The Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton hope Super Bowl 50 goes as well as Saturday night’s NFL Honors. With Newton picking up his first Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year hardware, the Panthers finished the fifth-annual award show with three major awards after head coach Ron Rivera also won Coach of the Year honors.
Newton pulled off the best season of his five-year career by compiling 45 total touchdowns and helping Carolina reach a nearly perfect 15-1 regular season record and the top seed in the NFC playoffs. Newton received 48 out of 50 votes for the award, with New England’s Tom Brady and Arizona’s Carson Palmer earning the other two.
Now the 26-year-old and the Panthers will try to carry their winning momentum into Sunday night’s clash with the Denver Broncos for the first Super Bowl title in franchise history.
Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt was the other huge winner on the night, taking home his third overall Defensive Player of the Year award. The feared and relentless pass rusher recorded 17.5 sacks over 16 games this season, his fourth straight year with a double-digit sack total, while guiding the Texans to the AFC South title.
Watt has now equaled New York Giants and Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor for most DPOY awards in a career, but his third victory in the last four years came at the expense of the Panthers bid for four major awards.
Panthers cornerback Josh Norman, who helped the league’s No. 6 ranked defense shut down every one of their opponents' top receivers, and St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald were seen as Watt’s biggest threats to usurp the award.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs joined the Panthers as the only teams to secure multiple awards. Cornerback Marcus Peters picked up Defensive Rookie of the Year honors after finishing the regular season tied for the league-lead with eight interceptions and standing as the outright leader with 26 passes defensed.
Peters managed to beat out Buffalo Bills cornerback Ronald Darby, another worthy candidate who became a focal point of the Bills secondary after injuries littered the defensive backfield.
And Chiefs safety Eric Berry took home Comeback Player of the Year after he returned from a bout with lymphoma and played the Chiefs full 16-game season.
Rams running back Todd Gurley also capped his own comeback story by securing Offensive Rookie of the Year. St. Louis’ first-round draft choice bounced back from a serious knee injury in the middle of his final college season and less than a year later he ranked third in the NFL with 1,106 rushing yards and tied for second with 10 rushing touchdowns.
Gurley’s main competition was last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston. The former Florida State standout kept the Bucs in playoff contention till late in the regular season, helping the squad improve by four wins compared to 2014, and racked up 4,042 passing yards and 22 touchdowns.
Here’s the full list of winners from Saturday night’s show.
NFL Honors Awards
AP Most Valuable Player: Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
AP Offensive Player of the Year: Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
AP Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
AP Offensive Rookie of the Year: Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams
AP Defensive Rookie of the Year: Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
AP Coach of the Year: Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
AP Assistant Coach of the Year: Wade Phillips, Denver Broncos
AP Comeback Player of the Year: Eric Berry, SS, Kansas City Chiefs
Walter Payton Man of the Year: Anquan Boldin, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year: Michael Burnett, Tuscarora (Virginia) High School
NFL.com Fantasy Player of the Year: Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Clutch Performer of the Year: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
Art Rooney Award: Charles Woodson, S, Oakland Raiders