HOUSTON - Matt Ryan and the Dallas Cowboys were big winners Saturday night.
The Atlanta Falcons quarterback was voted The Associated Press 2016 NFL’s Most Valuable Player and top offensive player. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott took Offensive Rookie of the Year and Jason Garrett was selected Coach of the Year by a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league.
On the eve of the Super Bowl in which he will face off with two-time league MVP Tom Brady, who finished second in this year’s balloting, Ryan easily outdistanced Brady 25-10 for MVP. He beat Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers 15½ to 11 for Offensive Player of the Year.
Ryan, of course, was not on hand at the “NFL Honors” TV show with the big game less than 24 hours away.
“I just want to say thank you. This is an incredible honor for me. Obviously, there are so many other great candidates and players who had amazing seasons,” he said in a taped acceptance speech.
“I want to thank all my teammates. Obviously, without them, none of this is possible. We’ve had so many guys on our team make great plays and have great seasons for us, so thank you to those guys.”
Garrett drew 25 votes for best coach, beating out New England’s Bill Belichick (14).
“This is an extension of our football team and I really accept it on their behalf,” said Garrett, who took over as Dallas coach in 2010. “I coach with some really great guys and I’m really fortunate to coach with so many great players that go about it the right way, and it’s really just an extension of that. It’s a team award.”
Prescott, in a two-man race with his running back, Ezekiel Elliott, won 28½ to 21½. The QB brought the RB onstage to share in his special moment.
“He deserves it just as much as I do from his yards, his catches,” Prescott said. “The way we handled things in the backfield is always together.”
Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, apparently headed to San Francisco after the Super Bowl to be head coach of the 49ers, took the assistant coaching award.
Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, returning from a devastating knee injury, was selected Comeback Player of the Year.
Oakland edge rusher Khalil Mack slipped past 2016 Super Bowl MVP linebacker Von Miller for Defensive Player of the Year, 18-17.
San Diego lineman Joey Bosa won top defensive rookie honors in a landslide.
“I don’t really set goals like this for myself very often, awards,” said Bosa, who missed the first four games after a holdout. “But I definitely wanted this one. I’m really happy I got it done.”
Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Giants quarterback Eli Manning shared the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
“Quite simply this is the most meaningful honor an NFL player can receive, and I am flattered beyond words that the selection committee deemed me worthy of it,” Fitzgerald said. “More than anything it is a reflection on my parents whose words and example taught my brother and me the value of service and the importance of giving back.”
Manning called it “an honor to be mentioned in the same breath with Walter Payton.”
“None of us do what we do on behalf of charity or in our communities to get recognized,” Manning added. “We do it because we truly care. You want to make a difference in people’s lives and in our communities. But to be recognized and know that people do notice your work is nice.”