The Hypothetical NFL Playoff MVP

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This may feel like one of the most unnecessary pieces of football history ever written or you may sit here as you read along nodding your head. I’m ready for either eventuality (but praying for the latter). But the entire genesis of this article was realizing it has already been ten years since Larry Fitzgerald ran roughshod over playoff defensive backfields on the Arizona Cardinals‘ Super Bowl run. With the announcement of Fitzgerald’s return to the Cardinals for another season, it felt like the right time.

Fitzgerald, in dragging his very mediocre Cardinals team to the Super Bowl, racked up 30 catches, 546 yards and 7 touchdowns… in four games! That’s the most catches, most receiving yards (by 98) and receiving touchdowns in NFL postseason history. Clearly, Kurt Warner had a good run as well because someone had to sling him the ball, but Fitzgerald’s performance in that postseason was the one in the upper echelon of individual showings in NFL history and it should be chronicled appropriately. But it’s not.

The only individual award for postseason performance unfortunately is the Super Bowl MVP. But those Super Bowl games, while obviously the most important to taking home the Lombardi Trophy, are really just one chapter of the postseason story. Every other major sport has an individual MVP award that encompasses an entire series of games, not simply one game and one data point to commemorate an outstanding individual performance. If there was an NFL Postseason MVP award, it would lend a little more credence to a player’s credentials for, say, the Hall of Fame. Everyone is envisioning Eli Manning right now, correct?  

So before this Super Bowl kicks off, let’s rewrite a little history or at the very least confirm what’s already happened. I looked back at each postseason since the implementation of the wild-card structure to see whether the player that ultimately wins the Super Bowl MVP is truly representative of the most important player within each postseason and truly paints an accurate picture of what happened on the journey to the Lombardi Trophy. And in each case, I give the benefit of the doubt to the ultimate winner of the award.

 

1990-1991

Super Bowl MVP: Ottis Anderson/RB/NYG – 21 carries, 102 yards, 1 TD

Postseason: 62 carries, 249 yards, 1 TD

Alternatives: Jeff Hostetler/QB/NYG (45/76, 410 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 1 rush TD)

Verdict: Hostetler

Signature Performance: Super Bowl XXV – 20/32, 222 yards, 1 TD

For a team that gave up only 35 points in three postseason games, it seems weird to give a Playoff MVP award to someone on the other side of the ball. But for as good as the Bill Belichick-led defense was, the Giants needed a steady-handed performance from their backup quarterback to win the Super Bowl. And that’s just what they got. Jeff Hostetler did what was asked of him without throwing an interception, making clutch plays when needed and giving their running game, defense, and kicking game enough room to do the rest. For a player that started only two regular season games to come in and give the performance Hostetler did was the difference between the Giants winning the Super Bowl and not. Down 12-10 at halftime of the Super Bowl, Hostetler proceeded to go 11 for 14 in the second half and the Giants scored the 10 points necessary to win the game. This is going to be disputed and Ottis Anderson is a fine back, but I give it to Hostetler.

 

1991-1992

Super Bowl MVP: Mark Rypien/QB/WAS – 18/33, 292 yds, 2 TD/1 INT

Postseason: 3 games, 44/79, 690 yards, 4 TD/2 INT

Alternative: NONE

Verdict: NO CHANGE

Signature Performance: NFC Championship Game vs. DET – 12/17, 228 yards, 2 TD

No change needed here. Rypien struggled in the divisional round against Atlanta but responded with an absolute clinic of efficiency against the Lions in a 41-10 drubbing in the NFC title game and 2 touchdown throws that built the Redskins lead to 31-10 at the end of 3 quarters in the Super Bowl. The Redskins had a truly dominant season and Rypien’s magical regular season carried over to the playoffs. I wish we had more peak Mark Rypien.

 

1992-1993

Super Bowl MVP: Troy Aikman/QB/DAL – 22/30, 273 yards, 4 TD/0 INT

Postseason: 3 games, 61/89, 795 yards, 8 TD/0 INT

AlternativeEmmitt Smith/RB/DAL (3 games, 71 carries, 336 yards, 3 TD, 13 catches, 86 yards, 1 TD)

Verdict: NO CHANGE

Signature Performance: Super Bowl XXVII vs. Buffalo

Aikman had undoubtedly his best career postseason run in 1992, topping it off with a majestic four touchdown effort against the Bills in Super Bowl XXVII. In the other 13 career postseason games Aikman played, he accounted for 15 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions. That’s incredible to think about. Emmitt Smith was still key, but Aikman brought the Cowboys postseason excellence into a different stratosphere in 1992-1993.

 

1993-1994

Super Bowl MVP: Emmitt Smith/RB/DAL – 30 carries, 132 yards, 2 TD, 4 catches, 26 yards

Postseason: 3 games, 66 carries, 280 rushing yards, 3 TD, 13 catches, 138 yards, 1 TD

Alternative – NONE

Verdict: NO CHANGE

Signature Performance: Super Bowl XXVIII vs. Buffalo

Troy got his. Then it was Emmitt’s turn. The Cowboys were such a deep and talented team that in any given game, it could be Michael Irvin or Jay Novacek or Charles Haley coming in and saving the day. But more often than not, Emmitt Smith was the rock they could lean on. His cumulative numbers in consecutive postseasons, against some of the best teams in the league, are astounding. Jimmy Johnson’s hair was also vital.

 

1994-1995

Super Bowl MVP: Steve Young/QB/SF –  24/36, 325 yards, 6 TD, 5 carries, 49 yards

Postseason: 3 games, 53/87, 623 yards, 9 TD, 20 carries, 128 yards, 2 TD

Alternative: Tim Harris/DE/SF (3 games, 4.5 sacks), Eric Davis/CB/SF (3 games, 4 INT, 1 TD)

Verdict: NO CHANGE

Signature Performance: Super Bowl XXIX vs. San Diego

It seems silly to even suggest an alternative to Steve Young here. Young was a man on a mission, determined to get the “Montana monkey” off his back, culminating in maybe the greatest Super Bowl performance of all-time. The GOAT Jerry Rice had a huge Super Bowl, but was otherwise quiet throughout the playoffs. However, the 49ers defense has a few candidates for MVP. Overall, the 49ers defense forced ten turnovers in three games and sacked opposing quarterbacks ten times. They were led by future Hall-of-Famer Deion Sanders (making his one year stop), defensive tackles Bryant Young and Dana Stubblefield, and safety Merton Hanks, but two other performers stood out. Cornerback Eric Davis had at least one interception in each of the 49ers playoff games, including a pick-six which got the scoring started in the NFC Championship against Dallas. Defensive lineman Tim Harris, who didn’t even start, registered two sacks in each of the first two playoff games followed by one half more in the Super Bowl. But Young’s performance was transcendent and ultimately the most important point in a Hall of Fame career.

 

1995-1996

Super Bowl MVP: Larry Brown/CB/DAL – 2 INTs, 74 yards

Postseason: 3 games, 3 INTs, 1 TD

Alternative: Emmitt Smith/RB/DAL (74 carries, 298 yards, 6 TD, 6 catches, 60 yards)

Verdict: Emmitt Smith would have captured his second NFL Playoff MVP

Signature Performance: NFC Championship vs. Green Bay – 35 carries, 150 yards, 2 TD

Super Bowl XXX, the game that got Larry Brown paid. That isn’t to say he wasn’t a fairly decent player. His 1995 regular season was without a doubt the best of his entire career as he racked up six picks, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Then he went on to pick off Brett Favre in the NFC Championship game and Neil O’Donnell twice in the Super Bowl. But the fact Brown was targeted was a direct result of playing on the other side of Deion Sanders. For that reason, I still have a hard time overlooking how truly important Emmitt Smith was. The Cowboys entered the fourth quarter down to the Packers until Smith wore them down, scoring two fourth quarter touchdowns. And despite only racking up 49 yards in the Super Bowl, he punched the ball in twice in the second half. Brown has a good case, but I’m going back to Smith.

 

1996-1997

Super Bowl MVP: Desmond Howard/KR-PR/GB –  4 KR, 154 yards, 1 TD, 6 PR, 90 yards

Postseason: 3 games, 9 KR, 277 yards (30.1 avg), 1 TD, 9 PR, 210 yds (23.3 avg), 1 TD

Alternative: Brett Favre/QB/GB (3 games, 44/71, 617 yards,  5 TD/1 INT), Dorsey Levens/RB/GB (3 games, 39 carries, 195 yards, 10 catches, 156 yards, 1 TD)

Verdict: NO CHANGE

Signature Performance: Super Bowl XXXI vs. NE

Brett Favre was the NFL MVP and arguably the most popular player in the league while running backs Edgar Bennett and Dorsey Levens were the main cogs in the Green Bay offense in their two home games at Lambeau Field on a cold, sloppy track. But Howard wasn’t just a one game anomaly. He was a season-long revelation. He almost single-handedly beat the 49ers in the divisional round by taking a punt back for a touchdown in the first quarter then almost taking another back two possessions later only to get tripped up on his way to the end zone. The Packers scored two plays later. In the Super Bowl, the Patriots had cut the lead to six when Howard returned Adam Vinatieri’s kickoff 99 yards. It wasn’t about Howard simply making big-time returns. It was when he made them. Favre, Levens, and even Reggie White with his three sack performance in the Super Bowl could get consideration, but Howard proved huge in 1996-1997.

 

1997-1998

Super Bowl MVP: Terrell Davis/RB/DEN (30 carries, 157 yards, 3 TD, 2 catches, 8 yards)

Postseason: 4 games, 113 carries, 581 yards, 8 TD, 8 catches, 38 yards

Alternative: None that could hold a candle to Davis

Verdict: NO CHANGE

Signature Performance: Super Bowl XXXII vs. Green Bay

Four consecutive 100-plus yard games with at least 1 touchdown in each, capping the run off with maybe the most important running back performance in NFL history leaves little room for argument. Davis wore down the Packers defensive line and every other defense he faced in the postseason. The Broncos were an 11-point underdog to the Packers but hopped on Davis’ back as he led them to the title. Due to injuries, Davis’ career was cut far too short, but in terms of most impressive postseason careers, his may have gotten him elected to the Hall of Fame. In only eight postseason games, Davis had 1,140 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.

 

1998-1999

Super Bowl MVP: John Elway/QB/DEN – 18/29, 336 yards, 1 TD/1 INT, 1 rushing TD

Postseason: 45/86, 671 yards, 3 TD/1 INT, 1 rushing TD

Alternative: Terrell Davis/RB/DEN (3 games, 78 carries, 466 yards, 3 TD, 4 catches, 69 yards)

Verdict: The legend of Terrell Davis continues!

Signature Performance: AFC Championship vs. NY Jets – 32 carries, 167 yards, 1 TD

I understand the need to heap praise on Elway during his “swan song”, but the reality is the Super Bowl winning Denver teams were powered by Davis. Davis had over 1,700 yards in both 1997 and 1998 and that carried over to the performance where the Broncos workhorse dominated. Davis again had over 100 yards in each of the Broncos’ postseason games and his 31-yard third quarter touchdown against the Jets in the AFC title game blew the lid off of Mile High Stadium. The Jets were giving the Broncos their toughest challenge in the 1999 postseason and Davis tried to extinguish their hopes as best he could.

 

1999-2000

Super Bowl MVP: Kurt Warner/QB/STL – 24/45, 414 yards, 2 TD

Postseason: 77/121, 1,063 yards, 8 TD/4 INT

Alternative: Isaac Bruce/WR/STL (13 catches, 317 yards, 2 TD), Grant Wistrom (13 tackles, 1 sack, 6 TFL)

Verdict: NO CHANGE

Signature Performance: NFC Divisional vs. MIN – 27/33, 391 yards, 5 TD/1 INT

The Rams’ unexpected dream season was almost upended in the NFC Championship as Tampa Bay’s tough defense and a Bert Emanuel “non” touchdown almost prevented their title. Then in the Super Bowl, Steve McNair and Eddie George came within one yard of sending the game to overtime. But thanks to Kurt Warner’s heroics, there was no need to worry. Warner picked apart the Vikings in a shootout, overcame struggles against the Bucs to throw the game-winning touchdown with under five minutes in the fourth quarter, then stood in the pocket while getting drilled by Jevon Kearse to hit Isaac Bruce for a go-ahead 73-yard touchdown after the two-minute warning. The Rams had the weapons, but it took Warner running the show to make it all work.

 

2000-2001

Super Bowl MVP: Ray Lewis – 5 tackles, 4 passes defended

Postseason: 4 games, 31 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 1 TD, 1 FR

Alternative: Michael McCrary/DE/BAL (13 tackles, 6 sacks, 6 TFL, 1 FF), Duane Starks/CB/BAL (20 tackles, 6 PD, 3 INT, 1 TD)

Verdict: NO CHANGE

Signature Performance: AFC Divisional at TEN – 12 tackles, 1 INT, 1 TD, 1 PD

The dominant Baltimore defense allowed 23 total points in their four postseason games and who could be better representative for their performance than Lewis. His numbers in the Super Bowl may not jump off the page, but his overall play throughout the postseason certainly backs up his selection. His most important performance was against the rival Titans, the reigning AFC Champions and the No. 1 seed. In a game where the struggling Ravens offense could only muster 134 total yards, the Ravens relied on a blocked field goal return for a touchdown to go up and an interception return for a touchdown from Lewis with under seven minutes left in the game to seal the deal. Lewis had 12 tackles as the Ravens held the Titans to fewer yards per play than the Ravens had. An argument could be made for Starks or McCrary, but Lewis was the straw the stirred the drink.

 

2001-2002

Super Bowl MVP: Tom Brady/QB/NE – 16/27, 145 yards, 1 TD

Postseason: 3 games, 60/97, 572 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 8 carries, 22 yards, 1 TD

Alternative: Ty Law/CB/NE (3 games, 26 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 47 yards, 1 TD, 4 PD), Adam Vinatieri/K/NE (3 games, 6/7 FG, 6/6 XP, 24 points)

Verdict: Law

Signature Performance: Super Bowl XXXVI vs. STL – 7 tackles, 1 INT, 1 TD, 1 TFL, 1 PD

We all remember Brady’s final drive against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, but it was really the New England defense and special teams during the first Super Bowl run of the Brady/Belichick era that stood out. The defense held each of their three postseason opponents well below their regular season scoring average and did the heavy lifting for an offense that scored only three offensive touchdowns in three games. In fact, 42 of their 60 postseason points were scored by Vinatieri and touchdowns off an interception return, a punt block, and a punt return. Brady missed more than half of the AFC Championship game due to injury with Drew Bledsoe actually accounting for a touchdown throw to David Patten in that contest. History looks kindly on Vinatieri, who made two of the biggest kicks in playoff history – in the snow to beat the Raiders and a 47-yarder to win the Super Bowl – but it’s important to remember just how much the Patriots were struggling to find their way against the Rams before Law’s interception return for a touchdown. The Rams were moving the ball a little, but it never felt like the Patriots would consistently and that bore out as St. Louis out-gained New England by 160 yards in the game. But what Law’s play did was gave them the confidence they would be in the game until the end. He was the No. 1 cornerback and the first star of this Patriots’ run. His performance in the 2002 postseason certainly backed that up.

 

2002-2003

Super Bowl MVP: Dexter Jackson/S/TB – 3 tackles, 2 INT, 34 yards, 1 PD

Postseason: 3 games, 7 tackles, 2 INT, 34 yards, 2 PD

Alternative: Ronde Barber/CB/TB (3 games, 10 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT, 117 yards, 1 TD, 10 PD, 2 FF), Simeon Rice/DE/TB (3 games, 4 sacks, 3 FF, 2 FR), Derrick Brooks/LB/TB (3 games, 21 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 44 yards, 1 TD, 3 PD, 1 FR)

Verdict: Rice

Signature Performance: Super Bowl XXXVII vs. OAK – 2 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR

This is a hard one, as the Tampa Bay defense had numerous top performers on the defensive side of the ball that performed up to expectations during the 2002 postseason. Dexter Jackson, the Super Bowl MVP, had pair of first half interceptions in the Super Bowl, but they only led to three points for the Buccaneers. Cornerback Dwight Smith had two pick-sixes in the game but the Buccaneers were already up 27-3 and 41-21 when each happened. The leader of the Buccaneers defense, Derrick Brooks, has a case, but I’m going with Rice. The Tampa Bay end had four sacks and three forced fumbles in his three postseason games, but it was the timeliness of the plays he made that stood out. In the NFC Championship game, the Eagles were driving for a tying score at the end of the half when Rice sacked Donovan McNabb and forced a fumble which he also recovered. That was close as the Eagles got. In the Super Bowl, Rice’s two sacks came in the first half when the outcome was still in doubt, including a key 3rd and 7 takedown of NFL MVP Rich Gannon deep in Buccaneers territory.

 

2003-2004

Super Bowl MVP: Tom Brady/QB/NE – 32/48, 354 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT

Postseason: 3 games, 75/126, 792 yards, 5 TD, 2 INT

Alternative: Rodney Harrison/S/NE (24 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 3 PD, 1 FF), Willie McGinest/EDGE/NE (15 tackles, 5 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 PD)

Verdict: Harrison

Signature Performance: AFC Championship vs. IND – 10 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 FF

It feels weird again stripping Brady of a postseason honor, but the Patriots offense wasn’t yet humming along. The defense is what led the way. The best defense of the Brady/Belichick era led the league in points allowed and forced 41 turnovers in the regular season. It was a star-studded cast on the New England defense, but it was Rodney Harrison that stole the show throughout the postseason. In his first season in New England at age 31, Harrison put together his most complete season as a pro. In the playoffs, he picked off Steve McNair and Peyton Manning in consecutive weeks, leading to points for the Patriots in both situations. He also forced Colts WR Marvin Harrison to cough it up late in the first half of the AFC Championship game as Indianapolis was driving deep in New England territory. In the third quarter of the Super Bowl, as a hot Panthers team was starting to get its footing, Harrison sacked quarterback Jake Delhomme on a key 3rd and 3 in the third quarter that forced a Panthers punt. The Patriots’ Antowain Smith scored a touchdown on the next possession. Harrison’s arrival in 2003 and his performance throughout the postseason brought the best out of the Patriots.

 

2004-2005

Super Bowl MVP: Deion Branch/WR/NE – 11 catches, 133 yards

Postseason: 3 games, 16 catches, 264 yards, 1 TD, 3 rushes, 41 yards, 1 TD

Alternatives: Tom Brady/QB/NE (55/81, 587 yards, 5 TD, 0 INT, 1 rush TD), Rodney Harrison/S/NE (23 tackles, 1 TFL, 4 INT, 1 TD, 2 PD, 1 FF)

Verdict: Brady

Signature Performance: AFC Championship at PIT – 14/21, 207 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT

The 2004 Patriots had one of the more difficult roads to a Super Bowl title, needing to extinguish a 12-4 Colts team led by NFL MVP Peyton Manning, a 15-1 Steelers team on the road in Pittsburgh, and a 13-3 Donovan McNabb-led Eagles team that had finally gotten over the hump and got to the Super Bowl after years of coming up short. In order to beat the best, they needed their signal-caller to be unbelievably efficient, which he was. Deion Branch put up big numbers, but it was Brady, who completed at least two-thirds of his passes in each postseason game and didn’t turn the ball over, who was ultimately the difference. In a freezing divisional round game against the Colts, the Patriots leaned on running back Corey Dillon, but Brady accounted for two scores in the second half. Against Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship, Brady threw a first-half haymaker with a pair of touchdowns as New England jumped out to a 24-3 halftime lead ultimately winning 41-27. And with the Patriots tied in the Super Bowl against the Eagles heading into the fourth quarter, Brady led two scoring drives that were the difference.

 

2005-2006

Super Bowl MVP: Hines Ward/WR/PIT – 5 catches, 123 yards, 1 TD

Postseason: 4 games, 15 catches, 260 yards, 3 TD

Alternatives: Ben Roethlisberger/QB/PIT (4 games, 58/93, 803 yards, 7 TD, 3 INT, 2 rush TD), James Farrior/LB/PIT (22 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PD),

Verdict: Farrior

Signature Performance: AFC Divisional vs IND – 10 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 TFL

After falling short of the Super Bowl in Ben Roethlisberger’s 15-1 rookie season, the Steelers won it the “hard” way by getting into the postseason as the six seed and winning three road playoff games before winning the Super Bowl. Roethlisberger was outstanding in the first three games, throwing for 7 scores and only 1interception, but he had one of the worst performances from a quarterback in Super Bowl history, making it very difficult to hand him my fictional Playoff MVP award. Ward had a terrific Super Bowl and postseason overall, but the Steelers defense was the real star of the postseason. Facing off against four of the top seven scoring teams in the playoffs, including the No. 1 scoring offense (Seattle0 in the Super Bowl, Pittsburgh limited each team well below their yearly average, holding the Seahawks to 10 in the final chapter. A number of defenders had outstanding postseasons with contributions coming from everywhere, but I’ll single out linebacker James Farrior. The Steelers leading tackler in the regular season, despite missing two games, picked off Cincinnati’s Jon Kitna in the fourth quarter of the Wild Card game with the outcome in doubt and racked up 2.5 sacks against Peyton Manning in the divisional round and led the way for a suffocating Pittsburgh defense.

 

2006-2007

Super Bowl MVP: Peyton Manning/QB/IND – 25/38, 247 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Postseason: 97/153, 1,034 yards, 3 TD, 7 INT

Alternatives: Bob Sanders/S/IND (4 games, 22 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 4 PD, 1 FF), Dallas Clark/TE/IND (4 games, 21 catches, 317 yards), Adam Vinatieri (4 games, 7/7 XP, 14/15 FG, 49 points)

Verdict: Sanders

Signature Performance: Super Bowl XLI vs. CHI – 3 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PD

Let’s call this Super Bowl MVP a lifetime achievement award for Peyton Manning. Even if we’re only counting the Super Bowl, there were far better options to be selected as MVP. As good as the offense was during the Peyton Manning era, the 2006-2007 Super Bowl run doesn’t happen if the defense doesn’t step up. The Colts struggled defensively during the regular season in 2006, finishing 23rd in points allowed, 21st in yards allowed, and last in rush yards allowed. But in the postseason something clicked. The Colts gave up almost 100 yards of total offense less per game and forced 13 turnovers. A big part of this was the return of All-Pro safety Bob Sanders. Sanders only played four games in the regular season due to injury, but returned for the postseason and made his presence felt. In Super Bowl XLI, Sanders made two huge plays that show just how close this game actually was. With the Colts down 14-6 in the first quarter, the Bears were close to midfield looking to expand their lead when Sanders forced a Cedric Benson-fumble which was recovered by Dwight Freeney. Then early in the fourth quarter as the Bears remained in striking distance down 12, Sanders picked off a Rex Grossman-pass, making victory seem at least more certain. As a side note: there will never be a more valuable postseason kicker than Adam Vinatieri. Good lord, 14 field goals in four games!

 

2007-2008

Super Bowl MVP: Eli Manning/QB/NYG – 19/34, 255 passing yards, 2 TD, 1 INT

Postseason: 4 games, 72/119, 854 yards, 6 TD, 1 INT

Alternatives: NONE

Verdict: NO CHANGE

Signature Performance: Super Bowl XLII vs NE

Hate on Eli all you want. Many, including myself, doubt his Hall of Fame credentials, but his performance during the 2007 postseason was the main reason the Giants found themselves upsetting the undefeated Patriots for the Super Bowl title. The Giants defense led by Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck held opponents to 73 rushing yards per game in the postseason and harassed Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, but Manning not forcing the issue and making timely plays under adverse conditions was key. In the Giants upset of the Cowboys, Dallas took the lead 14-7 with 53 seconds left in the half only to have Manning drive the Giants down for the tying score before the clock hit zero. In the NFC Championship against Green Bay, in one of the coldest games in NFL history, Manning’s numbers may not jump out, but he made numerous big throws to Plaxico Burress and put the Giants in position to score. And everyone remembers what happened in the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl MVP would have been the Playoff MVP again.  

 

2008-2009

Super Bowl MVP: Santonio Holmes – 9 catches, 131 yards, 1 TD

Postseason: 3 games, 13 catches, 226 yards, 2 TD

Alternatives: Larry Fitzgerald/WR/ARZ (4 games, 30 catches, 546 yards, 7 TD), LaMarr Woodley/LB/PIT (3 games, 16 tackles, 6 sacks, 6 TFL, 2 PD), Kurt Warner/QB/ARZ (4 games, 92/135, 1,147 yards, 11 TD, 3 INT)

Verdict: Fitzgerald

Signature Performance: NFC Championship vs PHI – 9 catches, 152 yards, 3 TD

It would be weird to write an article and create an award based on one player’s performance and then not give him said award so I’m going to avoid that. As good as Holmes was in the Super Bowl (really the last drive – 4 catches for 73 yards, 1 TD on the last drive, 5 catches for 58 yards otherwise), as under-appreciated as LaMarr Woodley’s performance that postseason was in hindsight (two sacks in three consecutive postseason games) and as good as Warner was, we may never see a postseason like Fitzgerald’s again. He had three touchdowns in the NFC Championship before the Eagles knew what him them, he had at least 6 catches, 100 yards and a touchdown in each of the Cardinals’ 4 postseason games. The highlight was of course his fourth quarter dash to the end zone as he gazed up at the scoreboard and watched himself run after he split the Steelers defense for a 64-yard touchdown. The Steelers would obviously have their say, but it’s hard to come out of that postseason thinking of anything other than Fitzgerald.

 

2009-2010

Super Bowl MVP: Drew Brees/QB/NO – 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD

Postseason: 3 games, 72/102, 732 yards 8 TD

Alternatives: NONE based on Brees’ performance

Verdict: NO CHANGE

Signature Performance: Super Bowl XLIV vs. IND

Brees was unsurprisingly outstanding during the 2009 postseason, finishing it with a superb performance against the Colts in the Super Bowl. He carved up the Cardinals, held off the Vikings and withstood a late charge by the Colts as he amassed a passer rating of at least 100 and had at least 2 touchdown passes in each of their three games. No Saints receiver amassed more than 83 yards in any game in the postseason as Brees spread the ball around, with eight different receivers getting catches and five different receivers grabbing touchdowns. If only Brett Favre hadn’t thrown his second back-breaking NFC-Championship-game interception in three years, things may have turned out differently.

 

2010-2011

Super Bowl MVP: Aaron Rodgers – 24/39, 304 yards, 3 TD

Postseason: 4 games, 90/132, 1,094 yards, 9 TD, 2 INT, 2 TD runs

Alternatives: NONE based on Rodgers’ performance

Verdict: NO CHANGE

Signature Performance: NFC Divisional Playoffs at ATL – 31/36, 366 yards, 3 TD, 1 TD run

Like the Steelers in 2005, the Packers avenged a disappointing playoff exit the previous season by winning the Super Bowl as a six seed the following year and it took a sparkling performance by their quarterback to do it. Despite a concussion in a Week 14 loss Detroit and missing a start in a Week 15 loss to New England, Rodgers came back to lead the Packers to six consecutive must-win games to end the year. He was solid in the Wild Card game against Philadelphia and struggled in the cold against a tough Chicago defense on the road in the NFC Championship, but turned in one of the finest quarterback performances in postseason history against Atlanta and is one of only three quarterbacks in NFL history to have over 300 yards passing, at least 3 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions in a Super Bowl victory. The others? His boyhood idols Joe Montana and Steve Young.

 

2011-2012

Super Bowl MVP: Eli Manning – 30/40, 296 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT

Postseason: 4 games, 106/163, 1,219 yards, 9 TD, 1 INT

Alternatives: Hakeem Nicks/WR/NYG (4 games, 28 catches, 444 yards, 4 TD)

Verdict: NO CHANGE

Signature Performance: Super Bowl XLVI vs NE

Before digging into the information, I expected to take away at least one of Manning’s Super Bowl MVPs. But he was truly outstanding in both postseasons where he led the Giants to the Super Bowl. We’ve seen teams win in spite of poor quarterback play, but that certainly wasn’t the case with the Giants. They blew the doors off the Falcons in the Wild Card game, proceeded to pound the No. 1 seeded Packers into submission with the assistance of Hakeem Nicksm then went on the road to beat the favored 13-3 49ers. Manning then topped it off with a signature performance in the Super Bowl. He had better numbers in two of the previous three playoff games, but Manning constantly haunting the Patriots has to count for something. After a safety, the Manning drove the Giants for a touchdown, jumping out to the lead they needed. He proceeded to complete 75 percent of his passes and delivered on one of the biggest throws in Super Bowl history to Mario Manningham on their final scoring drive. This was just the capper to a superb postseason by Manning. During their two Super Bowl runs with Manning at the helm, he has thrown for 15 touchdowns and two interceptions in eight playoff games. In his other four postseason games, he had three touchdowns and seven interceptions.

 

2012-2013

Super Bowl MVP: Joe Flacco/QB/BAL – 22/33, 287 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT

Postseason: 4 games, 73/126, 1,140 yards, 11 TD, 0 INT

Alternatives: None that could reasonably usurp Flacco

Verdict: NO CHANGE

Signature Performance: Super Bowl XLVII vs. SF

For a player as maligned as Joe Flacco, whose limitations stumble to the forefront far more often than his successes, it’s best to always remember how special he was in the 2012 postseason. This wasn’t the same Ravens team led by a dominant defense, as their aging leaders were nearing the ends of their career. And this team wasn’t as talented as the 2011 version that lost in the AFC Championship game on a missed field goal. But in a four game rampage toward retribution, Flacco led a motivated Ravens team to a Super Bowl victory. The football gods put the Ravens in position to take advantage of opportunities and Flacco capitalized on them. With a 70-yard prayer in the AFC Divisional Round against Denver, a pair of fourth quarter connections with Anquan Boldin against the Patriots, and three first-half touchdowns against the 49ers, Flacco took care of business.

 

2013-2014

Super Bowl MVP: Malcolm Smith/LB/SEA – 10 tackles, 1 INT, 1 TD, 1 PD, 1 FR

Postseason: 3 games, 23 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 1 TD, 2 PD, 1 FR

Alternatives: Marshawn Lynch/RB/SEA (3 games, 65 carries, 288 yards, 4 TD), Kam Chancellor/S/SEA (3 games, 35 tackles, 2 INT, 6 PD)

Verdict: Chancellor

Signature Performance: Super Bowl XLVIII vs. DEN – 10 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PD

Young Malcolm Smith had an outstanding Super Bowl, but taking a step back and looking at the Seahawks run as a whole, some acknowledgement must be made that guys on the back end of the Seahawks defense – Chancellor, safety Earl Thomas, cornerback Richard Sherman, and others – are what made this Seattle team great. The physicality displayed by Chancellor in the first quarter of the Super Bowl set the tone for the entire game. The hard-hitting safety pummeled Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas on the third play from scrimmage, signaling to any receiver on the favored Broncos team they better listen for footsteps before thinking they’re going to catch the ball. Chancellor then registered a first quarter interception that led to a Seahawks touchdown and an eventual 15-0 lead. Add in a fourth quarter interception in the NFC Championship game that led to a Seattle field goal that extended their lead and it’s easy to understand why Chancellor’s work should be acknowledged.

 

2014-2015

Super Bowl MVP: Tom Brady/QB/NE

Postseason: 3 games, 93/135, 921 yards, 10 TD, 4 INT

Alternatives: Marshawn Lynch/RB/SEA (3 games, 63 carries, 318 yards, 2 TD, 5 catches, 63 yards)

Verdict: NO CHANGE

Signature Performance: AFC Divisional vs. BAL – 33/50, 367 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT

Before bowing at the altar of Brady, let me at least stump for the legend that is Marshawn Lynch. They didn’t need him in the game against an overmatched Carolina team, but against Green Bay and New England he was terrifying. 51 touches in their last two games wasn’t enough. In fact, if the Seahawks decided to simply ram the ball into the end zone three more times from the 1-yard line instead of throwing it, we’re probably talking about Super Bowl MVP Lynch. But Brady, down ten with under eight minutes left in the Super Bowl, led consecutive touchdown drives and poked holes in a strong Seahawks defense. And that wasn’t even his most epic feat. Down 28-14 at the half against Baltimore, Brady threw three second-half touchdown passes to escape the jaws of defeat. This postseason by Brady was truly magical.

 

2015-2016

Super Bowl MVP: Von Miller/EDGE/DEN – 6 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 PD, 2 FF

Postseason: 3 games, 13 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PD, 2 FF

Alternatives: NONE

Verdict: NO CHANGE

Signature Performance: AFC Championship vs NE – 5 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PD

I’m still astonished this Denver team did enough offensively to win the title, but the way Von Miller and the Broncos defense played during this postseason, they didn’t need much. The Broncos averaged only 254 yards of offense per game in the postseason, but forced seven turnovers and held offenses led by Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and NFL MVP Cam Newton to 44 total points. Miller picked off Brady in the AFC Championship, racked up 2.5 sacks against him, then forced a fumble in the first quarter of the Super Bowl that led to a Malik Jackson-touchdown recovery. Miller didn’t just show up, he wreaked havoc.   

 

2016-2017

Super Bowl MVP: Tom Brady/QB/NE – 43/62, 466 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT

Postseason: 3 games, 93/142, 1,137 yards, 7 TD, 3 INT

Alternatives: Matt Ryan/QB/ATL (70/98, 1,014 yards, 9 TD, 0 INT, 1 rush TD)

Verdict: NO CHANGE

Signature Performance: Super Bowl LI vs. ATL

Part of me really, really wanted to pick Ryan here. For a player with a limited postseason track record, he certainly backed up his NFL MVP performance in 2016 with an outstanding postseason. But if I picked anyone other than Brady after he orchestrated the second half comeback in the Super Bowl from 28-3 down, I’d be fearful I’d be struck down by a bolt of lightning. His “meh” performance in the divisional round wasn’t particularly meaningful because it only meant Houston would stay within 20 points, but he was surgical in the AFC Championship against Pittsburgh, throwing for three touchdowns in a blowout. And then, like a villain in a horror movie, Brady methodically chased down his victim in the second half of the Super Bowl with the greatest comeback in playoff history. Not bad.

 

2017-2018

Super Bowl MVP: Nick Foles/QB/PHI – 28/43, 373 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, 1 TD rec

Postseason: 3 games, 77/106, 971 yards, 6 TD, 1 INT, 1 TD rec

Alternatives: Tom Brady/QB/NE (3 games, 89/139, 1,132 yards, 8 TD, 0 INT)

Verdict: NO CHANGE

Signature Performance: NFC Championship vs. MIN – 26/33, 352 yards, 3 TD

In case you didn’t already know, Tom Brady is ridiculous. In a remarkable three game stretch, Brady averaged 377 passing yards and almost three touchdowns against some very tough defenses. But alas, even Brady couldn’t overcome Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles. One could certainly make the case for Brady as the Playoff MVP. He’s built up enough equity over the years. But just as we referenced Jeff Hostetler doing just enough as a backup for the Giants defense to overcome in the first argument of this piece, in the Eagles’ final two games of the postseason, Foles went out and showed off. Against a favored Vikings team in the NFC Championship game and one of the best defenses in the league, Foles carved them up to the tune of 352 yards and 3 touchdowns, leading to the Eagles winning by 31. In the Super Bowl, Foles threw three more touchdowns and caught one for good measure. But more importantly, when Brady led the Patriots to a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth, Foles led a seven minute touchdown drive to go back up. It took a strip sack by Brandon Graham to avoid further Brady heroics, but Foles’ performance left Eagles fans wondering whether or not “almost MVP” Carson Wentz was still their quarterback of the future.

 

Well, this was a long and perhaps unnecessary look back to tell you, most of the time, the naming of the Super Bowl MVP does a pretty good job of also including the top overall postseason performer. But in 11 of the 28 instances, I found a case where it would maybe be a better reflection of the league’s great history to have an overall NFL Playoff MVP.

This one’s for you, Fitz!

 

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