In what is not much of a surprise, Shaun Alexander has been named the AP 2005 NFL Most Valuable Player. Alexander turned in another outstanding performance in 2005 by rushing for 1,880 yards behind an underrated Seahawks line, and carried Seattle to the NFC West division title. Along the way he set a new career single-season high and broke the single-season NFL record with 28 touchdowns, a mark previously set at 27. Alexander received the honor over runner-up Peyton Manning. Other players receiving votes were Tom Brady, Tiki Barber and Carson Palmer.
The MVP award is voted upon by 50 of the nation's leading correspondents and broadcasters, and is designed to honor the player who brings the most value to his team. Alexander made innumerable contributions to a 13-3 Seattle team that clinched a division title and a first round bye to accompany their home field advantage.
The Other Vote Getters
While Alexander's feat is indeed worthy of honoring, the manner in which the deciding votes were doled out spoke well of other candidates. Manning, led his team to a league best 14-2 record clinching the AFC South division crown and securing home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. While Manning's numbers were not as impressive as seasons past, his value to his team is undeniable. His trademark hurry up and call the play at the line style of directing the offense ensures that he is widely regarded as one of the toughest signal callers in the league to defend against.
The Colts are best known for the three players that make their offense go, Manning, receiver Marvin Harrison and running back Edgerrin James. While Manning is indeed impressive, without the other two portions of the offense, teams have been able to defend against him. Such was the case when the San Diego Chargers traveled to Indianapolis and knocked the Colts off their unbeaten streak.
New York Giants running back Tiki Barber was the other back looking to challenge Alexander for the rushing title. Barber had memorable performances against Washington, Kansas City and Oakland when he broke the 200-yard mark in each. Barber was the only back to break 200 yards three times. Alexander performed at a steady rate not reaching the 200-yard mark but coming close on three occasions. Barber came in second to Alexander's total yardage turning in an impressive 1,860 total in the tough AFC East.
Palmer played well much of the season, but his Bengals faltered down the stretch. Had Cincinnati been able to give more of a challenge to other playoff-bound teams during the season his run at the award could have been significantly improved. Although the Bengals didn't face the outlandish injury woes of other teams, they had a few of their own setbacks. Palmer was able to rely on one of the best receivers in the league - Chad Johnson - to open things up for him. Johnson's combination with running back Rudi Johnson allowed Palmer to thrive, and lead the Bengals to their first division title in the new century.
The final vote getter was Tom Brady the New England Patriots quarterback. Brady turned in a career year in spite of the team suffering through a record-setting rash of injuries. Brady finished 2005 leading the NFL in passing yards (4,110) and passes over 25 yards (32) while ranking third in completions (334) and QB rating (92.3), fourth in attempts (530) and third in touchdown passes (26). His 4,110 passing yards was a new career high and ranks second in franchise history to Drew Bledsoe's 4,555 yards in 1994. It's not Brady's statistics that reflect the argument for him to be MVP, it's the adversity he faced through the season compared to the other candidates.
Making a Case For Brady
An argument can be made that Brady was overlooked due to all the success he's had in recent years, winning three of the last four Super Bowls. His face is on countless magazines, newspapers and in commercials. He's widely recognized in the public spotlight due to that on-field success. Assuming Brady was overlooked because voters see too much of the Patriots signal caller could mean that they ignored the true meaning behind the words "most valuable." Brady has achieved his success this season after overcoming setbacks to the team's coaching staff, the offensive line, the running backs, the receivers and the defense. The only unit that remained in place on a consistent basis was at the quarterback position.
Brady managed his career-best season while working behind a patchwork offensive line with two rookies on his blind side, a reserve guard at center and a reserve tackle on the right side. Only one non-rookie starter managed to finish the season in his original position RG Stephen Neal. Starting center Dan Koppen suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in game 9. Injuries even claimed the Patriots backups, with LT rookie Nick Kaczur sidelined for two games and RT Tom Ashworth for three others.
Brady managed to put up his numbers with little help from the Patriots ground game. Starting running back Corey Dillon missed four games due to miscellaneous injuries and watched from the sidelines for two others. Backup Kevin Faulk missed eight games with a broken foot. The Patriots only other running back, Patrick Pass, missed four games as well. The Patriots were forced to sign and use free agents off the street after all three running backs went out at the same time.
Offensive line troubles, injuries to the tight ends, and the running backs have limited the Patriots ground game, something Brady needed to rely on when slogging through the toughest schedule in the NFL early in the season. As the Patriots went through a period where they won-one lost-one, Brady was saddled with a rushing attack that fared no better than 24th in the league for 14 of the 16 games, sinking as low as last in the league.
With no offensive coordinator to lean on - Charlie Weis moved on to Notre Dame - Brady put the team on his back by flinging the ball deep downfield to his regular receivers when time permitted, or to their backups when injuries took hold. Brady connected with 11 different receivers on pass plays gaining 20 yards or more. He connected on touchdowns to an offensive tackle playing fullback and a linebacker playing tight end. He with a pulled out victories against three of the league's top defenses, and staged late-game scoring drives to pull out the win five times.
The case for Brady goes beyond numbers. It goes beyond glory, because that's not his style. He'll tell you he doesn't care about individual awards, only winning. He wouldn't throw his teammates under the bus even when reporters peppered him with questions about having one of the league's worst defenses. He's the living breathing definition of team player.
Brady has had to overcome more adversity in 2005 than his fellow MVP nominees, and yet in spite of that, he finished third in the voting. Alexander received votes from 19 of the 50 members while two-time winner Manning hauled in 13 of his own. Brady garnered 10 while Barber grabbed six and Palmer drew in a pair of votes.
Although Manning has two awards under his belt already and Alexander has deservedly won his first, it's puzzling why Brady wasn't given more consideration. In a season that would be tough enough without the losses the Patriots have faced, Brady continues to lead his team onward. He's led them to a division title and secured a spot in his comfort zone - the playoffs. While some may argue it's small consolation to not being recognized as the most valuable, Brady doesn't mind settling for being the best.
The Patriots quest to become the first team to three-peat starts on Saturday against Jacksonville. You can expect Tom Brady to be ready to improve his 9-0 postseason record as 70,000 screaming fans cheer him on. MVP award or not, he'll still be the most valuable player to them.