|The Real MVP|
|Written by Mark Grey|
by MARK GREY
Every December as the NFL playoffs near, we watch the cream of the crop rise. This NFL season was a little different than most. At a time when we are used to seeing MVP candidates put on their best shows, this year we saw just about every candidate play his way out of the award. Despite the lack of MVP play from the popular candidates down the home stretch, someone still had to win. While others were busy taking their name out of the race for the award, one player took his game to another level, elevated his team into the playoffs, and proved himself to be a real MVP. He didn't receive a single first place vote; however, for my money, the real MVP of 2008 is Ed Reed.
Let me start by saying that I take nothing away from Peyton Manning. He is a great quarterback and could be the MVP just about every year. That said, this was Manning's worst season out of the past seven. Manning did not lead the NFL in any major passing category, his QB rating and touchdown totals were his lowest since his 2002 campaign, and for the first time in six years the Colts didn't win the AFC south. While most quarterbacks could only dream of having Manning's 2008 season, it wasn't a real “Peyton MVP season.” Sorry Peyton, I didn't set the bar that high, you did. Manning has now joined Tim Duncan and Alex Rodriguez in the "Unless-someone-else-has-a-record-breaking-year-give-the-MVP-to-me" group, and this year no one did. Hence, Manning won his third MVP.
Through the first half of the season, Drew Brees and Kurt Warner were in a two man race for the title of MVP. While both Brees and Warner were putting up eye-popping numbers, sports columnists across the country were debating whether or not Peyton was even better than his brother Eli anymore. Adrian Peterson began having his name thrown in the mix as he kept racking up 100-yard games and the Vikings kept wining. There were even talks about Tennessee's Albert Haynesworth being the first defensive player to win the honor. But then it was like they all hit the wall at once. Warner turned the ball over seven times in a three game span. Haynesworth and the Titans got the ball run down their throat by the Jets, and then he got hurt a few games later. Similarly, all of a sudden Peterson couldn't hold on to the ball, fumbling five times in the last four games. When the Saints' playoff chances went out the window, so did the Brees MVP talk. All of a sudden there were no more candidates left standing...or were there?
Although no one had mentioned the Ravens' safety for MVP all year, they should have. Reed anchored the second best defense in the NFL on a team that won 11 games in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Reed, who was playing good football in the first half of the season when the Ravens got off to a 5 -3 start, played great football in the second half of the season when it mattered most. After a 30-10 beatdown from the Giants in week 11, the Ravens' playoff hopes looked like they were slipping away. In a must-win game the following week vs the Philadelphia Eagles, Reed put on a show. Not only did he defend 4 passes, he also intercepted 2, including one in which he took 108 yards for a touchdown, breaking the previous NFL record, which was also his, for longest INT return at 106 yards. The Ravens went on to blow the Eagles out 36-7 and win 5 of their last 6 games to clinch a playoff spot. In that six game span, Reed intercepted 8 passes, scored 2 touchdowns, forced 1 fumble, recovered 2, and threw in 1 sack just for fun. Reed's numbers over the last 6 games of the season were better than any other safety's numbers for the year. Whenever the Ravens' defense needed a big stop, there was number 20, the true definition of a ball hawk, coming up with the big play. Ask anyone who has ever watched a Ravens game and they will tell you the same thing: no matter where you throw the ball, Reed will be around it.
For years, the mindset has been that a defensive player can't really be the most valuable player of the league...but I'm not sure why not. If a defensive-minded team wins 11 games, why can't we say he is just as valuable as an offensive player on an offensive-minded team? The mindset is that the Peyton Mannings, Tom Bradys and Ladanian Tomlinsons of the world make their offense good and in turn their teams win, but every team isn't built around the offense. The Ravens team is built around its defense and Ed Reed is what makes the defense great. With Reed's ability to cut off just about every deep play, teams are forced to try and beat the Ravens underneath in the short yardage game, which is just fine with Ray Lewis and company up front. Who is to say that Peyton Manning means more to the Colts' offense than Reed means to the Ravens' defense? The point is, the Ravens, who rank second in the NFL in defense, are going to the Playoffs because of their defense, and the Colts who rank only 15th in offense are going because they are a balanced team. The Colts' defense this year was actually ranked higher than their offense so it's hard to say Peyton and the offense carried them. On the other hand, the Ravens' offense was ranked only 18th, showing that Ed Reed and the Defense clearly carried the team.
While the idea of a defensive player, let alone a safety, winning the MVP of the NFL is still foreign to many, one day it will come true. Colts' fans themselves need to look no further than their own team to see the importance a great safety can have. As great as the Colts' offense has been over the last couple of seasons, everyone knows that without Bob Sanders anchoring the defense, the Colts go nowhere. I can already hear some of you laughing at the idea that a safety can be as valuable as a quarterback, but let me leave you with this: of the six safeties named to the pro bowl this year, five of them are in the playoffs. On the other hand, of the 6 quarterbacks named, 3 of them missed the playoffs. I guess that just goes to show that you have a better chance of missing the playoffs with a Pro Bowl quarterback than you do with a Pro Bowl safety. I'm sure football fans in both Pittsburgh and Baltimore will agree with the idea that an MVP safety is not as crazy as it sounds.