Most Valuable Player
Wes Welker led the NFL with a Patriots-record 123 receptions, and he only played in 13 full games. He was the heart of the team and the catalyst of the offense. All season, Welker’s teammates gushed over his toughness and work ethic, and when he tore two knee ligaments, it took a couple of days for everyone in the locker room to come to grips with the situation. When Tom Brady struggled — whether it was due to injuries or a lack of rhythm — he could still count on Welker to drive the offense. They were always on the same page, and Welker helped make Brady’s job an easier one. Welker is also the Patriots’ Offensive Player of the Year.
Defensive Player of the Year
Vince Wilfork might have just had the best season of his six-year Patriots career. He was a force on the interior and even played well in sub packages when he lined up on the edge. Bill Belichick always knew he could trust Wilfork to thrive in any situation because of the lineman’s physical tools and extremely savvy sense for the game. Opposing offenses had a tough time running up the middle against Wilfork, who was fifth on the team with 65 tackles and had a 10-stop performance against the Jets in Week 11. The Patriots have plenty of work to do this offseason, but retaining Wilfork should be at the top of the list.
Special Teamer of the Year
Kyle Arrington only played in nine regular-season games, but he was tied for the team lead with 18 special teams tackles, including a team-best 13 solo special teams tackles. Arrington, who is one of just four Hofstra alums in the NFL, had five special teams stops in Week 16 against the Jaguars, which was the most by a Patriot since 2002. He also starred in one of the very few Patriots highlights in their playoff loss to the Ravens, recovering a muffed punt in the second quarter. Arrington called it the best moment of his football career.
Rookie of the Year
Sebastian Vollmer grew from a little-known second-round draft pick out of Houston into one of the Patriots’ most reliable offensive linemen. He debuted at left tackle when Matt Light injured his left knee against the Denver Broncos, and one stat makes the best case for Vollmer: Brady had 300 passing yards in a career-best five consecutive games during Vollmer’s five starts at left tackle. Brady threw for 300 yards just two other times in 2009. Vollmer also started three games at right tackle, and that’s where he’ll likely play next season.
Best Veteran Addition
The Leigh Bodden signing was a fairly quiet one, particularly in comparison to the attention that was paid to Fred Taylor and Shawn Springs. Perhaps that was appropriate, because Bodden’s side of the field was nearly as quiet. He was a steady cornerback who provided consistent services throughout the season. Bodden isn’t Darrelle Revis or Charles Woodson, but he was reliable. Bodden’s contract is up, and he really wants to stay in New England after suffering through so many losing seasons in Cleveland and Detroit. Belichick needs to make sure he doesn’t let Bodden walk out the door like Asante Samuel.
Most Improved Player
Brandon Meriweather is getting closer and closer to league-wide stardom. The safety had career-highs with five interceptions and 83 tackles, and he also scored his first career touchdown with a pick-six against the Buccaneers in London. The first-time Pro Bowler made some costly mistakes in coverage, so it’s scary to think how much better Meriweather will get in the next couple of seasons when he develops a better understanding of the game. He’s got the physical tools to be a dominant player, and that time is coming soon. Early candidates for this award next year are Darius Butler, Julian Edelman and Dan Connolly.
The Troy Brown Award
For adaptability, this goes to Sam Aiken, the special teams captain who took on an increased role as a wide receiver. Aiken had to coordinate special teams meetings during the week while also staying up to date on the offensive playbook. He finished the season with 20 receptions for 326 yards and two touchdowns.
The Rodney Harrison Award
For the hardest hitter, safety Brandon McGowan receives a Louisville Slugger. McGowan crushed his opponents this season. The Maine alum hit guys so hard that their mothers felt it, and he led the Patriots with three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
The Edgar Renteria Award
For getting paid to go away, wide receiver Joey Galloway gets this piece of hardware. Galloway was targeted 19 times and caught seven passes for 67 yards and no touchdowns in three games. The 15-year veteran was on the inactive list as a healthy scratch for his final three games with New England, and Galloway was released after that. Brady never had any consistency out of a third wide receiver, and the Patriots’ misjudgment of Galloway was the most significant reason why.
The Rosie Ruiz Award
For false finishes, the Patriots earned this collectively. In their 16 regular-season games, they were outscored 93-75 in the fourth quarter, and it was the only quarter in which they had a negative point differential. The Patriots blew four double-digit leads this season, and they had a lead in each of their six regular-season losses.
The Joe Thornton Plaque
For thriving in other towns, Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels, Broncos wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, Raiders defensive lineman Richard Seymour and Saints tight end David Thomas get this wall ornament. As a side bonus, each will also receive an autographed postcard from Manny Ramirez.
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