Monday, January 5, 2009

2008 Regular Season Awards

Sure, a non-playoff season is a disappointment around here, but just because the team fell from 16-0 to 11-5 doesn't mean everyone screwed up. Here are my 2008 Patriots Regular Season Awards.

The Offense

Most Valuable Offensive Player: Wes Welker
Honorable Mention: Kevin Faulk, Stephen Neal & Nick Kazcur

This was the closest call in all my years of blogging. But in the end, Wes Welker was the choice because he was incredibly consistent, scoring points depends more on the pass than the run and Matt Cassel depended on Welker, and because he played all 16 games. Welker caught 6 or more passes in 14 of 16 games, grabbed 12 in a very close game against Seattle, and not only was Cassel's safety valve all year, but he had more catches when the Patriots were behind and trying to catch up than when they were ahead.

With the numerous running back injuries the team suffered, Faulk was called on to carry more of the load, and he did it flawlessly. His 6.1 yards a run was easily a career high, and he averaged more yards per start than any other season, too. He also grabbed a career best 58 catches, and was nearly perfect in pass blocking. His only mistake was being suspended from the first game for an off-season transgression. And if he'd been there from the start, Sammy Morris wouldn't have been on the field to miss the block that cost Tom Brady his season.

As for Neal and Kazcur, the Patriots averaged 20 more yards rushing and half the number of sacks per game when both of them played as opposed to when they did not. Only wish they didn't miss the first six games.

Most Improved Offensive Player: Sammy Morris

Honorable Mention: Kevin Faulk

Sammy's terrific year made Faulk the bridesmaid for this award, too. From 2007 to 2008, Morris played in twice the games (from 7 to13), had twice the number of rushes (85 to 156), twice the yardage (384 to 727), over twice the touchdowns (3 to 7), started three-and-a-half times as many games (2 to 7), and caught three times the passes (6 to 17) for four times the yards (35 to 161). Aside from that, not much improvement from 2007.

I noted Faulk's improvements -- just wish he'd started the first game, so that my one negative memory of Morris would never have happened :(

Offensive Newcomer of the Year: Matt Cassel
Honorable Mention: LaMont Jordan

I know Cassel was here the previous year (actually, since 2005), but he played only in mop-up situations before 2008. And what a 2008 it was -- Pro Bowl worthy for sure. Cassel overcame a slow start to end up the tenth in passer rating, eleventh in completion percentage, eighth in yards, tenth in touchdowns, and tied for fifth fewest interceptions (among QBs who played in all 16 games). Not bad when a guy who hadn't started a game since high school is the tenth best quarterback in the entire *world*.

I was very enthusiastic about the LaMont Jordan signing, and though I wish he'd played more, he gave them great blocking and hard-nosed running when he was in there.

The Defense

Most Valuable Defensive Player: Vince Wilfork
Honorable Mention: Jerod Mayo, Richard Seymour

Make it two years in a row for Vince. There are no stats to back this up, because nose tackles don't get big numbers (except at the weekly weigh-ins). Even though the rushing defense was worse this year, the biggest factors were aging and injured linebackers and the fact that the 2007 team had so many blowouts that teams had to abandon the run. But I thought Wilfork played better than his Pro Bowl campaign in 2007, often man-handling linemen, getting more pressure on the quarterback, and forcing teams to account for him.

Jerod Mayo had an amazing rookie season, leading the team in tackles and having a monster game against the Jets (20 tackles and a pass defended). And to see the value of Richard Seymour, consider that when he missed the last game of the season, Buffalo shredded his replacement (Jarvis Green) at the point of attack -- something no team did against Seymour all year.

Most Improved Defensive Player: Brandon Meriweather
Honorable Mention: Richard Seymour

There's a lot of pressure when you are a first-round pick, and Meriweather did not live up to his 2007 rookie hype. But he must have worked like a fiend in the off-season, because there's no other way to explain his improvement. He started zero games as a rookie, eleven this year. He had three times as many tackles and passes defended, and came up with 4 INTs to zero a year ago. I nicknamed him "hands of stone" in 2007, but believe it or not he lead the team in INTs in 2008. He is also a solid contributor on special teams.

Richard Seymour has been playing hurt the past few years, but he was back to his dominant self in 2008. Maybe not quite vintage, and he did miss some time with injuries. But nice to have him back to help make the line one of the best in the NFL.

Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Jerod Mayo
Honorable Mention: Jonathan Wilhite, Gary Guyton

Mayo is the first linebacker to start a game as a rookie since Belichick arrived. It is a very complex position to play, and Mayo was a standout right out of the box. He made a few early mistakes, but by the end of the year I wasn't noticing him out of position or taking bad angles at all. And his performance against the Jets (the second game) reminded me of something very special: vintage Ray Lewis. I don't know if he'll ever be as consistently dominant as Lewis, but it will be fun to watch him try.

Wilhite showed real promise at cornerback, and just a few weeks after Mayo became the first rookie QB to start for a Belichick Patriots team, Guyton added his name to that list.

The Special Teams

Most Valuable Special Teams Player: Stephen Gostkowski
Honorable Mention: Lonie Paxton, kick returners

Gostkowski is consistently overlooked, but he should not be. Three years after replacing Adam Vinatieri, he set a team record by converting 90% of his field goals, gets many more touch backs than Adam does, and pins other teams back deeper than the man he replaced.

And what can you say about Lonie Paxton -- another year without a mistake on a single long snap. I hate to think how they're going to replace him when he's gone. The Patriots main kick returners (Wes Welker, Ellis Hobbs, and Kevin Faulk) were always solid, with very few fair catches, one touchdown return, and no fumbles lost.

Most Improved Special Teams Player: Brandon Meriweather
Honorable Mention: None

Given that special teams were much weaker this year, I didn't think there was a whole lot of improvement. But Meriweather was in on more tackles than he was in 2007.

Special Teams Newcomer of the Year: None
Honorable Mention: None

The only new special teamer who did much that I remember was Vince Redd -- but his contribution didn't do enough to merit this prestigious award :)

That is all for now. I'll have another update late this week or early next week, after some of the coaching and/or front office things settle down. Until then...

Keep the faith,

- Scott



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