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One of the awards that will be presented on Saturday night is the 2013 Comeback Player of the Year. Who gets your vote?
Rivers looked like a completely different quarterback this season, which is a credit to him and his new coaching staff. For a good part of the season, he played as well as any QB in the NFL. He played smart, read defenses well and was accurate with the ball. He also beat Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Kansas City (twice), Denver and Cincinnati. That's six wins over playoff teams -- including the Bengals in the playoffs.
Ryan Mathews deserves more praise for his stellar fourth NFL campaign. It's a shame that his reputation as an unreliable, injury-prone player hung over him this season, even as he was bulldozing defenders, playing like one of the top running backs in the NFL and racking up a career-best 1,255 rushing yards. After breaking both collarbones in 2012, Mathews bounced back with a fury this season.
I would give this to Ryan Mathews and Philip Rivers as co-winners. Mathews earned a new reputation as a tough, durable running back. Not only did he rush for more than 1,000 yards, but was the guy offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt leaned on often late in the season.
Meanwhile, Rivers might have been the second-best quarterback in pro football this year, and frankly, a little MVP consideration wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. If I had to give this award to only one player, Rivers would be my choice. Think about how much abuse he took in 2012. And then he responded under a whole new coaching staff, leading his team on a late-season surge to the postseason. That merits some serious hardware, in my book.
Knowshon Moreno was in danger of being cut two years ago. A former first-round pick, he rushed for just 179 yards in 2011. Then came Peyton Manning. And no player took to Manning's example of professionalism better than Moreno. After rushing for 525 yards in eight games last season, he exploded for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013, shrugging off a running back-by-committee approach to seize the job. Moreno even caught 60 passes for 548 yards and three more scores.
Moreno has introduced balance to the Manning-led offense, making the unit so much more dangerous.
Philip Rivers was on the fast track to Canton until his career hit the skids in 2011 and 2012. Enter Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt. Rivers threw six more touchdown passes than last season and cut his interceptions by four. And oh yeah, he threw for almost 900 more yards in 2013 than in 2012. Rivers got back to being the player he was, and to no one's surprise, the Chargers got back in the playoffs.
Rivers' stiffest competition for this award is teammate Ryan Mathews, who, despite playing on just first and second downs, flourished in his fourth NFL season. So he can be the 1A to Rivers' 1 in this category.
Many thought Rivers was just about done, but he put together a Pro Bowl season under new coach Mike McCoy. He made Ken Whisenhunt one of the hottest commodities of the offseason. And of course, he took the Chargers back to the playoffs. Plus, he did this behind a rebuilding offensive line and with only one truly legitimate wide receiver.