Rodgers, Brees, Jim Harbaugh win AP awards
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The best quarterbacks bring fans out of their seats. Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning did exactly that Saturday night when the NFL Most Valuable Player accepted the trophy from the only four-time winner of the award.
The Green Bay quarterback won the 2011 Associated Press award in a landslide. Manning, the hometown hero who didn't play a down this season because of neck surgery, handed it to him.
Manning was greeted with a standing ovation when he came on stage at the Murat Theatre during "NFL Honors," a primetime special on NBC. Moments later, the crowd was back on its feet for Rodgers.
"It means a lot to be recognized as a consistent player and contributing on my team," Rodgers said. "I think it's an award that relies on a player having the support of his teammates, obviously, guys blocking, guys running, guys catching, guys making plays. But I'm very honored to receive the award."
Speaking to Manning, who didn't miss a game for 13 seasons before 2011, Rodgers added: "We're all really excited to see you back on the field next year."
Rodgers earned 48 votes to two for New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees in balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL. The Packers star is the first Green Bay player honored since Brett Favre concluded a run of three straight seasons as MVP in 1997.
Brees won Offensive Player of the Year for the second time.
Other winners included:
— Baltimore defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs, Defensive Player of the Year.
— San Francisco's rookie coach Jim Harbaugh, Coach of the Year.
— Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford, Comeback Player of the Year.
The top two picks in last April's draft took the rookie awards: Carolina QB Cam Newton and Denver linebacker Von Miller.
Rodgers led the NFL in passing with a 122.5 rating built on 45 touchdown passes, six interceptions and a 68.3 completion percentage as the Packers went 15-1 and won the NFC North. The Packers were beaten by the New York Giants at Lambeau Field in the divisional round.
"People really count on me to be consistent each week, to play well. Knowing that my performance, the fact that I touch the ball every play, I have a direct impact on the game, the way I play," Rodgers said. "And if I'm playing consistent and doing things I know I'm supposed to do, we've been able to have some success because of it."
He joined former Packers Bart Starr, Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung as MVPs.
Rodgers is the third consecutive quarterback voted MVP, joining New England's Tom Brady (2007, 2010) and Manning (2008, 2009).
Brees shattered Dan Marino's 27-year-old mark by passing for 5,476 yards, and his 468 completions broke Manning's 2010 record of 450. Brees finished the season completing 71.6 percent of his passes, breaking his own 2009 NFL record (70.6). He also surpassed 300 yards passing for seven straight games and 13 times during the season, both beating league marks he already held.
Thanks to Brees' brilliance, the Saints set several single-season records, including offensive yards with 7,474 and first downs with 416.
"Our best is yet to come, not just for our team, but the league," Brees said.
Suggs had 70 tackles, including 14 sacks, and was a threat all over the field from his hybrid linebacker-end position. He also forced seven fumbles and had two interceptions.
Teammate Ray Lewis, a two-time winner of the award, praised Suggs' versatility.
"That's why when you sit back and watch him year after year, week after week, I am just proud to say that I love how he understands the game now," Lewis said.
In his first season as an NFL head coach, Harbaugh guided the 49ers to a 13-3 mark and the NFC West championship. They beat New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs before losing the conference title game to the Giants.
Stafford beat out six other players who received votes. He fought through injuries his first two seasons, then threw for more than 5,000 yards in 2011 to lead Detroit to its first playoff berth in 12 years.
Newton set an NFL record for touchdowns rushing in a season by a quarterback with 14 and became the first player in league history to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 500. He helped Carolina improve from 2-14 to 6-10, throwing for 21 touchdowns.
"He set a standard, a very high standard, for any rookie quarterback coming in, and he wants to improve," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "He's gotten better in so many different areas. ... He's really taken his game to next level, and there's so much room for him to grow. He's got such a high ceiling."
The second Bronco to win the award — LB Mike Croel got it in 1991 — Miller made 64 tackles and had 11½ sacks despite missing one game and playing the last four contests with a cumbersome cast protecting his surgically repaired right thumb. He teamed with quarterback Tim Tebow to energize the Broncos, who rallied from a 2-5 record to the AFC West title and a playoff win over Pittsburgh.
AP National Writer Nancy Armour and Sports Writer Michael Marot in Indianapolis, Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver, and Sports Writers Janie McCauley in San Francisco, Larry Lage in Detroit and Steve Reed in Charlotte contributed to this story.