Feb 1, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera receivers the AP Coach of the Year award at the 3rd NFL Honors at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Ron Rivera, Luke Kuechly Take Top League Honors

The NFL released the names of all their annual award winners last night.

Sheldon Richardson, defensive lineman for the New York Jets, took Defensive Rookie of the Year honors while Eddie Lacy, running back for the Green Bay Packers, was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year over my pick, San Diego Chargers WR Keenan Allen. Richardson’s “Fridge” impression helped put him over the top as he had a couple of rushing TDs, one of which came against the Panthers when they played late in the season at Bank of America Stadium.

Chargers’ QB Phillip Rivers was named Comeback Player of the Year, but then things got very interesting for Carolina Panthers fans.

Find the complete list at NFL.com “NFL Honors Complete List of Winners.”

The Carolina Panthers were the only team to have two individual awards, and two of the most highly visible ones at that.

Ron Rivera, who led his team to 11 wins in their last 12 games en route to a 12-4 regular season mark and NFC South division title, won NFL Coach of the Year honors.

This, coming after a slow 1-3 start in September where fans renewed their cries for Rivera’s head. I must confess, I chimed in but said that I’d hate to see him let go when he has gotten 75% of the job done and that I wanted to see him finish the season at least to give him a fair shot.

Turns out staying the course with the third-year head coach was the right decision. Rivera has crafted as intimidating a defense as there is in the NFL as the Panthers ranked second, very closely following Seattle, in most defensive categories.

Feb 1, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly receives the AP Defensive Player of the Year award at the 3rd NFL Honors at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Second-year pro MLB Luke Kuechly took the NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. Kuechly won the Defensive Rookie of the Year title last season and has followed that up with the Big One this year.

Kuechly, who led the NFL in tackles as a rookie, came in fourth in tackles this season with 156 total. He added two sacks, seven passes defensed, and four interceptions. Kuechly has demonstrated his total package this season as he has zero holes in his game. He plays the run extremely well and can cover tight ends as a middle linebacker in the passing game, if asked to do so. Luke and Thomas Davis make as dangerous and fast a pair of starting linebackers as you’ll find anywhere – including other NFL teams.

Even though the Panthers need to take another step to advance in the playoffs, “Riverboat Ron,” a nickname he acquired by going for it on a number of 4th-and-short plays (and nearly always succeeding), brought the team up from five wins his first season and seven wins in his second. The slow 1-3 start, as mentioned, was pivotal in the team’s October resurgence and had the team buying into his philosophy if they hadn’t already. Pro Bowlers Cam Newton and FB Mike Tolbert certainly helped make Ron’s decisions a tad easier with Cam’s lean strength and shiftiness in the QB sneak and Tolbert’s fireplug stature and brute power to call upon.

It will be interesting to see how far Riverboat Ron can guide this team in 2014, while GM David Gettleman fights through a salary cap slammed with a few highly overpaid players – RB Jonathan Stewart costs over $18 million in “dead cap money” this season for example – while the offense desperately needs an infusion of explosive players at the wide receiver position.

By the way….yes, Peyton Manning won his record fifth MVP award. *yawn*

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