On NFL Thursday, we have reached the midpoint of the 2000s, which is notable for a significant reason we can’t really discuss yet, but this NFL season is the launching point for a future miniseries in this column space. Stay tuned for that one down the line …
But we digress. On with the award analysis, as this one caught up complete by surprise!
2005 MVP: Shaun Alexander (original AP & PFWA), Tiki Barber (revised)
Let’s go with the defense first, as we do wonder if we will ever get another defensive MVP at this point. Two linebackers—the New York Jets’ Jonathan Vilma (173 tackles in 16 games) and the Miami Dolphins’ Zach Thomas (162 tackles in 14 games)—both surpassing the key tackles-per-game threshold. But neither did much of anything else, and both teams missed the playoffs.
Oakland Raiders defensive end Derrick Burgess (16) was the only player to register one sack per game, but two players reached double digits in interceptions for the first time in forever: Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Deltha O’Neal (10) and Jets CB Ty Law (10). Cincy did win 10 games on its way to an AFC North Division title, so there is that, although the Raiders missed the postseason.
Without any real defensive candidates then, we move on to the quarterbacks: Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning, who won our award last year after getting stripped of his voted award in 2003, topped the league in QB rating (104.1), while Bengals QB Carson Palmer (101.1) was the only other passer with a rating over the 100 mark. Indy posted an NFL-high 14 wins, while Cincinnati won its division.
Palmer led the league in completion percentage and touchdown percentage, while getting his team to the postseason for the first time since 1990. The Bengals defense was mediocre at best, even with the contributions of O’Neal, giving up the most points of any playoff team in the NFL. You know Palmer did some heavy lifting, while Manning had a defense that surrendered more than 100 points less.
As for running backs, Seattle Seahawks star Shaun Alexander won both the AP and PFWA votes to claim the dual MVP awards: He topped the NFL in carries (370), yards (1,880), and rushing scores (27), the latter tying the record set by our MVP pick in 2003 (Priest Holmes). With 13 wins, the Seahawks posted the best record in the NFC.
Meanwhile, Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith won the Triple Crown for receiving with 103 catches for 1,563 yards and 12 TDs. While he tied with Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald for receptions and Colts wideout Marvin Harrison for scoring receptions, clearly Smith was the dominant player at his position in 2005. The Panthers won 11 games to qualify for the postseason, too.
So, in our minds thus far, we have Palmer, Alexander, and Smith at the top of our list, as we look at the scrimmage-yards numbers to see if anything moves us. And a few things pop out: New York Giants RB Tiki Barber topped the NFL with 2,390 total yards, while Kansas City Chiefs workhorse Larry Johnson (2,093 yards with 21 TDs) was the next on the list. Alexander came in third with 1,958 yards total, as he was very one dimensional.
The Giants won 11 games and the NFC East, while the Chiefs won 10 games but missed the AFC playoffs in a tiebreaker. Johnson and Alexander each fumbled 5 times, while Barber only coughed the ball up once. But then again, he only had 11 total TDs, as well.
Time for the usual triplets analysis, then:
- Palmer: RB Rudi Johnson (1,548 total yards with 12 TDs and 1 fumble) and WR Chad Johnson (1,465 total yards with 9 TDs and 1 fumble)
- Alexander: QB Matt Hasselbeck (98.2 QB rating) and WR Bobby Engram (778 total yards with 3 TDs and 2 fumbles)
- Smith: QB Jake Delhomme (88.1 QB rating) and RB DeShaun Foster (1,251 total yards with 3 TDs and 2 fumbles)
- Barber: QB Eli Manning (75.9 QB rating) and WR Plaxico Burress (1,214 total yards with 7 TDs and 1 fumble)
- Johnson: QB Trent Green (90.1 QB rating) and WR Eddie Kennison (1,145 total yards with 5 TDs and 1 fumble)
Palmer had a good supporting cast, clearly, while Alexander and Barber did a lot of heavy lifting on their own. Smith and Johnson fall in the middle, which leaves us with the two running backs: Alexander tied an NFL record, while Barber fell short of a record by 39 total yards. Alexander scored a lot more than Barber, but he also fumbled more.
But here’s a key: Seattle won its division by seven games. That’s unheard of in a 16-game season. It means Alexander didn’t need to be that good for the Seahawks to win (hello value), and it also means he played six games against some really bad teams to pad his stats. Seattle also had a better defense than New York did.
Plus, this is the final piece of the puzzle for us: Barber ran for 1,865 yards on the ground and also played a key role in the Giants passing game when they had a very bad QB. Alexander didn’t do squat for the Seahawks passing game, and even if Engram was the best receiver Seattle had, clearly the QB quality enabled the Seahawks to spread the ball around just fine against a weak schedule.
It’s hard to believe that Barber would retire after the 2006 season, having posted three consecutive seasons of over 2,000 total yards. But at age 31, he walked away from the game, missing out on the Giants’ 2007 playoff run to the Super Bowl championship.