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.

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Patriots enjoy big Super Bowl experience edge over Eagles

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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) The Eagles are playing some of their best football heading into Sunday’s Super Bowl matchup with the Patriots.

One thing Philadelphia can’t contend with is New England’s huge experience advantage in the big game.

On the 53-man active roster the Patriots brought to Minnesota, 32 players have a combined 60 games of Super Bowl experience.

Tom Brady alone has been to the Super Bowl seven times during his 18-year career, winning five.

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By comparison, the Eagles have seven players on their active roster who’ve won a Super Bowl. Two of those players, LeGarrette Blount and Chris Long, won their rings last season with the Patriots. The others are Torrey Smith, Malcolm Jenkins, Corey Graham, Dannell Ellerbe and Will Beatty. An eighth player, Chris Maragos, is on injured reserve with a knee injury.

It’s a huge gulf. By comparison, the 2015 Panthers that lost to the Broncos in the Super Bowl that season had three players who had won a ring: Ed Dickson (Baltimore), Roman Harper (New Orleans) and Michael Oher (Baltimore).

But the Patriots say it’s nothing they will spend time talking about this week.

“I think it’s overrated,” said special teams captain Matt Slater, who will be appearing in his fourth Super Bowl.

Defensive end Trey Flowers said the coaching staff hasn’t mentioned last year’s Super Bowl win since it came up in film study prior to their regular-season meeting with Atlanta back in October.

“It’s a brand new team, so I wouldn’t say last year’s experience will have anything to do with the outcome of this game,” Flowers said. “This team has a lot of different guys from a year ago, so it’s something you’ve got to do all over again as far as experience goes.”

Yes and no.

New England actually returns 31 players who were on last year’s Super Bowl roster against the Falcons. That doesn’t include injured linebacker Dont'a Hightower or receiver Julian Edelman.

Two of the Patriots’ additions since then both played in the Super Bowl with other teams. Linebacker James Harrison won two rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers and defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois played on the San Francisco 49ers team that came up short against Baltimore in the Super Bowl at the end of the 2012 season.

“We know what to expect, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to perform,” linebacker Kyle Van Noy said. “So there’s really no upper hand. You’ve got to just play the game and get ready for it and play at a high level.”

He said that is because there is respect across the board for what backup quarterback Nick Foles has accomplished since Carson Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14.

“Everyone wants to hate on Nick Foles, but he’s done a great job,” Van Noy said. “He’s still a high-caliber quarterback, like Carson Wentz. Nick Foles is a great quarterback who’s done a great job. They distribute the ball really well and their run game is at a high level.”

More than experience on either side, linebacker Elandon Roberts said the biggest challenge is not getting caught up in the emotions that come with playing in a Super Bowl.

“Obviously it’s all the marbles right here, but it’s everything you work for,” Roberts said. “So you’ve got to think back to what got you here: doing your job, not getting overwhelmed and what not. As long as we do that that takes away most of it.”

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NBC’s Al Michaels prepares for 10th Super Bowl broadcast

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Al Michaels has a similar level of anticipation heading into his 10th Super Bowl broadcast as he had the first time he worked the biggest stage on television 30 years ago.

Michaels is set to join Pat Summerall as the only play-by-play announcers to call at least 10 Super Bowls when he works next weekend’s game in Minneapolis between New England and Philadelphia.

“It’s every bit as exciting and even more so in a way,” Michaels said in a phone interview. “As you get older and you get the opportunities to do these events, you probably savor it more.

“When I look at guys like Tom Brady and Drew Brees, as they get older, I think they begin to appreciate and savor the opportunities more because you’re closer to the end than you are to the beginning and you never know how many more you have left.”

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The 73-year-old Michaels is in no hurry to give up the microphone on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” broadcast, which is on target to be television’s highest-rated show for a record seventh straight year, passing the mark set by “American Idol.”

With a comfort level with his broadcast team led by executive producer Fred Gaudelli, director Drew Esocoff and analyst Cris Collinsworth, Michaels is having as much fun as he ever had since becoming the lead announcer for ABC’s “Monday Night Football” in 1986.

Michaels points to advice from former Buffalo coach Marv Levy about never considering retirement. He could be in position to stay long enough to match Summerall’s record of 11 Super Bowl play-by-play broadcasts.

“If you think about retiring, you’ve already retired,” Michaels said. “That rings in my ears. I have a great amount of passion for what I do. I love what I do. I work with the greatest people I’ve ever worked with in this business top to bottom. I still get excited going to the games. I love walking into a stadium. I love sports.”

It’s been a remarkable career for Michaels, who has called eight World Series, including the Earthquake Series in 1989; nine Olympics, including the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980; and now is preparing for his 10th Super Bowl.

He still remains at the top of his game in his sixth decade of work.

“Working with Al has been a professional highlight and all-out blast,” said Gaudelli, who will work his sixth Super Bowl with Michaels next week.

“I’ve been watching sports all my life and in my opinion no one can capture the moment quite like Al can. It’s never rehearsed or predetermined – he sees it, calls it and somehow the words are perfect. He never ceases to amaze me.”

Michaels’ first Super Bowl came in 1987 when Doug Williams led Washington to a 42-10 victory. Several of his others have included some of the most dramatic finishes in Super Bowl history, from Scott Norwood’s missed field goal for Buffalo in 1991, to Mike Jones’ tackle of Kevin Dyson at the 1-yard line on the final play to preserve St. Louis’ title in 2000, to Eli Manning‘s second comeback drive to beat Tom Brady six years ago.

But two stand out the most. The first was in 2009, when Pittsburgh’s James Harrison returned an interception 100 yards for a score on the final play of the first half, and then Santonio Holmes caught the winning TD for the Steelers in the final minute of a comeback win over Arizona.

Then in the most-watched television event in U.S. history three years ago, the Patriots won their fourth title when Malcolm Butler intercepted a pass from Russell Wilson at the goal line when it looked as if the Seahawks were poised to score the go-ahead TD in the closing seconds.

Those are the moments no broadcaster can ever prepare for, and only the most accomplished can handle as adroitly as Michaels has over the years.

“John Madden once had a great line. We prepare like crazy. We prepare for any eventuality. But you get to the booth, and as John would say, all of a sudden a game breaks out,” Michaels said.

“The game has to come to you. You can’t go to the game. We have a million things we can talk about, but if you start talking about them and they’re not germane to the game, the listener will find that cacophonous. You have to blend what you know with what’s going on in the game.”

One aspect Michaels didn’t have to deal with for most of his career but has risen up this season has been social justice protests during the national anthem. He realizes it’s a delicate balance for an announcer because many fans will be offended by networks showing or talking about the protests, while others will be equally as upset if they are ignored.

While no Eagles or Patriots are currently protesting, Michaels is prepared for any scenario.

“We’re there to report what happens,” he said. “If there is something that does take place, you have to cover it. You don’t have to editorialize about it. You report here is what happened and you don’t lecture people on this is bad or this is good. People tune in to watch the game and we’ll bring them the game.”

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