Last month, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers earned first-team All-Pro status from a 50-member panel of Associated Press voters. The vote was a landslide at the quarterback position: 47 1/2 votes for Rodgers to 2 1/2 for Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints. So from that perspective, it should be no surprise that the same 50-member panel elected Rodgers the NFL's Most Valuable Player for 2011 by a similarly one-sided margin.
Rodgers won 48 votes, decisively ending a thin debate that nevertheless raged for the final month of the season. Brees led the NFL in passing yards, touchdowns and completion percentage, but there was near-unanimous agreement that Rodgers had a better year.
Why? Simply put, Rodgers had one of the most efficiently productive seasons in league history. There is no doubt his statistics dipped in the final month of the season, but a slip from "all time" to something just below it would hardly have merited a glance elsewhere for MVP, and I was glad to see the voters did not get caught up in Brees' eye-popping statistics. Consider:
Rodgers set an NFL record with a 122.5 passer rating, the traditional measure of a quarterback's efficiency.
His six interceptions were the fewest in history for a quarterback who also threw for 4,000 yards.
He is the only quarterback to have completed at least 68 percent of his passes while averaging more than nine yards per attempt. That's an incredible combination that means Rodgers was pushing the ball downfield, with greater success, than any single season a quarterback has ever had.
It's true that Brees threw for an NFL-record 5,476 yards in 16 games, a full 833 yards more than Rodgers amassed in 15 games. That's why yards per attempt is so important. It evens the field for playing time and (a portion of) scheme discrepancies. The Packers averaged 9.2 yards every time Rodgers threw a pass. The Saints averaged 8.3 yards per Brees attempt. That's a big difference over, say, the course of a 30-pass game.
I haven't had a single bad thing to say about Brees' season, and I still don't. I just think from Week 1, Rodgers established himself on a higher plane and, at worse, came down to a similar level during the final stretch of the season.
When it was all said and done, we could agree that Brees had a historic season. But I wonder how many people realize Rodgers was having the best season of a generation -- and perhaps the best in NFL history -- for most of the year. I would argue it still qualifies among the leaders in both categories, and there is no better way to symbolize it than a landslide victory in the MVP vote.