Marshon Lattimore

Brady wins MVP, Rams get 3 awards, Allen comeback player

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) For the third time, Tom Brady is the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.

Now he goes for his sixth Super Bowl title, and perhaps with it a fifth MVP trophy for the NFL championship.

Brady added The Associated Press 2017 NFL MVP award Saturday night at NFL Honors to his wins in 2007 and 2010. The New England Patriots quarterback was joined as an honoree by three Los Angeles Rams: Coach of the Year Sean McVay, Offensive Player of the Year running back Todd Gurley and Defensive Player of the Year tackle Aaron Donald.

Other winners in voting by a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league were Los Angeles Chargers receiver Keenan Allen as Comeback Player; New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara and cornerback Marshon Lattimore as top offensive and defensive rookies, respectively; and former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, now head coach of the New York Giants, as Assistant Coach of the Year.

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Brady is the second the player in the four major professional sports to win MVP at age 40; Barry Bonds won baseball’s award in 2004.

Wide receiver Julian Edelman, who missed the entire season with a knee injury, accepted for Brady.

“Thanks, thanks. Wait up. I literally just found out I was doing this like 20 minutes ago. So, I’ve got to read the text,” Edelman said.

“No, but I’m joking. But serious, Tom said he wanted to say he’s very honored and humbled that he gets this award for MVP. Also, he wanted to thank his teammates, his friends, his family and the Patriots organization for going out and doing what they do.”

Brady competed 385 of 581 passes (66.2 percent) for 4,577 yards and 32 touchdowns with eight interceptions as New England went 13-3 for the AFC’s best record. At an age when many QBs are deep into retirement, Brady is throwing deep – and short – as well as ever.

Donald was the first pure defensive tackle to win the award since Warren Sapp in 1999. He said it means “everything. That’s one of the best to ever do it. So, even for my name to be next to that guy’s name is beyond a blessing. This is what you dream about as a kid, dreaming about playing in the NFL to have success like this, to be able to (play good enough) to win this trophy.”

Gurley’s sensational turnaround season in which he ran for 13 touchdowns and caught six TD passes sparked an equally impressive reversal of fortunes by his team, which won the NFC West at 11-5.

“The Saints got the rookies and we took home the offensive and defensive” player awards,” Gurley noted. “It just tells you the type of players we have on the team. We all help each other out, absolutely. We have some talent, but we’re nothing without the whole nine yards and everybody together. And we also have a coach who’s up for Coach of the Year.”

A little while later, McVay was handed the coaching award.

In his first season running a team and as the youngest head coach in NFL history, McVay led the Rams to a seven-game improvement. McVay, who turned 32 on Jan. 24, ran away with the voting with 35 votes to 11 for Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer.

The Rams’ hat trick of awards was not unprecedented. In 2003, Baltimore’s Ray Lewis was top defensive player, Jamal Lewis won best offensive player, and Terrell Suggs was Defensive Rookie of the Year. And in 1999, the St. Louis Rams had three award winners: Kurt Warner (MVP), Marshall Faulk (Offensive Player) and Dick Vermeil (Coach).

New Orleans’ sweep of the rookie awards was the first since 1967, when Detroit running back Mel Farr and cornerback Lem Barney were honored. That was the first season for the top defensive rookie award.

“You get caught up in the season, you don’t really get time to pat yourself on the back,” Kamara said. “But when the season is over you realize what you’ve done. I’ve kind of had to time to look back and say, I made some history this season.”

Kamara shared duties with veteran Mark Ingram as the Saints won the NFC South. He rushed for 728 yards with a 6.1-yard average, and scored eight times. He also caught 81 passes for 826 yards, with five touchdowns.

The 11th overall draft pick and first from his position selected, Lattimore was a shutdown defender as the Saints went 11-5. He had five interceptions and 18 passes defensed in 13 games, was a sure tackler and, by midseason, was someone opposing quarterbacks tended to avoid. He missed three games, one because of a concussion and two with an ankle injury.

Allen returned from two devastating injuries to win the comeback honor. Allen missed half of the 2015 season with a kidney issue, then was lost in the 2016 season opener with a torn right ACL. There were questions if Allen would ever player at a high level again.

He answered those emphatically this season with the best year of his career. Allen caught 102 passes for 1,393 yards and six touchdowns. He was targeted 159 times, nearly 10 per game.

The award were announced Saturday night at NFL Honors.

AP Pro Football Writers Josh Dubow and Arnie Stapleton contributed.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Defense propels Saints past Falcons, into playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) Rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore corralled an unusual, momentum-turning interception off his back , New Orleans made two defensive stands from inside its own 2-yard line, and the Saints clinched their first playoff berth since 2013 with a 23-13 victory over the rival Atlanta Falcons.

Ted Ginn caught a 54-yard pass for a touchdown, which came just a few plays after Lattimore’s interception and shortly before halftime. Mark Ingram used a sharp cutback to break loose for a 26-yard touchdown for New Orleans ( 11-4), which kept its tenuous hold on first place in the NFC South heading into the final week of the season.

While the loss eliminated the Falcons (9-6) from the NFC South race, Atlanta can clinch a wild-card berth by beating Carolina in the final regular season game on New Year’s Eve.

The Falcons entered the game with a second straight division crown in their grasp, but they needed to beat the Saints. They squandered chances spectacularly, much to the delight of a deafening Superdome crowd – and certainly to the chagrin of scattered fans wearing Falcons red. The Falcons were taunted on their way to the game by a plane towing a banner that read “28-3 Merry Xmas,” a reference to Atlanta’s Super Bowl collapse.

Atlanta trailed just 6-0 when Lattimore’s interception of Matt Ryan set the Saints up to double their lead.

But early in the third quarter, Atlanta linebacker Deion Jones intercepted a passed that deflected off of Ginn’s hands and returned it 41 yards to the New Orleans 2. But Devonta Freeman fumbled on a hit by Tyeler Davison two plays later and linebacker Manti Teo recovered.

Early in the fourth quarter, Freeman was stopped short on fourth-and-goal from the 1, preserving a 20-3 Saints lead. One play earlier, Julio Jones caught a third-down pass with his feet in the end zone, but he was unable to pull the ball across the goal line after reaching back to make the catch and being quickly driven down. Atlanta challenged the spot, but the call on the field was upheld.

Drew Brees completed 21 of 28 passes for 239 yards. Ginn finished with 76 yards receiving and Michael Thomas – who’d been listed as questionable with a hamstring injury – caught four passes for 66 yards. Brees became only the third quarterback in NFL history to eclipse 70,000 career yards passing, joining Peyton Manning and Brett Favre.

Ryan was 22 of 36 for 288 yards. He was sacked five times, twice by Cameron Jordan.

Jones had seven catches for 149 yards, but the Falcons’ running game struggled.

Freeman was held to just 36 yards on 11 carries.

INJURY REPORT

Falcons: Tight end Levine Toilolo was sidelined by a knee injury in the second half.

Saints: Left tackle Terron Armstead left the game in the second half with a thigh injury.

UP NEXT

Falcons: Finish regular season at home against the Panthers.

Saints: Try to wrap up the division title at Tampa Bay on New Year’s Eve.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Follow Brett Martel on Twitter: https://twitter.com/brettmartel

Saints move to road favorite against Falcons for Thursday Night

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A matchup of NFC South rivals that each possess extreme betting trends has seen the line shift toward the red-hot New Orleans Saints, but the Atlanta Falcons could illustrate that what goes up always comes down in the NFL, eventually.

The New Orleans Saints and veteran quarterback Drew Brees are listed as a 1.5-point road favorite against the Atlanta Falcons with a 51.5-point total for the NFL Week 14 Thursday Night Football matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The NFC South-leading Saints are 7-1 straight-up in the last eight conference games and 3-1 against the spread in their last four games with the Falcons, according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

Atlanta, which is certainly in more of a must-win situation as far as playoff hopes are concerned, is 9-2 ATS in its last 11 games at night. The Falcons, who are coming off of a loss against the Minnesota Vikings, are also 6-2 straight-up in their last eight games after a loss.

Atlanta, which opened as a two-point favorite before the line shifted to the Saints, is 5-1 SU in its last six games as a home underdog, and 7-1 ATS in its last eight when it laid points at home.

The Saints, who are 9-3 SU and 7-5 ATS, have surrounded future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees with a much more complete team this season. The Saints were a solid road cover – 13-3 ATS in their last 16 road games – even when they were somewhat one-dimensional. If leading rusher Mark Ingram (toe) is good to go, then he and Alvin Kamara, who have helped the Saints lead the NFL at 5.0 yards per carry, should pose a threat to Atlanta’s rushing defense.

Brees had one interception in each of the Saints’ 2016 games against Atlanta. The Falcons have limited opponents to 6.5 yards per pass and their best cover CB Desmond Trufant (concussion protocol) is expected to play, so nothing will come easily for Brees’ targets such as WR Michael Thomas.

The Falcons, who are 7-5 SU and 5-7 ATS, could have a favorable matchup in the passing phase since Saints rookie CB Marshon Lattimore (ankle), in his first game back from injury, could draw most of the coverage against WR Julio Jones.

Jones was shut down last week against Minnesota, but is rarely quiet two games in a row and has 361 yards in his last three home games against the Saints. New Orleans’ pass defense is mid-pack at 7.1 yards per pass allowed, but DE Cameron Jordan is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.

Ryan has had a quarterback rating north of 100 in each of his last six starts against the Saints, and has only one interception in that span. Atlanta is facing a vastly improved Saints defense, though. The absence of G Andy Levitre could also limit Atlanta with opening holes for RB Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

The total has gone under in four of the Saints’ last five games on a Thursday for bettors. The total has gone over in six of the Falcons’ last eight divisional games, with one push.