It’s early, but Tony Romo has played himself into contention for 2011 NFL Most Valuable Player. *
Obviously if the season ended today, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers would deservedly win the prestigious award, in a cakewalk. An undefeated season, all-time highest passer rating and leader of one of the league’s most potent offense ever will tend to do that. Btw, Rodgers would become the 3rd Green Bay quarterback to win NFL MVP, in addition to Bart Starr (1966) and Brett Favre (1995-97).
But let’s assume for the sake of argument that Rodgers goes through a dreadful slump, or gets injured, or pisses off several sportswriters. Who else would be considered to be the most valuable player in the league? There’s always Drew Brees, who arguably should have won MVP in 2006 or 2009, and without whom the amazing Saints offense wouldn’t have a prayer. There’s Tom Brady, reigning NFL MVP in addition to his 2007 award, once again steering the Patriots offense with less-than-star quality skill players. In terms of running backs who could earn NFL MVP, no one is really stepping up with a truly monster season, a la LaDanian Tomlinson or Shaun Alexander, circa 2005-2006. LeSean McCoy is averaging 100 yards and a TD a game, but his receiving numbers are relatively mediocre and the Eagles offense is more about Vick than any running back; Fred Jackson is having probably the best overall statistical season of all RBs and it’s hard to imagine the Bills doing anything without him, but Buffalo is slumping terribly and Jackson is starting to show some signs of overuse; Houston’s Arian Foster is putting up nice numbers, but so has his teammate Ben Tate; Matt Forte is playing the best ball of his career, but isn’t scoring very many touchdowns. We’ll see how Forte acquits himself with QB Jay Cutler out the rest of the season.
As for wide receivers, if no one at that position has ever earned MVP – not even Jerry Rice in 1987 (23 TDs in 12 games) - then no one catching the ball in 2011 will, although perhaps Calvin Johnson merits some attention. Throw in the fact that only two defensive players and one special teamer (Mark Mosley, 1982) have ever won in the awards 54-season history, it’s extremely likely that the 2011 NFL MVP will be either a QB or RB.
We’ve mentioned Rodgers, Brees and Brady being among the usual suspects for QB candidates, and it wouldn’t be very far-fetched to consider passers like Ben Roethlisberger and even Matt Stafford. But what about the Cowboys own signal caller? Consider the following:
• Romo is currently the 4th ranked QB in the NFL, behind Rodgers, Brees and Brady,
• Romo is leading the Cowboys to not only a winning record, but he also has the team in first place in the NFC East,
• Romo suffered and played through a debilitating injury that would have shelved other NFL QBs for extended periods of time (see Vick, Michael),
• Romo had his "Emmitt Moment" when he broke his ribs and punctured his lung against the (now) 9-1 San Francisco 49ers
• Romo has led the Cowboys to two overtime victories (most in team history) and another last-minute win, for a total of three 4th quarter comebacks so far this season.
But then there are the meltdown moments; specifically, the games against the Jets and the Lions. Surely Romo’s critical mistakes in these games would be held against him in any consideration for NFL MVP, right? Maybe, but Brady still won last year despite blowing a halftime lead against the Jets with two second-half interceptions, and Steve Young still won in 1994 despite early season humiliations against Joe Montana’s Chiefs and the Eagles, and so forth and so on. Even NFL MVP-type players have rough outings, what matters is how they respond to such failures. We saw that Romo followed up his Jets debacle with his perhaps his most clutch performance ever against the 49ers, and after the Detroit disaster he played very well against at New England – it wasn’t his fault the defense allowed a game-winning TD drive with just seconds left. Besides, while Romo’s mistakes may have contributed immensely to these two losses, it was stellar passing that put Dallas in a prime position to win in the first place.
Anyway, it is still early. A lot can and I suspect a lot will happen in the next six games, including three more divisional matchups. The last four games will be a stretch during which legends are made…or delivered stillborn. One thing remains clear through ten games – this has been one of the most eventful and exciting seasons in recent memory for the Cowboys, one that still has great potential, and Tony Romo is one of the top reasons why. Everything has been accomplished so far under the white-hot spotlight of the media and the great expectations that come along with the territory of being quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. Although I am sure that Romo would gladly exchange all individual accolades in exchange for a championship, I want all of my fellow Cowboys fans to understand that we are witnessing one of the most courageous and highest performing seasons by a Dallas quarterback in the franchise’s illustrious history. It would be nice if the rest of the NFL recognized this as well.
*I am referring to the Associated Press National Football League Most Valuable Player Award, which is the most widely recognized of the league-wide "best player"-type awards. The only Dallas Cowboy to ever win this award was Emmitt Smith in 1993, as he rushed for 1486 yards and scored 11 total TD’s in just 14 games. Don Meredith won the Bert Bell Award in 1966, and Roger Staubach earned the Sporting News NFL MVP Award in 1971.