Team MVPs: Best players from each NFL club in 2010 season
By Nate Davis, USA TODAY
Who were the NFL's prime performers from the 2010 season? USA TODAY's Nate Davis reviews the team MVPs for all 32 clubs (based on regular-season performance only):
Arizona Cardinals: WR Larry Fitzgerald. Somehow he managed to reel in 90 catches for 1,137 yards and six touchdowns while toiling on an abysmal offense that never remotely recovered from the offseason retirement of QB Kurt Warner and didn't have WR Anquan Boldin to occasionally draw coverage away from Fitzgerald. And in a league pocked with chirpy wideouts, Fitzgerald never groused while playing with scattershot QB Derek Anderson and two rookie signal-callers.
Atlanta Falcons: WR Roddy White. With his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season, White is earning widespread recognition as one of the game's elite wideouts. He topped the NFL with a career-high 115 receptions and paced the NFC with 1,389 yards. And who can forget his game-saving strip of San Francisco ***** CB Nate Clements after he picked off Falcons QB Matt Ryan in the waning minutes of Atlanta's Week 4 win? Ryan subsequently drove Atlanta to a game-winning field goal.
Baltimore Ravens: LB Ray Lewis. Who else? His bio says he's 35, but the 15-year veteran never seems to age much, which is why he's been a Pro Bowler a dozen times. Lewis finished sixth league-wide with 139 tackles, his highest total since 2004. He also had a pair of forced fumbles, a couple of sacks and two interceptions. But Lewis has never been a man to be measured by numbers, and the emotional fuel he continues to provide his team was a vital component in its 12-win campaign.
Buffalo Bills: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. His ascendance to the starter's chair in Week 3 helped Buffalo become a more competitive football team, winning four of Fitzpatrick's final seven starts. Before that resurgence, Buffalo lost three consecutive games by three points each to the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Bears all playoff teams. Fitzpatrick saw his streak of 15 consecutive games with a touchdown snapped in Week 16, leaving him three shy of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly's franchise record. The former Harvard signal-caller was also the first Buffalo passer to throw for 3,000 yards since J.P. Losman in 2006 and the first to reach 20 touchdown passes since Drew Bledsoe in 2004.
Carolina Panthers: DE Charles Johnson. Maybe he won't make Carolina fans forget long-gone Julius Peppers, but Johnson stepped up with 11.5 sacks tied for seventh in the NFL while filling the breach. Peppers produced eight in his first season with the Chicago Bears, though at a much loftier price tag than Johnson. The pressure Johnson provided helped the Panthers finish 11th in pass defense, a small positive for a team that had little to smile about in a 2-14 debacle of a season.
Chicago Bears: DE Julius Peppers. Chicago's $92 million man proved worthy of the investment in 2010. Though he tied for the team lead with eight sacks, his impact was wide-ranging and trickled down on a unit that earned Pro Bowl invitations for LBs Lance Briggs and the resurgent Brian Urlacher as well as Peppers. The Bears ranked fourth in points allowed (286) and takeaways (35), major improvements from 2009.
Cincinnati Bengals: DE Carlos Dunlap. Despite red flags including a DUI arrest and questions about his drive the Bengals took Dunlap in the second round of the draft (54th overall) and were rewarded for their faith in the former Florida Gator. His 9.5 sacks were second among rookies, trailing highly touted Detroit Lions DT Ndamukong Suh, who had 10. Dunlap's effort is even more impressive considering he didn't play in four of the team's first five games, never started and didn't bag his first quarterback until Week 10. He appears to be a building block for a team that will likely need them.
Cleveland Browns: RB Peyton Hillis. Who knew Cleveland was committing highway robbery by acquiring Hillis and two draft picks from the Denver Broncos for disappointing QB Brady Quinn last March? The people in Denver certainly feel swindled. Hillis became the only Browns running back outside of Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly to rush for 11 TDs in a season, though Hillis was quick to dismiss such comparisons as absurd. He also ran for 1,177 yards and caught 61 balls for 477 more. He might not rival Brown's talent, but for the time being he's rivaling his popularity in a city in need of folk heroes after LeBron James' departure.
Dallas Cowboys: LB DeMarcus Ware. Ware's three-sack performance in Week 17 gave him his second sack title in three years as he finished with 15.5. He has been a constant, never missing a game in his six-year career while averaging 0.83 sacks a game over the duration. But he was a rare bright spot in 2010 on a defense that undermined the Cowboys for much of the year and allowed the most points (436) in the NFC.
Denver Broncos: WR Brandon Lloyd. Maybe departed coach Josh McDaniels knew what he was doing when he dealt disgruntled WR Brandon Marshall in the offseason. Lloyd stepped into the void and emerged as a first-time Pro Bowler in his eighth season. He piled up spectacular catches on a weekly basis on his way to an NFL-high 1,448 yards through the air. Eleven of Lloyd's 77 receptions produced touchdowns, and he maintained his production with Kyle Orton and rookie Tim Tebow under center.
Detroit Lions: DT Ndamukong Suh. After years of barren drafts, Detroit got it right by grabbing Suh with the second overall pick in April. He justified his predraft hype with 10 sacks most among rookies and 66 tackles, tops among freshman defensive linemen. He also picked off a pass and sealed a Week 8 win against the Washington Redskins by returning a fumble 17 yards for a touchdown. He's one of the many reasons the upcoming decade could be the opposite of the one the long downtrodden Lions are putting behind them.
Green Bay Packers: LB Clay Matthews. The second-year player earned a Pro Bowl return after registering 13.5 sacks fourth in the league. With seven sacks in the first four games, Matthews quickly established himself as the defender offenses had to account for, though it really wasn't a difficult decision on a defense riddled with injuries. Green Bay allowed the fewest points in the NFC (240) and ranked fifth overall.
Houston Texans: RB Arian Foster. The undrafted player from Tennessee began the schedule with an NFL season-high 231-yard rushing effort and never looked back. Foster bookended the year with 180 yards on the ground the most in Week 17 and finished with a league-leading 1,616 yards while becoming the Texans' first NFL rushing king. He also caught 66 passes for 604 yards, and his 2,220 yards from scrimmage also ranked No. 1. He appears to be the long-term answer at tailback the franchise has been searching for for a long time.
Indianapolis Colts: QB Peyton Manning. It wasn't his best season though raising the bar for a four-time NFL MVP is tough and Manning had a career-worst 11 interceptions over a three-game losing streak late in the season. But he passed for 4,700 yards and had 33 touchdown passes while leading Indy to its seventh AFC South title in eight years and a record-tying ninth consecutive playoff berth. He started his 208th consecutive game most ever to start a career while completing 450 passes most ever in a season despite toiling for an offense without TE Dallas Clark, RB Joseph Addai and WRs Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez for most of the season.
Jacksonville Jaguars: RB Maurice Jones-Drew. His six consecutive 100-yard games on the ground from Week 8 to Week 14 were a major reason the Jaguars were on the cusp of the AFC South crown. The nagging knee injury that short-circuited Jones-Drew in a crucial Week 15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts and kept him out of the final two games was the primary reason Jacksonville couldn't close the deal and nail down the elusive playoff berth. He still finished fifth overall with 1,324 rushing yards and might have helped solidify the city's hold on its franchise.
Kansas City Chiefs: RB Jamaal Charles. Only the Houston Texans' Arian Foster outrushed Charles in 2010, though Foster received 97 more carries and only outdistanced Charles' 1,467 yards by 149. Charles' 6.38 yards a carry rank second only to Hall of Famer Jim Brown's 6.40 average in 1963. In addition to powering the NFL's top rushing attack (164.2 yards a game), Charles employed his sprinter's speed through the air, catching 45 passes for 468 yards; his 1,935 yards from scrimmage trailed only Foster's 2,220.
Miami Dolphins: LB Cameron Wake. The two-time Canadian Football League defensive player of the year blossomed in his second professional season south of the Canadian border and proved he could compete for the NFL's version of the award. Wake finished third in the league with 14 sacks and justified Miami's decision to part with veteran pass rushers Joey Porter and Jason Taylor in the offseason. Wake left plenty of havoc in his wake, finishing fourth on the team with 57 tackles and forcing three fumbles for the Dolphins' sixth-ranked defense.
Minnesota Vikings: RB Adrian Peterson. His 1,298 rushing yards ranked sixth in the NFL, though it was the lowest output of his four-year career. Peterson battled injuries in the second half of the season and a sputtering offense for most of it yet managed to garner Pro Bowl accolades for the fourth time. And he vastly improved in one area, fumbling once in 2010 after coughing up the ball 20 times in his first three seasons.
New England Patriots: QB Tom Brady. No-brainer. The prohibitive favorite for league MVP honors has been the constant for a team in transition and led the league with 14 victories. He paced the NFL with 36 touchdown passes and QB rating (111.0) while throwing a league-low four interceptions. He finished the season throwing 335 consecutive passes without a pick, breaking Bernie Kosar's record. Brady also nudged aside Brett Favre in the record books and won 28 consecutive regular-season games in Gillette Stadium. And he did it all while overseeing an offense that lost constants such as Kevin Faulk and Randy Moss but never missed a beat while Deion Branch, Danny Woodhead and rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez made their marks.
New Orleans Saints: QB Drew Brees. The Super Bowl XLIV MVP earned a Pro Bowl ticket for the fourth time in his five-year New Orleans tenure. Brees topped 400 completions for the third time (no one else has done it twice) and again led the league by completing 68.1% of his passes. His 22,918 passing yards with the Saints are the most ever over a five-year stretch.
New York Giants: Justin Tuck. With Michael Strahan and Antonio Pierce gone, Tuck has become the primary physical and vocal presence on the Giants defense, which ranked seventh overall in 2010. Teammates credited Tuck's halftime speech for spurring a come-from-behind win against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 12. He tied Osi Umenyiora for the team lead with 11.5 sacks but also chipped in with 76 tackles, quite a high figure for a defensive lineman.
New York Jets: Returner Brad Smith. The latest in a long line of stellar Jets special-teamers, Smith's 28.6-yard kickoff return average paced the league among players with at least 25 returns. He scored on runbacks vs. the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers, keying both New York victories. The versatile Smith, who played quarterback at Missouri, also completed two passes while running the Jets' version of the Wildcat. And he was third on the team with 299 rushing yards, caught four passes for 44 yards and contributed 14 special-teams tackles.
Oakland Raiders: CB Nnamdi Asomugha. How good was Asomugha this season? Opposing quarterbacks threw 32 passes in his direction before Week 17 and completed 13 none for a touchdown. So don't let his 19 tackles and lack of an interception be misconstrued as a lack of production. "I've been measured a little differently from other guys just because I don't get as many opportunities as they do," the three-time Pro Bowler said. Oakland's pass defense finished second in the NFL with 189.2 yards allowed a game.
Philadelphia Eagles: QB Michael Vick. He's better than ever, thanks to a renewed dedication to the game after his two-season absence followed a dogfighting conviction in 2007. Vick earned serious league-wide MVP consideration after his prodigious talent and newly revealed leadership launched the Eagles to an NFC East championship. Despite missing four games, he established career bests in passing yards (3,018), touchdown passes (21), completion percentage (62.6%), passer rating (100.2) and TD runs (nine). Not bad for a guy who began the year as Kevin Kolb's backup.
Pittsburgh Steelers: S Troy Polamalu. You don't need to know much more than this: Pittsburgh was 6-7 over the last two seasons in games Polamalu missed. The Steelers were 15-4 over the same span when he played. And who can forget Polamalu timing the snap and vaulting the line of scrimmage to tackle Tennessee Titans QB Kerry Collins in Week 2? How about his crucial interception at the Buffalo Bills in Week 12? Then there was the fourth-quarter strip sack of Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco in Week 13 that paved the way for the win that largely secured a division title for Pittsburgh.
St. Louis Rams: RB Steven Jackson. The battle-scarred back produced a sixth consecutive 1,000-yard season despite being the component opposing defenses usually focused on negating. A few more touches in the regular-season finale against the Seattle Seahawks Jackson had 11 carries and four receptions in a tight game might have propelled the Cinderella Rams to the NFC West crown. His steadying presence was a key to the development of rookie QB Sam Bradford and a major reason St. Louis managed seven wins in 2010 after totaling six the previous three seasons.
San Diego Chargers: QB Philip Rivers. The Chargers lost their perch atop the AFC West in 2010, but don't blame Rivers. He piloted the offense to the top of the NFL charts (395.6 yards a game) despite a middling running game and the protracted absences of Pro Bowl LT Marcus McNeill and WR Vincent Jackson amid contractual impasses and star TE Antonio Gates, Rivers' favorite target, who missed six of the final eight games with a foot injury. Rivers passed for an NFL-high 4,710 yards while playing with a rotating cast of understudies.
San Francisco *****: LB Patrick Willis. He remains on track as Ray Lewis' heir apparent as the league's premier inside linebacker. However, 2010 was a disappointing season for Willis as injuries limited him to a career-low 128 tackles and forced him to miss the first game of his career (though he was still honored as a Pro Bowler for the fourth time in his four-year NFL career). Worse, the ***** tanked despite widespread expectations that they'd break an eight-season playoff drought by assuming control of an NFC West weakened by the retirement of Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner.
Seattle Seahawks: WR Mike Williams. Just when the 10th pick of the 2005 draft seemed out of chances, he received a lifeline when his college coach, Pete Carroll, took over in Seattle. Williams responded by getting in shape and displaying the potential he last showed at Southern California. Injuries cost him two games, but Williams caught 65 passes for 751 yards easily outpacing his career totals before the season and used his 6-5, 235-pound frame to become the possession receiver Carroll sought.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Josh Freeman. He doesn't garner the coverage of fellow 2009 first-round picks Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez, but Freeman could end up being the best of the bunch with his 25-touchdown, six-interception season as evidence. Freeman, 6-6, 248 pounds, led the Buccaneers to 10 wins and the cusp of a playoff berth, thanks in large part to his ability to pull out wins in the fourth quarter. With emerging rookies LeGarrette Blount and Mike Williams, Tampa Bay has an impressive offensive core that could score big in future years.
Tennessee Titans: LB Stephen Tulloch. The 2006 fourth-round pick out of North Carolina State isn't a well-known NFL name, but he's quickly making a name for himself at the center of Tennessee's defense. Tulloch finished the year with 159 tackles, second to the New England Patriots' Jerod Mayo (175), while chipping in a sack, an interception and six passes broken up. There wasn't much to smile about in Nashville in 2010, but the emergence of Tulloch and Pro Bowl DE Jason Babin (12.5 sacks) offers hope for optimism in 2011.
Washington Redskins: CB DeAngelo Hall. Slim pickings on a team that seemed to be in disarray from Day One. Hall didn't ingratiate himself to the coaches after griping he should have been locked up with Houston Texans WR Andre Johnson, who almost single-handedly beat Washington in Week 2. But credit Hall for his competitive spirit and the tide-turning efforts he provided in wins vs. the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears. Hall tied for fifth in the league with six picks, and he returned one of his four in Week 7 at Chicago for a touchdown. He was the Redskins' lone Pro Bowl rep, though SS LaRon Landry might have had a strong case had his Achilles not betrayed him.