Thomas, went in low and wiped him out at the 24-yard line. Corey Bradford had been lined up on the left to start the play and blocked his man to the outside, allowing Driver to turn up field and run for daylight.

Consummate Pro Award: RB Dorsey Levens

Age, injuries and the arrival of Ahman Green have all led to the reduced role for Levens, but the eighth-year veteran handled it with the grace and class he's demonstrated his entire career. He averaged just 2.7 carries and 10.1 yards in 17 games for Green Bay, but he also showed some of that old Pro Bowl sizzle at times. Against Cleveland, he had nine carries for 72 yards including a 40-yard burst. He also caught a 16-yard touchdown on the day. The fact that Levens chipped in with key runs and catches – each of which inched him higher on the team's career rushing and receiving charts – was expected. What Levens did for special teams when return man Allen Rossum was struck down with injuries was a shock. He stepped in and averaged 25.9 yards on 14 regular season kickoffs, the clubs third highest total since 1972. He uncorked a spectacular 53 yarder in the regular season finale at New York and would have led the NFC with in return average if he had had enough attempts to qualify.

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