Tom Brady has gone from record-setting MVP to injured superstar to The Associated Press 2009 NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Brady's strong return from a left knee injury that sidelined him for all but the first quarter of the 2008 opener earned the New England Patriots quarterback the award Wednesday. One of football's biggest stars, Brady has gone from NFL Most Valuable Player in 2007, when he set several passing records, to sidelined to earning his second league award.
"I played 15 straight years without ever missing a game, high school or college or professional, so every time you walk off the field you feel very blessed," Brady said. "I think it was a great lesson, life experience, not only football experience, that I was able to have."
Brady received 19 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL, beating Tampa Bay running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, who got 14.
A three-time Super Bowl winner and a finalist for AP Player of the Decade, Brady led New England to a 10-6 record and the AFC East title this season. He threw for 4,398 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Most significantly, he got the Patriots back into the playoffs, and he showed more than a few glimpses of the player who guided the Patriots to the first 16-0 regular season in NFL history, throwing a record 50 TDs that year.
"I think I love playing and I love being out there with my teammates and, practicing today," he said. "It's the greatest reward for any of this, for any of us, is to be a part of a team that's successful, because we all have a lot of good fortune to be playing."
At times, Brady was great this season. In a 59-0 rout of Tennessee, matching the biggest victory margin since the 1970 merger, he threw for six touchdowns and 380 yards in the snow. Against Jacksonville in another lopsided victory, he went 23 for 26 for 267 yards and four TDs. His passer ratings were 152.8 against the Titans and 149.0 against the Jaguars, and he had six games with a 100-plus rating.
Other times, he struggled, particularly in losses to the Jets and Saints, and Brady battled an assortment of injuries -- albeit nothing as devastating as the torn-up knee.
Coach Bill Belichick praised what Brady means to his team.
"Well deserved," Belichick said of the honor. "He's had a tremendous year. I think we all know that. Tom just brings so much to this team and our organization on and off the field: his preparation, his leadership, his performance, his unselfishness. All the things that he gives us are just top shelf, whether he did or didn't play last year."
The Patriots were 11-5 without Brady and barely missed the playoffs in '08 behind Matt Cassel. He was traded to Kansas City in the offseason, an early indication the Patriots expected few problems in Brady's comeback.
That assessment was accurate.
"Obviously, he overcame some pretty big odds and it's a good thing for us to have him back out there," tackle Matt Light said, "but I don't think anybody had any doubt in what he was going to do and his ability. So, way to go Tom, good work."
Williams tore the patellar tendon in his right knee in September 2007 and tore the patellar tendon in his left knee in the 2008 season finale, six games into his return. This season, he rushed for 821 yards and four TDs, adding 29 receptions and three scores.
Brady is the second Patriot to win the award; linebacker Tedy Bruschi shared it with Carolina receiver Steve Smith in 2005. He is the fifth quarterback honored since the award began in 1998, including Chad Pennington, who won in 2006 and 2008.
Also receiving votes were Titans quarterback Vince Young, Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, Bengals running back Cedric Benson and his teammate, quarterback Carson Palmer, and Saints defensive end Anthony Hargrove.