I'm one of the 50 voters for The Associated Press NFL awards. I take the responsibility seriously. And barring anything unforeseen, my vote for Offensive Rookie of the Year is going to the MVP of the 2013 Green Bay Packers, the guy whose play is the main reason that team is still dreaming of the playoffs.
No disrespect to San Diego Chargers receiver Keenan Allen, who should get a ton of credit for putting together a sizzling neophyte campaign (63 catches for 931 yards and seven touchdowns), but I'm not convinced it's even close. Aaron Rodgers has been out for more than a month with a collarbone injury. The Packers' receivers have been banged up, and their offensive line isn't healthy. The Green Bay defense doesn't scare you. So, what powers the Pack? Eddie Lacy's heart, toughness, execution, pure grit and brute strength.
I can support my argument with ample statistics. I can also support my argument with the eyeball test. Just watch Lacy pummel the opposition when they stack the box.
Lacy has been at his best with the Packers on the brink, running for a touchdown in seven of his past nine games. Green Bay was facing extinction last week, and the Alabama product gashed the hapless Dallas Cowboys defense to the tune of 141 yards and a score. On the go-ahead touchdown, Lacy barreled into the end zone with such force that it looked like he had been shot out of a cannon, all but threatening to fly out of the stadium. He finished the day with his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season.
Without Rodgers, the Packers' offense is scoring 10 fewer points per game -- a whopping drop -- and the team is 2-4-1. Green Bay won its last two games by two combined points.
Can you imagine where this quarterback-oriented squad would be if Lacy were simply ordinary? He saved the season -- and he has a true ROY résumé.
I talked to a jubilant Lacy on Monday morning on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," and the first-year pro was still riding high from the Packers' epic comeback victory in Dallas. While Lacy wouldn't say the Cowboys quit or got shell-shocked, he did "notice a difference" in the opposition after halftime. I think Lacy -- who credited the veterans (especially Matt Flynn) and the coaching staff for getting the team in a different mindset at the break -- helped bust the will of that Dallas D, spearheading the charge with his potent style.
A reflective Lacy told me that being honored as the Offensive Rookie of the Year would be special.
"Personally, it would mean a lot to me," Lacy said. "I haven't had many accomplishments throughout my life, and just to come and be a part of this organization and win it with this team and this group of guys would speak volumes for me, and it would be something that I always cherish."
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Lacy told me that, when he was drafted, he figured he'd be a "complementary part." He understood Rodgers' brilliance. He just wanted a chance to play and contribute to a winner -- just like when he was at Alabama.
The irony is, as Packer nation waits with bated breath for Rodgers to return to the field, Lacy has become the most important piece to the puzzle, the most integral Green Bay player.
Even if Rodgers is cleared for Sunday's pivotal matchup against the Steelers or next week's game versus the Bears, coach Mike McCarthy must continue to run with Lacy. Rodgers will have missed at least six full games, and he will be rusty. You don't want him dropping back 50 times behind that line; you don't want him to risk suffering another injury. Plus -- and most especially -- Lacy has been that good. The Packers can dominate with a power run game and a potentially explosive balanced attack.
I've never understood those who have criticized McCarthy for throwing too much with the best quarterback in football. Now, though, the Packers -- with or without Rodgers -- must literally ride their horse into the ground.
When I say, "literally," I'm referring to the fact that Lacy has been playing through pain -- most recently battling an ankle injury -- making his debut campaign that much more remarkable.
Still -- ankle soreness be damned -- he will play Sunday against Pittsburgh. You can bank on that.
"It's just the mindset, and going out and try to get what you set your mind to," he said Monday. "If I'm able to go out and run and play, then I'm going to do it. I want to show my teammates that even though I'm not 100 percent, if I can go, I'm going to give you everything I have."
As he has all season.
That Green Bay is somehow still standing is thanks to Lacy. And for that, he should be the one rising to his feet when the Offensive Rookie of the Year trophy is handed out at the "NFL Honors" show in Radio City Music Hall on Feb. 1.