The Latest: Packers’ Aaron Rodgers wins 3rd MVP Award

Sports

FILE – In this Jan. 3, 2021, file photo, Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City. Herbert has had a busy four weeks since the Chargers ended their season, but he already has set his sights on what will be another transitional offseason for him. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

The Latest on the NFL individual awards presented Saturday during the NFL Honors TV show (All times EST):

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10:42 p.m.

No surprise about The Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player: Aaron Rodgers has won it for the third time.

Rodgers had perhaps the best season of his 16-year career, leading Green Bay to a 13-3 regular season, the NFC’s best mark. Just a few months after questions arose about his comfort level with the Packers — and their choosing a quarterback in the first round of April’s draft — Rodgers, who turned 37 in December, tore up the NFL.

Rodgers topped the league with 48 touchdown passes, completion rate (70.7 percent) and a 121.5 rating. He was picked off just five times.

“It is really special to have won it in my fourth year as a starter and now to win it in my 13th year as a starter in a new offense is pretty amazing and something I am very proud of,” Rodgers said, “To have sustained success and be able to play your best football at 37 in my 16th season is something I take a lot of pride in.”

Also no surprise is that only quarterbacks received votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. After all, pro football in recent years has been all about the QBs: The past eight MVPs and 13 of the past 14 have been quarterbacks.

Rodgers received 44 votes, followed by Buffalo’s Josh Allen with four, and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, the 2018 MVP, with two.

Rodgers was league MVP in 2011 and 2014. He joins former teammate Brett Favre and Tom Brady as a three-time winner.

“The guys on that list are guys I grew up watching and idolizing,” he said. “I was fortunate to play with Brett for three years — a guy who won it three years in a row, something that will probably never be done again; it’s so difficult to have that sustained success, and do it in consecutive years three times. And Tom is one of the greatest of all time, and to join that list of guys who have won it more than two times is really special.”

Peyton Manning has the most MVP awards with five.

The winner was revealed on the NFL Honors television show.

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10:03 p.m.

Just getting on the practice field was a victory for Alex Smith. Leading Washington to the playoffs? The stuff dreams are made of, perhaps.

The 36-year-old quarterback completed a remarkable comeback from a broken right leg that required 17 surgeries to repair. Smith stepped into start eight games before a strained right calf in the same leg sidelined him for the postseason spot he helped the team secure.

But Smith had overcome the doubts — and doubters.

“You know obviously that was a big part of my initial part of my rehab when I wasn’t even really thinking about football at that point, way more concerned with everyday life and tasks, and things,” he said. “And obviously fortunate enough it did progress to the point where when I started to think about football, it still seemed distant for a long long time.

“As I worked toward that it was a complex thing, trying to figure out bracing that would best work to try to play quarterback. It literally came up for this summer when I finally got the go-ahead that my bone had healed enough that I could attempt it.

“But even then I think it was hard for a lot of people to digest that I wanted to do this, that I wanted to attempt this. I did get a lot of pushback throughout the entire process. Why was I doing this? This was crazy. There were definitely periods throughout the entire two years of setbacks and when I really would doubt anything like this was possible.”

It was so possible that Smith nearly swept the voting for The Associated Press 2020 NFL Comeback Player of the Year award. Smith received 49 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league.

Everyone across the league cited Smith as an inspiration.

“It is humbling when I hear that,” Smith said. “I know for how long I spent thinking about and looking at the men and women who inspired me. I am stuck in the hospital bed, stuck in a wheelchair, spent countless hours googling and looking at videos of our service men and women going through the same rehab as I went through.

“So there were definitely people in front of me that I am so thankful for that allowed me to go down this path. And obviously I am humbled and I guess you hope that you can kind of be a link in that chain for anybody coming behind you.”

The other vote went to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had a strong season coming off right elbow surgery that ended his 2019 season in Week 2.

The winner was revealed on the NFL Honors television show.

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9:52 p.m.

For turning around a moribund Cleveland franchise, overcoming injuries and COVID-19 concerns,Kevin Stefanski is The Associated Press 2020 NFL Coach of the Year.

The Browns snapped their postseason drought going back to the 2003 season by going 11-5 in the rugged AFC North, then beating Pittsburgh in the wild-card round before a close loss at Kansas City. Stefanski eliminated past attitude problems and locker room discord in making the Browns not only a contender this season, but a potential force in the future.

“We never concerned ourselves with the past, we are all about moving forward,” Stefanski said. “This season had its unique challenges and we focused on those each and every day and ultimately tried to put together a group of guys that would fight every single week, and I think we did that. But we were so focused on what we were doing in the here and now.

Stefanski drew half of the ballots from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL. That far outdistanced Buffalo’s Sean McDermott (seven) and Miami’s Brian Flores (six). He is the second Browns coach to take the award; Forrest Gregg won it in 1976.

With quarterback Baker Mayfield maturing into a solid leader and passer, a strong running game with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and an All-Pro edge rusher in Myles Garrett, Stefanski brought the Browns to relevance.

“I am so impressed by this organization, from top to bottom what they were able to accomplish given some of the circumstances,” Stefanski said. “And really the attitude every single day when people walked into this building, really it was a can-do attitude and we tried to find a way every day and every week under some unique circumstances.

“There was a lot of uncertainty, every morning you kind of woke up and waited for that phone call about how some things may be changing. We had to navigate through that. I think we got comfortable being uncomfortable because that’s what 2020 was all about.”

The winner was revealed on the NFL Honors television show.

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9:43 p.m.

One of the well-earned spoils for Derrick Henry’s 2,000-yard rushing season is The Associated Press 2020 NFL Offensive Player of the Year honor.

The Tennessee Titans running back with speed, power and the best stiff-arm in the business, ran for 2,027 yards, the eighth player to surpass the magic 2,000 mark. Five of the previous seven to manage the feat won the award, while O.J. Simpson in 1973 was the league’s MVP.

“Two thousand yards is always on a running back’s mind, especially in the league because it is so unique,” Henry said. “As far as me, as long as I train hard and work hard in the offseason, and then when I come in for training camp and do what I need to do to be ready to prepare for the season, everything would take care of itself. Always put the team goals first, then individual goals come second.

“But I knew we take a lot of pride in the running game and have had success, and then anything is possible with the group I am with, (so) we could accomplish it.”

Henry averaged 126.7 yards per game, scored 17 touchdowns on the ground, and led the Titans to their first AFC South crown since 2008. He had seven games with more than 100 yards rushing, and three games with more than 200 — including 250 in the season finale to get beyond 2,000 yards.

That brought him 32 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL. He far outdistanced quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes of Kansas City and Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay with five apiece.

Henry has improved his game in each of his five seasons.

“All the elements as far as my game and what I am good at, I think my time throughout the league I started to develop the more experience I got,” he said. “As the years went on, I think just the development to the player I am today wasn’t always good and go. There was some adversity and had to work my way through it, but I appreciated it and that is how I got here today with the things I have been able to accomplish with my teammates. Just very thankful for it all.”

The winner was revealed on the NFL Honors television show.

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9:30 p.m.

Aaron Donald has become such a dominant defensive tackle that he’s joined elite company in winning his third Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.

The Los Angeles Rams’ unanimous All-Pro added the 2020 top defensive player honor to his wins in 2017 and 2018. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor (1981, ’82, 86) and Houston edge rusher J.J. Watt (2012, ’14, 15) have earned the award three times.

“You just named two great defensive players,” he said, “so any time your name is mentioned with greats, you will be honored — especially there’s only a few that have accomplished that. To be the third to do it that is truly a blessing. It shows the body of work that I have; anytime your hard work is rewarded you are going to be happy about that. It is just a blessing.”

Statistics don’t define Donald, who often deals with double-teams — and sometimes more — because of how disruptive he is. Yet he remains disruptive, and he had 45 tackles, 13 1-2 sacks, 28 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles and dozens of sleepless nights suffered by opponents.

That drew 27 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL. Donald got seven more than J.J. Watt’s younger brother, All-Pro edge rusher T.J. Watt of Pittsburgh. The other three votes went to Dolphins All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard, the league’s interceptions leader.

At age 29, Donald could have a few more such awards ahead of him.

“From stopping the run to rushing the passer to just trying to dominate, I think I am a rounded player,” he said. “I feel I can do everything. No matter the size of the person, as long as you can play at high level and be productive, that is all that matters.

“I will always say my overall game, my mindset is always trying to find ways to get better, stay consistent from stopping the run and rushing the passer. When you make a name for yourself it just gets 10 times harder. So I got to always find ways to improve as a rounded football player, and that’s what I will continue to do.”

The winner was revealed on the NFL Honors television show.

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9:27 p.m.

Many observers tabbed Chase Young as the most talented player in last April’s draft. Looks like they knew something.

The edge rusher for Washingtonran away in voting for The Associated Press 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year award. The first player for the Washington franchise to win it, Young led all rookies with 7 1/2 sacks and should be an anchor of the team’s defense throughout the decade.

His performance helped Washington win the NFC East, albeit at 7-9. But the defense ranked second in the league in large part because of a fearsome pass rush anchored by Young, the second overall selection in 2020′s draft.

All the while having a ball.

“Definitely, I feel like that is the reason I play the game,” Young said. “Even from the first time I was a kid, I loved the game. I definitely like to have fun when I am out there playing.”

Young received 42 1-2 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. Carolina safety Jeremy Chinn received 4 1-2 votes, Baltimore linebacker Patrick Queen got two, and Tampa Bay safety Antoine Winfield Jr. got one.

Young was fortunate to have the guidance of two superb defensive minds in head coach Ron Rivera and coordinator Jack Del Rio in Washington.

“I came in eager to just work hard and be a sponge,” Young said, “and I watched coach Del Rio and Rivera just from afar, and always just tried to pick their minds about football in general. And I feel like that helped me throughout the year.”

The winner was revealed on the NFL Honors television show.

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9:20 p.m.

Justin Herbert is the latest quarterback to win The Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

The Los Angeles Chargers’ breakthrough star, chosen sixth overall in last April’s draft, is the second straight quarterback and the ninth since 2004, when Ben Roethlisberger became the first QB to take the award. Herbert also is the second Charger to win it; running back Don Woods was the recipient in 1974.

Not even a starter when the season began, Herbert stepped in during the Chargers’ second game when Tyrod Taylor was injured during a medical procedure. Herbert never looked back and set a rookie record with 31 TD passes.

“I think it is a testament to all the hard work we have put in as a team, the coaching staff and the players,” Herbert said. “It’s been a tough year, but we put in a lot of good work, but just to be in the conversation (for the award) is an honor.”

Herbert easily outdistanced Minnesota wide receiver Justin Jefferson in voting by a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. The margin was 41-9.

He particularly credited his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for his rapid rise.

“I would say it would have to be coach (Shane) Steichen and coach (Pep) Hamilton,” Herbert noted. “Those two probably had the most in my development, being able to spend a lot of time with them and learning from them. I think that is what helped the most.”

Still, the Chargers went 7-9, losing a bunch of close games, and head coach Anthony Lynn was fired. Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley replaced Lynn.

“The next step for us is to continue to develop as a team, keep pushing forward, win more games and close out some of those losses that we thought we could have had,” Herbert said. “But overall it’s just getting better, getting that locker room tighter, and keep doing a good job.”

The winner was revealed on the NFL Honors television show.

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8:08 p.m.

Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has won The Associated Press NFL Assistant Coach of the Year award.

Daboll not only helped Buffalo to a 15-4 record and a spot in the AFC championship game, he oversaw the rapid development of quarterback Josh Allen in his third pro season. Allen not only had a 107.2 passer rating, fourth in the NFL, but threw for 37 touchdowns against 10 interceptions, and completed 69.2% of his passes, a vast improvement over his 58.79% in 2019.

The Bills’ attack was bolstered by the addition of receiver Stefon Diggs in a trade from Minnesota. Diggs has his best season with a league-best 127 receptions for 1,535 yards and eight touchdowns, making the All-Pro Team.

“I think it is important to develop relationships with your players and make sure they understand you care about them not just as players but as people off the field, that is the first thing,” Daboll said. “The second thing is those guys, they have a very similar mindset and personality, and they hit it off I would say off the field. They got together in Florida in the offseason along with the other receivers, tight ends, backs, started to develop a relationship there, and it continued to grow.

“You know, we meet a lot as a group, particularly in the passing game with the receivers, the tight ends, the quarterbacks, and we really try to let those guys’ personalities show as long as it fits in the framework of the offense. And I think with building relationships and meeting together and spending time together, I think that helps when you are on the field.”

Daboll’s creativity and teaching skills were directly responsible for those impressive numbers — and many others on one of the NFL’s most potent offenses. Only Green Bay with 509 scored more than Buffalo’s 501 points.

Daboll received 28 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. He easily outdistanced Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley (5 1-2), who now is the head coach of the Chargers.

Having spent time in a variety of jobs with six NFL teams has contributed strongly to Daboll’s success.

“It has helped out a lot, all of my experience since I started out working on the defensive side of football to getting moved over to the receiver coach then to the quarterback coach, offensive coordinator, tight ends,” he said. “I was able to be in the offensive line room sometime. All of those experiences dealing with not only different positions but different groups of guys has really helped out.”

The winner was revealed on the NFL Honors television show.

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More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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