After his first eight seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, quarterback Matt Ryan had forged a reputation as an above-average quarterback who would never manage to break into the elite tier. He obliterated that sentiment this season by setting career bests in passing yards (4,944), passing touchdowns (38), interceptions (7), completion percentage (69.9), yards per attempt (9.3), and quarterback rating (117.1).
By extending his remarkable performance into the postseason, he has the Falcons on the doorstep of their first NFL championship. And on Saturday, Ryan was rewarded by being named the league’s Most Valuable Player, earning 25 of the 50 votes by media members. They were the first MVP votes of his career, and the fewest by a winner since Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander captured the 2005 award with 19 votes.
The other players who received MVP votes this season were Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (10), Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (6), Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (6), Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (2), and Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (1).
Ryan was also named Offensive Player of the Year in an extremely split ballot. For the first time since 2000, eight players received votes (Ryan, 15.5; Rodgers, 11; David Johnson, 8; Brady, 7; Elliott, 5.5; Le’Veon Bell, 1; Carr, 1; Drew Brees, 1).
Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack edged Broncos linebacker Von Miller for Defensive Player of the Year honors (Mack, 18; Miller, 17; Landon Collins, 9; Aaron Donald, 3; Sean Lee, 2; Eric Berry, 1) after recording 11 sacks and forcing five fumbles for an Oakland team that made its first playoff appearance since 2002.
Brady was trying to become the fifth player to earn three MVP awards. He has now received MVP votes in eight seasons, trailing only Peyton Manning (10) in that category. Brady also passed Joe Montana (123) for the third-most MVP votes in NFL history, with 130, and trails Manning (227) and Brett Favre (161).
Ryan and Brady face off in Super Bowl LI tomorrow, and although 14 MVPs have won NFL championships, none have since Kurt Warner led the St. Louis Rams to the title after the 1999 season.
Here are some Associated Press voters’ selections for MVP:
Matt Ryan (25 votes)
Ira Kaufman: “Ryan has been my pick as MVP for a while, and he never faltered in leading Atlanta to the NFC’s No. 2 playoff seed. And to think, a year ago many Falcons fans were ready to move on from Ryan, who was admittedly disappointing in 2015.”
Boomer Esiason: “I voted for him because he had 16 great regular-season games. The numbers are off the charts. He certainly deserves it. I know that Aaron Rodgers had a late-season run. The second half of the season for Aaron was about as good as anybody had. And certainly Tom Brady in the 12 games that he played put up great numbers, especially only two interceptions.”
Jarrett Bell: “Was engine behind NFL’s most prolific offense, getting the edge over Tom Brady because he played the entire 16 games. He distributed the ball so well and significantly reduced his turnovers in producing the best season of his career.”
Mark Craig: “His season was one of the best ever in terms of a quarterback combining efficiency, explosiveness, consistency and success.”
John McClain: “He was the best player in the NFL last season.”
Tom Brady (10 votes)
Vic Carucci: “The Brady/Patriot haters will be quick to point out the team went 3-1 as he served the silly four-game suspension for #Deflategate. It’s a compelling argument, but it quickly loses steam when you see what Brady has done since his return. Working with new third, fourth, and fifth receivers and without tight end Rob Gronkowski for more than half the season, he managed to post his best completion percentage and passer rating since 2010, when he last was named MVP. He’s 39 years old and playing as well as at any point in a career that has well established him as the greatest quarterback and maybe player at any position in the history of the game. Others have had MVP-like seasons, but no one matches Brady for the overwhelming value he brings every time he steps onto the field.”
Tom Curran: “Brady wasn’t unavailable because he was injured. He wasn’t there because the NFL ran a sham investigation trying to prove something happened. They failed in that so they instead settled for reputation assassination in order to save face. Brady sat four games so the NFL could justify its mistake. And I decided that holding that against Brady would only further validate the NFL’s suspension of him. So I voted for Brady.”
Jenny Vrentas: “This year was a tough choice. But when I went to vote, I thought about the true letter of the award, who is the most valuable player in the NFL to have on your football team, and I couldn’t make an argument that anyone was more valuable to a team having success than Brady.”
Derek Carr (6 votes)
Gary Myers: “He took what has been the most dysfunctional team and won 12 games, the most for the Raiders since 2000. Going into this season, they were 63-145 since their Super Bowl appearance in 2002 and never finished above .500. Ryan has been spectacular but has won two fewer games. Brady has been Brady, which means he’s just adding to his legacy as the best QB of all time. Although he was punished unfairly for Deflategate, he was suspended for one-quarter of the season, which makes it hard to pick him.”
Adam Schein: “No player in the NFL was more responsible for his team’s achievement — and overachievement — this year than Carr. His numbers (28 touchdowns against just six picks, with 3,937 passing yards) were excellent, though he was clearly outpaced by other quarterbacks. But Carr’s year wasn’t about stats. It was about value. It was about fourth-quarter play and carrying the Raiders to 12 wins. If you watched the games, you know Ryan and Brady were arguably more dominant. Rodgers’ final six weeks were dreamy and iconic. Zeke gave the Cowboys’ offense and defense a huge lift, leading Dallas to the No. 1 seed. But Carr meant everything to a Raiders team that was in major need of a great player and leadership at quarterback.”
Ronald Borges: “I voted for Derek Carr because I am a strict constructionist when it comes to MVP. To me it means not the best player or the one who had the best season but the one most valuable to his team. Brady gets the nod if its simply best player/player of the year. But team went 3-1 without him. That is why I voted for Derek Carr. At time of his injury I said Raiders would not score another TD. They barely did.”
Ezekiel Elliott (6 votes)
Rick Gosselin: “The Cowboys announced they were hitching their wagon to Elliott when they took him with the fourth overall pick of the 2016 draft last April. He was going to be the guy who got the DeMarco Murray workload, which would allow the Cowboys to protect both the health of an aging quarterback (Romo) and a defense that lacked playmakers. His legs became even more important in August when they suddenly became the protector of a young, inexperienced quarterback (Prescott). And Elliott delivered, claiming an NFL rushing title for himself and powering the Cowboys to an NFC East title and top seed in the NFC playoff bracket.”
Charean Williams: “Cowboys went from 4-12 to 13-3. They had best record in the NFC. Either Zeke or Dak deserved it considering Brady missed four games.”