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Chiefs’ QB Mahomes takes MVP; Pats, Rams are ready

By Barry Wilner

AP Pro Football Writer

ATLANTA (AP) — Patrick Mahomes’ breathtaking breakthrough season earned him the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award.

The Chiefs quarterback landed a pair of honors at NFL Honors on Saturday night, taking The Associated Press 2018 MVP and Offensive Player of the Year awards. In his second pro season, Mahomes led Kansas City to its first AFC title game since 1993 with some of the most creative and clutch plays the league has seen in years.

“I’m so humbled,” he said. “This is just the beginning. We’ve got a long ways to go.

“It is an honor. It’s a hard award to win. The next award I hope I can get is the Super Bowl.”

Mahomes received 41 votes from a nationwide panel of media members who regularly cover the league. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees got the other nine.

With only one previous start, Mahomes entered the season as something of a curiosity in Kansas City after the Chiefs traded veteran Alex Smith to open up the job. It didn’t take long to erase any doubts as Mahomes led the Chiefs to their first AFC title game since the 1993 season, throwing for 50 touchdowns, 5,097 yards and had a 113.8 QB rating, trailing only Brees.

Mahomes’ ingenuity — the guy can throw from all angles and make plays inside and outside the pocket — energized the Chiefs’ fan base and excited fans across the league.

Mahomes is the sixth straight quarterback and 11th of the past 12 years to win MVP. No Kansas City player had won the award since the Chiefs joined the NFL in 1970.

Earlier, he was selected as the top offensive player, beating Brees 30 votes to 16.

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Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who will play in Sunday’s Super Bowl against New England, took his second straight Defensive Player of the Year award.

Donald, the only unanimous All-Pro this season and the first Rams player selected for top defensive honor, joins Lawrence Taylor and J.J. Watt as players to win the award in back-to-back seasons. Donald led the NFL with 20½ sacks.

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Chicago’s Matt Nagy, in his first season with the Bears, was voted Coach of the Year.

Nagy has overseen the development of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who blossomed in his second pro season, and saw a defense befitting the “Monsters of the Midway” dominate opponents at times. He is the fifth Bears coach to win the award, joining team founder George Halas (1963, 1965), Mike Ditka (1985, 1988), Dick Jauron (2001) and Lovie Smith (2005).

“It’s crazy to think this is one person, so for me, it’s being a part of this organization and for our players,” Nagy said. “Just being able to believe in what we wanted to do with our culture and then follow through with it.”

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Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was chosen the Comeback Player of the Year, following a lost 2017 season to a shoulder injury with a sensational 2018 campaign.

“I truly believe there are players on every team, every roster that could be Comeback Player of the Year in their own ways,” he said. “Honestly, the best part was playing football again — having fun playing football and being pain free.”

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Giants running back Saquon Barkley was the top offensive rookie, while the defensive rookie award went to Indianapolis linebacker Darius Leonard.

Described by some as a “generational running back,” Barkley rushed for 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns behind a weak New York offensive line. He drew 26½ votes and edged Baker Mayfield. The Cleveland quarterback who was selected first overall in the draft, one spot in front of Barkley, earned 21½ votes.

Barkley also made a team-high 91 receptions for 721 yards, and his 2,028 yards from scrimmage led the NFL.

•••

Philadelphia Eagles DE Chris Long won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for community service.

“I don’t know, I’m very humbled,” Long said. “It’s hard to feel deserving with those guys on stage and, obviously, this guy right here on the statue. It’s a very heavy statue and it makes sense because his legacy is immense. I’m just honored.”

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PATRIOTS, RAMS DON’T BREAK SWEAT ON DAY BEFORE SUPER BOWL

ATLANTA (AP) — Neither the New England Patriots nor the Los Angeles Rams broke a sweat Saturday in what was their final “practice” for the Super Bowl.

More than 800 friends and family joined Patriots players, coaches, and front office staff at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday morning. After finishing a week of work at Georgia Tech, the Patriots did not hold a walkthrough, but came to the site of the game for team photos and a gathering with their guests. This is the same routine they have followed for previous Super Bowls.

“This breaks up the day and lets them participate in it with their families,” said coach Bill Belichick, who is working his record ninth Super Bowl as a head coach. “This is a dream for every player to play in this game, so to be able to share it with loved ones and family is special. We have tried to embrace it.”

All members of the 53-man active roster and 10-man practice squad were present, along with players on injured reserve, including running back Jeremy Hill and defensive back Eric Rowe. The Patriots have no players with an injury designation for the final game of the season.

Quarterback Tom Brady, also in his ninth Super Bowl, walked in the stadium holding the hand of his 6-year-old daughter, Vivian, with his wife and two sons walking close by. Brady spotted former teammate and Hall of Fame nominee Richard Seymour, who rode in with the team, and wrapped him in a warm embrace.

Later on, Brady met up with his parents and sisters, while Vivian did cartwheels nearby. The traveling party of Devin and Jason McCourty, the first twins to play together in the Super Bowl, sported shirts that read, “All we do is twin,” with “win” printed in contrasting red letters.

The Patriots have not played in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Rams also had family time following meetings and a walkthrough, but at their hotel in Buckhead, then took team photos inside the stadium.

Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth chased his four children around the field, running back C.J. Anderson’s mom chatted up coach Sean McVay, and cornerback Aqib Talib introduced defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to his youngest son.

“It’s great,” McVay said. “This is something I’ve never really been a part of. It’s really special. We’ve got a few players and coaches that have been a part of Super Bowls in previous years, but for a lot of guys it’s their first time, and I think it’s definitely something you want to cherish.”

McVay said his team enters the game healthy; both safety Blake Countess and kicker Greg Zuerlein, who were previously on the injury report with foot injuries, are good to go. Both practiced in full Friday.

“I feel really good,” McVay said. “I think they understand the time where they can enjoy themselves right now, but when we’re doing football-related things, locking into the game plan, they’ve done a great job. And I think that’s kind of been this team’s personality really this whole season. It’s a good balance; they enjoy themselves, but not at the expense of allowing it to affect our focus and concentration.”

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