The last time an NFL defensive player won the Associated Press MVP award was 1986. That’s because Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor was so good that voters were able to avert their collective gaze from quarterbacks’ glitzy numbers long enough to acknowledge the existence of defense.
Reader-friendly info: Defense is the side that doesn’t have the football.
Since 1986, quarterbacks have won the award outright 22 times, and a quarterback and a running back were co-winners one other time. The award went to a running back seven times in that span. Then there was the golden season (2003) when two quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Steve McNair, shared it. Voters had such a joyful group hug that crowbars were required to break them up.
So, a defensive player? For MVP? This season? Hahahahaha-hahahahahahahahahaha!
Before you bust a gut, why not Bears linebacker Khalil Mack as MVP? There’s not a player in the NFL who has influenced a team more positively than Mack has this season. His numbers are very, very good — 12½ sacks and a league-leading six forced fumbles in 13 games — but using numbers to describe him is like using stick figures to teach anatomy.
The Bears went from 5-11 without him last season to 11-4 so far this season after trading for him before the first game. Cause, meet effect. He has made a very good defense a great defense. With one arm, he dismisses large offensive linemen. It’s why opposing teams use multiple players to try to stop him.
A big performance Sunday against the Vikings would help Mack’s cause, especially if the Bears can enhance their playoff standing with a victory. Fifty sportswriters decide the MVP award. Voting is done after the regular season, and the winner is announced the day after the Super Bowl.
Quarterback is the most important position in sports, so you can understand my brethren’s obsession with the people who throw the football. Saints quarterback Drew Brees deals in video-game fun. So does Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
But Mack deals in fear.
Brees is the quarterback on the team with the best record in the NFL. He has the best completion percentage (74.4) and the best passer rating (115.7) in the league.
In his second year in the league and his first season as a starter, Mahomes has thrown the most touchdown passes (48) in the NFL.
And you know what?
We’ve done this before. We’ve had quarterback-as-MVP on a continuous loop.
No one has been as disruptive as Mack has been this season. No one has driven opposing coaches as crazy as this guy has. Everybody has a plan until Mack, mouth foaming, runs out of the tunnel before the game begins.
Bears tackle Kyle Long faced him in 2015 when Mack was with the Raiders. He said Wednesday that “it was probably the most mileage I’ve logged in a day chasing a guy around.”
“MVP stands for Most Valuable Player,” Long said. “[Valuable] is defined as adding an edge and a certain value to a team, and I know Khalil Mack has added extreme value to this team. We’ve had a great culture here since Day 1 of camp and minicamp, but for him to just come in and just continue the transformation of this team, he’s put us over the edge. I know if I had a vote, I’d vote Khalil Mack for MVP.”
The Chargers’ Philip Rivers and the Colts’ Andrew Luck are also getting MVP buzz. If I had to use a word to describe them, it would be “quarterback.”
Can a defensive player win the MVP?
“Absolutely. Why not?” Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “Defense wins championships. I think they need to really look at it, and whoever’s making the call needs to get it changed. I think it’s time for a change.”
It has been 32 years since a defender won the award. And since the award was instituted in 1957, only one other defender, the Vikings’ Alan Page in 1971, has won it. So, yeah, it’s probably time.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick, normally as talkative as a teenager in the presence of adults, got very chatty earlier in the season when a reporter asked him to compare Mack and Taylor, a Hall of Famer. Belichick was Taylor’s position coach with the Giants and later his defensive coordinator.
“I’m not taking anything away from [Mack],” he said. “You’re talking about Lawrence Taylor. You’re talking about probably the greatest defensive player in the history of the game. So I think it’s a little early. I mean, look, I wouldn’t put anybody in Lawrence Taylor’s category. Not that I’ve seen. And I’ve seen a lot of great players.”
Mack, who’s in his fifth year in the league, has been working to get there. In a 2016 game, the Saints sometimes devoted three offensive players to stopping him. You’ve heard of max protection? This was Mack Protection. Three blockers on one pass rusher is an expensive allocation of manpower, and it deprives an offense of weapons.
“There’s times when people put like three guys on him, and you’re taking away a receiver somehow, some way in the pass game,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said.
Mack had a sack and a fumble recovery against the Vikings in November. What would Vikings coach Mike Zimmer like to see his team do differently against him this time?
“I’d like to win this time,” Zimmer said. “I guess, without getting into game-plan stuff, we’ve got to play better.”
That’s what everybody says. And then Mack comes out of the tunnel.