For one year now on NFL Thursday, we have been scandal-free in our analyses of the NFL MVP awards, but now we enter the era of the New England Patriots and their cheating quarterback Tom Brady. This was the first season that the Pats won a Super Bowl, and as we learned years later, they probably were spying on their opponents’ practices in violation of NFL rules. This is going to make our analyses sticky going forward, albeit not quite yet.
Time to focus: We have another split vote to examine this week, so on with the show!
2001 MVP: Kurt Warner (original AP) & Marshall Faulk (original PFWA), Marshall Faulk (revised)
Let’s start with defense as Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was one of only two players in the league to average at least 10 tackles per game (162 in 16 games, joined by Miami Dolphins LB Zach Thomas and his 155 tackles in 15 games). However, Lewis separated himself by also defending 10 passes during the year and securing three interceptions as well as 3.5 sacks. He was all over the field, in reality.
New York Giants defensive lineman Michael Strahan actually set an official NFL record with 22.5 sacks during the regular season, but we know the final sack to break the mark was a farce; plus, the Giants didn’t even finish above .500 for the year, so we can toss this aside, sadly. It’s a shame, really, that he still holds this “record” undeservedly.
Two players each intercepted 10 passes, which had not happened in a while: Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber and Cleveland Browns nickelback Anthony Henry. The Browns finished with the same 7-9 record as the Giants, while Barber had a pretty complete season: 24 PDs, 72 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble.
But none of these defensive guys really stand out for MVP votes, as the St. Louis Rams offense once again dominated the voting process: Quarterback Kurt Warner won the AP vote again, while running back Marshall Faulk won the PFWA vote again. We will see how this shakes out below.
Let’s start with the QBs first, as Warner did lead all players with a 101.4 QB rating, but he also tossed 22 interceptions. His 36 TD passes and 4,830 yards topped the league, and we suspect that is where the MVP votes came from in a sheep-like mentality for the voters that we saw before in the mid-1990s. Four other QBs topped a 94-rating level as well: Oakland Raiders veteran Rich Gannon (95.5), San Francisco 49ers spark plug Jeff Garcia (94.8), and Green Bay Packers leader Brett Favre (94.1).
All these QBs led their teams to the postseason, and Warner’s season is the best one, despite the very high INT total. His yards-per-attempt number (8.8) was incredible—and a yard ahead of anyone else in the league—while his 68.7-percent completion percentage also was the best in the NFL. We have a hard time with the 22 INTs, not to mention his 10 fumbles. In spite of his efficiency on most levels, Warner was a turnover machine.
Meanwhile, fifteen players ran for a least 1,000 yards on the year, topped by Kansas City Chiefs RB Priest Holmes (1,555 yards) and New York Jets RB Curtis Martin (1,513 yards). The latter helped his team to the playoffs, while the former did not. Meanwhile, Seattle Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander topped the league with 14 rushing TDs while adding 1,318 yards on the ground, but the Seahawks’ 9-7 finish just missed out on January football action.
With no single back really separating himself based on rushing contributions alone, we look to the receivers: A whopping 25 guys topped 1,000 yards receiving, actually, with Denver Broncos WR Rod Smith (113 catches), Arizona Cardinals WR David Boston (1,598 yards), and 49ers WR Terrell Owens (16 TDS) topping the respective key categories. Again, no one player dominated the position or the league here.
So, it’s on to the scrimmage yards, as is often the case when a QB isn’t a clear MVP. Holmes topped the league with 2,169 yards, but he scored just 10 total TDs while fumbling four times. Meanwhile, Faulk was right behind in yards (2,147) while posting 21 TDs and fumbling just 3 times. Just like last year, that’s an incredible scoring/turnover ratio. No other player topped 2,000 total yards on the season.
We know Faulk was the key to the Rams offense, not Warner, especially with those respective turnover rates. Furthermore, the St. Louis defense was back to its 1999 levels, giving up just 273 points this season. That defense gave Warner a safety net for those 22 INTs and 10 fumbles, a net that Faulk did not need. The Rams also had two 1,000-yard receivers in Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.
If Holmes had gotten the Chiefs into the playoffs, this would be more of a discussion, but a 6-10 record wasn’t even close to the playoffs, in truth. What about Alexander? He finished just sixth in total yards, as his receiving contributions just were not enough for consideration here.
Gannon had three players in Oakland who topped 1,100 total yards from scrimmage, so he wasn’t carrying the Raiders. Garcia had two teammates in San Francisco top 1,400 yards from scrimmage as well. Favre had RB Ahman Green (1,981 total yards) and a solid WR corps to help him out, too. Basically, everyone had their supporting casts on all levels.
In winning 14 games, the Rams had the best record in the league, and it was mostly due to Faulk’s ability to run wild, catch passes out of the backfield when the WRs were double covered, and not turn the ball over while leading the NFL in overall TDs (by a 5-score margin). The Greatest Show on Turf does not exist without Faulk, period, so he gets a third consecutive MVP nod from us.