We return to NFL Thursday for another edition of our second miniseries, examining awarded Super Bowl MVPs (15-for-42 so far) and Rookies of the Year (30-for-51). Our Super Bowl this season was another with a somewhat fishy result, with the same team that benefitted from bad calls in Super Bowl XL once again coming out way ahead on the bad calls in a very close game. Multiple written accounts question the officiating in this one. We hate conspiracy theories, but this one really does have traction. Onward!

Super Bowl XLIII MVP: Santonio Holmes, WR, Pittsburgh (original); Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona (revised)

The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals, 27-23, with the winning touchdown coming in the final minute for the second straight season. Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes won the MVP vote, mostly for catching that winning TD—even though the previous year’s vote didn’t consider that factor, or the guaranteed-win element, in its rush to anoint a “popular” player instead of the “right” player. Go figure how the MVP vote can be so inconsistent year to year. Shameful!

Holmes caught 9 passes for 131 yards and that winning TD, which represents a good day. Is there anyone else to consider here? We would say, yes, as Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald had an even better game with 7 catches for 127 yards and two TDs. If not for a few specific plays (see above on numerous bad calls) here and there, then the Cardinals could have won this game, and Fitzgerald’s heroics would be at the top of the MVP vote. The game result is circumstantial, in truth.

Both quarterbacks committed turnovers, and neither team had any running game to speak of. What about defense? Arizona defensive tackle Darnell Dockett had 3 sacks, while Pittsburgh linebackers James Harrison (INT TD return) and LaMarr Woodley (2 sacks) stood out aplenty. In the end, though, we are going with Fitzgerald, in a shocker: His two fourth-quarter TDs gave his team the lead, and his other heroics during the game should have been enough to deliver a win.

2008 NFL ROTY: Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta & Jerod Mayo, LB, New England (original); Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee (revised)

Both ROTY vote winners played on 11-win teams, although the New England Patriots missed out on the postseason due to a tiebreaker. Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan (87.7 QB rating) helped his team improve 7 victories from the year before, while Pats LB Jerod Mayo (100 tackles) made sure his team could overcome the loss of its starting QB in Week 1 of the season. Are there any other candidates we want to consider here?

Offensively, there are two other candidates: Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson (1,488 scrimmage yards with 10 TDs) and Philadelphia Eagles WR DeSean Jackson (1,008 scrimmage yards with 3 TDs). Defensively, no one else matches Mayo, although he failed to register a sack or an INT on the year, so we will drop him from overall consideration and just look at Ryan, Johnson, and Jackson now. Quite simply, this comes out to Johnson on the top of our list, and there are a few reasons why.

Ryan only tossed 16 TDs while throwing 11 INTs, so that’s why his 87.7 QB rating isn’t super impressive, even for a rookie. Also, Jackson fumbled 4 times, so anytime you fumble more than you score, that’s a bad thing. Meanwhile, Johnson helped the Titans improve by 3 games with his impressive rookie campaign. That doesn’t match Ryan’s team improvement, but Johnson just had the better season, really, and while we aren’t overlooking Ryan’s importance, he just wasn’t a standout player as a rookie.