Extra Points will hand out its Patriots team awards this week. This is the first in a series. Today, we hand out Patriots Comeback Player of the Year.
TOM BRADY, QB
Tough call, huh? The state of Brady’s left knee, in the aftermath of an injury that shook the franchise to its bedrock, dominated the offseason and early season. On the season's first Monday night, he orchestrated a remarkable comeback victory with two touchdown passes in the final minutes. For much of that victory over the Buffalo Bills, Brady did not play sharply. But with the magical fourth quarter, he announced he was back.
After he played half of a quarter in 2008, Brady did not ease back into the sport. The Patriots again built their offense around Brady – only Matt Schaub and Peyton Manning threw the ball more than Brady this year. He completed 65.7 percent of his passes, piling up 4,398 yards and 28 touchdowns. Set aside his historic 2007 season, and all of those totals would be career highs.
The gaudy stats assuaged concerns that Brady’s career hung in the balance, but after his playoff clunker against the Ravens, Brady will have to re-answer a question no one has wondered in almost a decade: Can he play his best and win in the postseason and in the clutch? The Patriots won 10 games – one fewer than they won with Matt Cassel leading the huddle, albeit against an easier schedule. Brady's fourth-quarter passer rating this year was 75.9, 20th in the NFL. In his last eight playoff games, Brady has thrown 12 interceptions to with a 79.4 rating and a 4-4 record. With this season, Brady regained his health. Next year, he may have to regain his reputation.
LAURENCE MARONEY, RB
While Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris battled injuries, Maroney became the Patriots featured back for the majority of the season, reclaiming prominence in New England’s backfield. He appeared in only three games in 2008 and gained 93 yards before a broken shoulder landed him on injured reserve.
Maroney finished with 757 yards, the second-highest total of his career. Before this year, he had carried the ball at least 20 times in a game twice; he did it four times in a span of seven games this year. But with his durability, a new bugaboo emerged. Maroney lost one fumble in the first three years of his career. Then he lost four in the second half of the season, including three at the goal line. The problem limited him to six carries in the final three games of the year.
JUNIOR SEAU, LB
His was a self-imposed comeback – it’s not often an inside linebacker emerges not just from retirement, but from a reality show in which he worked as, among other things, a rodeo clown. Seau played little at first, getting on the field in blowouts and trying to impose leadership. But by the end of the season, when it became blatant Gary Guyton could not hold up against the run, Seau had earned more and more time.
After the Ravens stomped the Patriots, one Raven called Seau the Patriots best player. Take that for what it’s worth. But it’s a nice note for The Brett Favre Of Defense to leave the game (for good this time, one assumes), head for some surf and – who knows? – maybe the rodeo.