A four-time MVP, three Super Bowl players and the beginning of a brother act.
The Associated Press 2021 NFL awards had a bit of everything, starting with Aaron Rodgers becoming the fifth player to repeat as most valuable player.
Despite the turmoil of training camp and the headlines the Green Bay Packers quarterback created when he misled the public on his COVID-19 vaccination, Rodgers’ play on the field was superb. So much so that he earned 39 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL. Not even one of Tom Brady’s best performances — in his final season — came close in the MVP race, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback getting 10 votes.
Only Peyton Manning with five MVP awards is ahead of Rodgers.
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp got one vote for MVP, but he easily took top offensive player honors. Kupp and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (comeback player of the year) and wideout Ja’Marr Chase (offensive rookie of the years) will face off Sunday in the Super Bowl.
Kupp led the NFL with 138 receptions, 1,829 receiving yards and 15 touchdown catches while leading the Rams to the NFC West title. A unanimous All-Pro, he received 35 votes, far in front of Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor’s 10.
Kupp was so productive while working with a new quarterback, Matthew Stafford, that he had 14 games with at least 10 catches, no games with fewer than seven. Though he isn’t the fastest nor strongest wideout, he had 100 yards receiving in 11 games.
Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt, a unanimous All-Pro like Kupp, led the NFL in sacks with a record-tying 22 ½. He joined brother J.J., a three-time winner of defensive player of the year.
“I’m not huge on individual awards,” said the Steelers’ Watt, “but it’s tough not to want that when I saw my brother at the height of his career win that award three times. And I always just thought to myself, ‘Why can’t I do that?’ ”
Tweeted older brother J.J. after announcing the winner on stage: “Some moments are just special. Couldn’t be more proud of you.”
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons, who came in second to Watt for top defensive player — but 37 votes behind — was a unanimous choice for defensive rookie of the year. Parsons not only helped the Cowboys turn around their defensive performance but was so dynamic he helped coordinator Dan Quinn win the assistant coach award.
Parsons promised he would get next what Watt has now.
“It’s an honor, and I’m still hungry,” he said. “I’m coming for him next year. … But I guess it’ll be something for me to have … for next year.”
In the Bengals’ worst-to-first AFC North rise, and then deep run in the playoffs, Chase was a major contributor. The fifth pick in the draft despite skipping the 2020 season at LSU because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chase had 81 receptions for 1,455 yards with 13 touchdowns.
His quarterback was Burrow, two years after they helped LSU win the national championship. Burrow’s rookie season was cut short by a knee injury in his 10th game with a 2-7-1 record. The Bengals quarterback sure made up for that in 2021. He smashed single-season franchise records for passer rating (108.3), yards (4,611), passing touchdowns and 300-yard games (six). His precision passing ranked first in the league at 70.4%, and despite being sacked a league-high 51 times, Burrow had an 8.9 yards per attempt that also led the NFL.
Mike Vrabel’s work with the Titans earned him coach of the year. Despite using a record for a non-strike season 91 players and losing his very best, running back Derrick Henry, for half the schedule, Vrabel led his team to the AFC South title and the conference’s top seed.
“It is a reflection of our football team and staff,” Vrabel explained. “They make a connection with our players. Players will come and go, I played for 14 years. You can still make a connection and care for your guys.
“I’m excited about it because we have had adversity and been able to persevere through that.”
Rams veteran tackle Andrew Whitworth, who also played for the Bengals, won the league’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.