The 2009 NFL regular season comes to a close next Sunday. It’s time to dole out the hardware. This year’s awardees will receive the coveted Cyber Ankh Award for injecting the spirit of Ma’at into their work. The list of competitors is long — and I’ll attempt not to leave out too many men who have had great years. At the end, I have a few additional awards for folks who’ve demonstrated some unique skills worthy of mention.
Without further ado…the 2009 Cyber Ankh Award winners are:
Quarterback: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts. What more can be said? He is the best player on the best team. He plays the game on a different level. He hasn’t lost a game he wanted to win since last fall. Manning has the wins, the statistics, and the respect of his peers. Remember this?? And this??? Honorable Mention: Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers. I am giving Rivers the nod over Drew Brees because the Chargers spent so much of this season playing without their starting center, Nick Hardwick. Rivers had MVP quality numbers last season and didn’t even make the Pro Bowl. The Chargers are second in scoring offense, have won 10 games in a row, and are poised to face the Colts in the AFC Championship game.
Running Back: Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans. 322 carries, 1872 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 2 fumbles. Johnson’s break out season could result in a new league record. Johnson is poised to go where a few runners have gone before. Even Eric Dickerson’s single-season record is within reach. And, unlike Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, Johnson is not a fumbler. If you need evidence, please click this link. The 91-yard run on 3rd and a mile says it all. Honorable Mention: Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars. As the Mighty Mite approaches 300 carries on the season, he has already topped 1300 yards. Most importantly, he has 16 touchdowns, including 11 Red Zone rushing touchdowns. MJD is money in the bank. He has 1 fumble on the season.
Fullback: The position is not widely used as it once was – and I’m reluctant to name a single recipient. Instead, I’ll mention a few players who jump off the screen for excellence at this position. 1) Leonard Weaver, Philadelphia Eagles. 2) Lousaka Polite, Miami Dolphins. 3) Heath Evans, New Orleans Saints. The New York Giants made every effort to ensure that Carolina full back Brad Hoover received this award. The vote of the Giants is duly noted, but they cast a more compelling vote for Leonard Weaver earlier this season. Meanwhile Heath Evans (Play of the Year Candidate) and Lousaka Polite have received special attention on this site during the year. Polite serves as the battering ram at the head of the league’s most powerful rushing attack. Each player has been critical to the offensive productivity of their respective teams.
Wide Receiver: With so many talented and productive players at this position (supported by the most liberal rules), wide receiver honors are particularly difficult to dish out. For my All-Pro team, I have selected 2 wide receivers. But first — a note. Did you know that Randy Moss has played 10 games with 70 receiving yards or less. Did you know that Larry Fitzgerald has played 10 games with 80 receiving yards or less. The honors go to: Andre Johnson, Houston Texans. With a loss next Sunday against New England, the Houston Texans would finish at 8-8 for the third consecutive season. With the Sophomore Jinx wholly consuming RB Steve Slaton, Johnson is the first and best symbol of excellence on this franchise. He’s the guy. DeSean Jackon, Philadelphia Eagles. Jackson leads the NFL with an average of 18.7 yards per catch. He leads the league in touchdowns over 50 yards. He leads the league in sleepless nights for DBs. Jackson is in only his second year, but he’s been a consistent player and a strong finisher. Where other young players are wilting and looking for some gas, Jackson is stepping on his accelerator. He has scored at least one touchdown in each of the Eagles’ last five games. Honorable Mention: Reggie Wayne – Mr. Consistency. Miles Austin and Vincent Jackson — Small College Guys Break Out!!
EDITOR’S NOTE: This vote was conducted PRIOR to the final game of the season in which the Philadelphia Eagles traveled to Dallas to face the Cowboys. With a number two seed, a first round bye and a division title on the line, the Eagles were shut out 24-0. DeSean Jackson had three catches for 47 yards and no touchdowns. Dallas’ Miles Austin made 7 catches for 90 yards. On the strength of this performance and his streak of one touchdown reception in four of the Cowboy’s biggest games this season (vs. Oakland, at NY Giants, San Diego, and at New Orleans), MILES AUSTIN is hereby designated as the NEW All-Pro wide receiver in place of Philadelphia WR DeSean Jackson.
Tight End(s): Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers and Dallas Clark, Indianapolis Colts. I absolutely love the flexibility that a two tight end offense provides. Gates was the easiest selection of the team. He’s healthy and has resumed his dominating form. He has 1145 yards and is averaging nearly 15 yards per catch. That’s more than most wide receivers. The Chargers are very creative in creating matchups for Gates. Defenders around the league are thinking, “Norv, take it easy. He doesn’t need any help.” Clark and Gates seem to line up as wide receivers as often as they are on the line of scrimmage. Clark is dominating the competition. Just one more reason to root for a Charger-Colt matchup. Honorable Mention: Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers. We’ve all been waiting for Davis to produce like this (12 touchdowns). Davis, it seems, has only been waiting for Alex Smith to replace Shaun Hill and stretch the field. Davis’ name will be in the conversation for NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Left Tackle: Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos. This was a difficult selection for me. There are so many elite players at this position. Miami’s Jake Long is a force to contend with (but the Dolphins do most of their damage right up the gut). Tennessee’s Michael Roos is just a pleasure to watch. His technique, balance and power are outstanding. Even Cincinnati’s Andrew Whitworth has to get some love for his season. In the end, Clady’s work is just a cut above the rest. He does it all. Honorable Mention: Mike Roos, Tennessee Titans. To get a glimpse of Roos’ speed and quickness, just watch the Titans first play from scrimmage in their road win vs. the 49ers. Roos perfectly executes a 2nd level block on linebacker Patrick Willis. The block allows Chris Johnson to pop off a 14 yard run around the left side. It’s a simple play, but Roos does it all the time.
Left Guard: Chris Kemoeatu, Pittsburgh Steelers. This selection may come as a surprise to fans who have either not seen the Steelers play, or who have come to believe media reports about this offensive line. Consider that for all the criticism the line has taken this season, they are the protection for a 4,000 yard passer, two 1,000 yard receivers, and a 1,000 yard rusher who fumbles and was benched during the season. “Kemo” is the heart and soul of this offensive line. He doesn’t say much, but he handles his business. He is ably filling a role established by New York Jet Alan Faneca as a pulling guard on power runs to the right side. Stat Surprise: The Steelers rank 13th in fewest number of QB hits (71). That’s fewer than Minnesota, Green Bay, Houston, Arizona and Dallas. However, the Steelers rank second in sacks, behind only the Green Bay Packers. Both Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers are notorious for holding on to the ball in hopes of making a play. The Steelers offensive line has done a solid job of pass protection all season and Kemoeatu has been the best run blocker on this line. Honorable Mention: Alan Faneca, New York Jets. Kemoeatu’s teacher. Waiting on Deck: Ben Grubbs, Baltimore Ravens and Eugene Amano, Tennessee Titans (Check this out).
Center: Kevin Mawae, Tennessee Titans. Mawae is a classic center. He has the most versatility of any center in the game. He can dominate the point of attack without much help from his guards (allowing them to execute 2nd level blocks on linebackers) or he can pull to either side to open up gaping holes for a speedy runner on the verge of crossing the 2,000 yard plateau. Mawae is an excellent pass protector and a leader on and off the field. The best in the game. Honorable Mention: Jeff Saturday, Indianapolis Colts. When the Colts had the reputation of being an exclusively finesse team, you just knew folks weren’t paying attention to Jeff Saturday. His work in the trenches against 3-4 nose tackles like Vince Wilfork, Casey Hampton and so many others over the years is one reason the Colts continue to be a dominant offensive power. Even when the Colts aren’t running, teams still react to Peyton Manning’s play action fakes. Saturday holds the point of attack. Manning is touched less than any QB in the entire league. Saturday organizes the protection and they work hand in hand to keep this long-standing operation flowing smoothly. Waiting on Deck: Nick Mangold, New York Jets.
Right Guard: Jahri Evans, New Orleans Saints. Left guard is a focal point of the offense across the league. The Jets, Steelers and Chargers routinely pull their left guards to lead run plays to the right side. Right guards are seldom asked to do as much. Teams make big investments to protect “the blind side” of the quarterback, and that means the most talented players wind up on the left side of the field. Among the list of under-appreciated right guards in the NFL, New Orleans’ Jahri Evans is among the best.
“Going up against him at practice, you realize how good he is,” Saints defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis said. “And if he’s playing this well at practice, I know he has to be giving guys the blues in the games.”
The Saints rank just behind the Jets and Titans in rushing first downs to the right side. Perhaps more importantly, the league’s top ranked offense has been devastating opponents by running right and converting third and short to first and 10 at an 81 percent clip. Stat Surprise: The Jets have the league’s number 1 rushing attack. In 3rd or 4th and short (2>), the Jets are perfect on the left side, but convert at only a 61 percent rate on the right side. Honorable Mention: Jake Scott, Tennessee Titans. The former Dolphin is still doing his thing next to Kevin Mawae.
Right Tackle: Jon Stinchcomb, New Orleans Saints. The Saints are not a sexy pick right now. Losses to the Dallas Cowboys (10-5) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-12) have taken many people off the Saints bandwagon. Statistical Surprise: The Bucs were 9-3 last season; their first loss in 2008 was 24-20 to the Saints. Tampa’s last win in 2008 was 23-20 over the Saints. The Bucs didn’t win another game until Week 9 (Packers) of 2009. In 2007, the Bucs won by 4 points in New Orleans. These teams usually play close games. The anomaly was the Saints 38-7 win this season…not the Bucs close win in New Orleans. The Saints will be fine — if they can find a field goal kicker. Jon Stinchcomb has provided a powerful and consistent presence for the Saints power running game of Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell. Entering Week 16, the Saints ranked 6th in the league in carries and were exhibiting the type of offensive balance that made them uniquely dangerous. Honorable Mention: Jeff Otah, Carolina Panthers. They should just call Jeff Otah “The Manhandle.” I had an opportunity to watch Otah play against the Jets and their powerful left defensive end Shaun Ellis. Otah was masterful. The Panthers lost the game, but there were some other contributing factors. Otah also performed well against Darnell Dockett and the Arizona Cardinals in the Panthers surprising wiOtah was injured in Week 14. Starting left tackle Jordan Gross was injured earlier this season. The Panthers offensive line keeps on going. The offensive coordinator is a former lineman and with the switch to Matt Moore, it is possible that this team will return to form in 2010 — with Jeff Otah holding it down at right tackle.
Kicker: Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland Raiders. Just because the offense of the Raiders has been troubled for about a decade, people should not forget that Janikowski still has the biggest leg around. His greatest claim to fame may be that he was neither “Wide Left” nor “Wide Right” while at Florida State. For the Raiders, no kick is too deep or out of the question. Each year, the Raiders routinely give SJ one or two shots at a 70-yard bomb. This season, he is 6 of 8 from beyond 50 yards and nearly perfect on everything else. With one miss inside of 50 yards, Janikowski is the one kicker you want from any distance on any field.
Kick Returner/Punt Returner: Joshua Cribbs, Cleveland Browns. Cribbs has supplanted Devin Hester in my recent memory as the most dominant return specialist in the game. DeSean Jackson and Percy Harvin are just a notch below. Cribbs’ ability to consistently break tackles, without sacrificing speed, is what puts him in the elite class.