Houston (AFP) – Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was named the National Football League’s Most Valuable Player, 24 hours before he attempts to crown a superb season with Super Bowl glory.
The 31-year-old scooped the award after collecting 25 of the votes polled, while his opposite number in Sunday’s showpiece, the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady, finished with 10 votes.
Ryan’s award came after a dazzling season at the heart of Atlanta’s free-scoring offense that saw the quarterback finish with 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
Brady, who is chasing a record fifth Super Bowl on Sunday, finished the season with 3,554 yards, 28 touchdowns and only two interceptions but played four games fewer because of his “Deflategate” suspension.
Unsurprisingly, Ryan also picked up the Offensive Player of the Year award.
The Falcons quarterback enjoyed comfortably the best season of his career after spending last summer working intensively on his throwing motion at a Los Angeles training camp. Ryan averaged just over nine yards per pass, the highest rate ever for a quarterback with more than 400 completions in a season.
Defensive Player of the Year went to Khalil Mack of the Oakland Raiders. Mack’s season included 11 sacks, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and a pick-six as the Raiders reached the playoffs.
Elsewhere, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was a surprise pick ahead of teammate Ezekiel Elliott for Offensive Rookie Player of the Year.
Prescott, who played the entire season for Dallas after starter Tony Romo suffered a back injury in pre-season, won 28 of 50 votes, beating out Elliott, who finished runner-up with 21 votes.
The Cowboys, who were beaten in their opening playoff game by the Green Bay Packers after finishing the regular season 13-3, also saw coach Jason Garrett pick up Coach of the Year honors.
The 2017 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame was also announced in the ceremony on the eve of the Super Bowl.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Danish-born kicking great Morten Andersen were selected along with long-time Seattle Seahawks safety Kenny Easley, LaDainian Tomlinson, Terrell Davis, Jason Taylor and Kurt Warner.
– Owens snubbed again –
Notable absentees included former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and mercurial wide receiver Terrell Owens, who called the process “flawed” after learning that he’d been snubbed again in his second year of eligibility.
Jones bought the Cowboys in 1989 and became the first owner whose team went to the Super Bowl four times in his first seven years with the franchise. Jones is widely involved in NFL ownership committees, including marketing, sponsorship, television, stadium management, labor negotiations and television.
Warner played in three Super Bowls — two with the St. Louis Rams and another with the Arizona Cardinals — and has the three highest passing yardage totals in the game’s history. In a rags-to-riches story, he was bagging groceries and playing for the Arena Football League’s Iowa Barnstormers before he caught on with the Rams as a free agent in 1998.
Andersen entered the NFL in 1982 and retired in 2004. He set the record for career points (2,544), field goals (565) and game played (382) in a career that included stints with the New Orleans Saints, Falcons, New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings.
Tomlinson, the league’s number five all-time rusher, made the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.