PHOENIX — Just living the dream. And looking for more.
Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers won his second MVP award Saturday night, and J.J. Watt swept away the voters the way he sweeps quarterbacks off their feet to take top defensive honors.
Rodgers, also the 2011 Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player award winner, took this one in somewhat surprisingly easy fashion over Watt. The Packers quarterback received 31 votes for the 2014 award from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. Houston’s Watt, seeking to become the first defensive player to win MVP since 1986, got 13 votes.
Rodgers threw for 38 touchdowns and a league-low five interceptions; he has thrown 512 passes at home without a pick. He led the Packers to two victories at season’s end despite playing with a severe calf injury.
“I feel so fortunate to live out my dreams, year after year,” Rodgers said Saturday night. “
“It can’t help but sink in when you play for the Packers. When you live in Green Bay you know about the Lombardi years, Bart Starr and all the guys who made those teams special. You like to be part of something special yourself.”
Watt, the ultra-energetic and versatile Texans end, is the first unanimous choice for an AP award since Tom Brady won Most Valuable Player in 2007, and the first for top defensive player under the current voting setup.
“I’m always trying to raise the bar,” he said. “The moment you get complacent is the moment you begin your decline. When you start to feel like you’ve made it, when you feel like you’re doing pretty good, that’s when you start to fall back.”
NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray of Dallas won Offensive Player, while the Arizona Cardinals swept coaching honors. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski took the Comeback Player award, but was not on hand because, well, New England has a rather important date with Seattle on Sunday in the Super Bowl.
Murray, who ran away with the rushing title with 1,845 yards — nearly 500 more than any other player — also topped the NFL with 2,261 yards from scrimmage. He scored 13 touchdowns in helping the Cowboys win the NFC East.
That overwhelming performance earned him 26 votes as Murray easily outdistanced Rodgers (15 votes).
“I want to say thank you to the Jones family for taking a chance on me four years ago out of Oklahoma,” Murray said. “It’s been a privilege to play there. Hopefully we can continue that.”
Murray’s contract is up.
“I don’t think it’s any surprise or any secret where I want to play next year,” he said.
Arians took his second Coach of the Year award in three seasons after leading his injury-ravaged Cardinals to an 11-5 record and a wild-card playoff berth. He was the top coach in 2012 as an interim, stepping in for the ill Chuck Pagano and leading the Colts to the postseason.
His defensive coordinator in Arizona, Todd Bowles, won the first Assistant Coach of the Year award. Bowles has parlayed his work with the Cardinals into a head coaching job with the Jets.
“I wouldn’t be head coach of the year if it wasn’t for him and the job he did,” Arians said. “I’m so happy that we started that award and he got it for the first time. Now he’s going to do a great job for the Jets.”
Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who made the play of the year against the Cowboys with a one-handed snag of a touchdown pass while falling backward, was voted top offensive rookie. Beckham tied Michael Irvin’s NFL mark with nine consecutive games of 90 yards receiving and finished with 91 receptions for 1,305 yards and 12 TDs.
“This is a great class that I came in,” Beckham said. “Part of the reason that I wanted to come out (early from LSU) was to be included in this class.”
Rams tackle Aaron Donald won top defensive rookie honors. A force against the run and the pass, Donald had 37 tackles, nine assists, and led all rookies with nine sacks. He was one of three rookies initially selected for the Pro Bowl.
“Hard work pays off,” Donald explained.
In his fourth pro season, Watt earned his second such honor with 20 1-2 sacks, 78 tackles — 29 for losses — 50 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles and 10 blocked passes.
He is the first NFL player with multiple 20-sack seasons. Watt also had 20 1-2 sacks in 2012, his other top defensive player season.
The AP awards were given out during the “NFL Honors” TV program. Also during the show, Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
“This award means a great deal to me, as it symbolizes the valued work that the NFL, its players, and its 32 teams do in the community,” said Davis, a 10-year veteran.
Bears defensive end Jared Allen won the Salute to Service Award. USAA will contribute $25,000 in Allen’s honor to the official aid societies representing all five military branches.