For the second time in three years, two of the six NFL 101 Awards for outstanding performance will come from the Carolina Panthers after the team achieved an NFL-best 15-1 record and captured its third-straight division title. Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera and quarterback Cam Newton will be honored for their spectacular season, alongside the other 2015 award winners – Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid and superstar players Tom Brady, J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald. The six awards will be presented at a black-tie awards dinner in Kansas City and will be broadcast on the NFL Network following the event.
The 101 Awards, benefiting the University of Kansas Hospital, will stage its 46th annual awards gala on Saturday, March 5, 2016, at the Westin Crown Center Hotel in Kansas City.
The event is presented by Burns & McDonnell and, in addition to the national winners, will also recognize two Chiefs team awards.
The nation's longest-running salute to professional football, the 101 Awards has annually recognized outstanding achievement in the NFL based on votes by a selection committee of national media. Founded in 1969, the 101 Awards has recognized many of the greatest players and coaches ever to take the field throughout NFL history, and this year's class is no different in terms of talent.
Unquestionably one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, New England's Tom Brady was selected as this year's AFC Offensive Player of the Yearafter another record-breaking performance. In the first week of the season, Brady led the Patriots to a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, giving him his 161st career win and breaking Brett Favre's quarterback record for most victories with a single team. He finished the regular season with 172 wins. Since taking over as the Pats' starting quarterback in 2001, Brady has never won fewer than 9 games in a season—excluding the 2008 season in which he was injured and played only one game—and has won 12 or more games in a season 10 times. In that same 15-year span, he has led the Patriots to an unprecedented 13 AFC Eastern Division titles and six Super Bowls—a feat not achieved by any other quarterback in history.
Taking the honors as AFC Defensive Player of the Yearfor the second consecutive year and the third time overall isJ.J. Watt of the Houston Texans. Following one of the most dominant defensive seasons in NFL history in 2014, in which he garnered 20.5 sacks for the second time in his career, Watt responded with yet another stellar year in 2015 notching 17.5 regular-season sacks, including six multi-sack games. Watt ended his fifth pro season leading the NFL in tackles for losses (29) and quarterback hits (50). With this, his third 15-plus sack season, Watt became just the second player in NFL history behind Reggie White to reach the milestone in just five seasons.
On the NFC side, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newtonis receiving his first NFL 101 Award as the NFC Offensive Player of the Year after leading his team to a 14-0 start and a 15-1 record overall. With 35 touchdown passes on the season, Newton threw a touchdown on every 14.1 pass attempts for a 7.1 touchdown percentage that led the NFL. Already one of the best rushing quarterbacks in NFL history, Newton finished with 639 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns—the fifth highest total for all players in the league, including running backs. Overall, Newton finished with the remarkable rankings combination of second in the NFL in passing touchdowns and fifth in rushing touchdowns. For his performance, Newton was awarded NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors five times, tying Tom Brady as the only five-time winners of the Player of the Week awards in the same season.
Taking the NFC Defensive Player of the Year award is first-time 101 Award winner Aaron Donald of the Rams. In just his second NFL season, the defensive tackle earned Rams team MVP honors after finishing the season with 11 sacks—the most of any inside player—29 quarterback hits, 49 quarterback pressures and 22 tackles for loss. He earned a perfect 99.9 rating from Pro Football Focus' new ranking system, breaking J.J. Watt's record for the highest grade ever given by PFF in a single season and receiving PFF's title as the No. 1 player in the NFL regardless of position. The 2014 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Donald has earned back-to-back trips to the Pro Bowl in as many seasons.
The AFC Coach of the Year, Andy Reid, made history with the Kansas City Chiefs by becoming the first coach in NFL history to bounce back from a 1-5 start to end the season on a 10-game winning streak and qualify for the playoffs. After starting the season with a win over the Houston Texans, the Chiefs not only stumbled in their next five games but also experienced the loss of star running back Jamaal Charles to an ACL injury. Behind strong leadership, Reid rallied the team to win their next 10 games—the longest winning streak in franchise history—and earn a spot in the AFC playoffs. Reid and the Chiefs extended the amazing streak to 11 games with a shutout victory over the Texans in the Wild Card game, the franchises' first playoff win in 22 years.
The NFC Coach of the Year, Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers also made history by becoming the first coach to lead an NFC team to a 14-0 start to the season and just the fourth time ever in the NFL. Those 14 games added onto the Panthers running total of regular season wins from the previous season to produce an 18-game winning streak, tying the mark for the third-longest of all time. In five seasons at the helm in Carolina, Rivera has guided his team to three division titles and three postseason appearances. His 2015 NFC South championship is his third consecutive, and the team's 15-1 regular season record is the best in franchise history. Rivera also earned 101 NFC Coach of the Year honors in the 2013 season.
A collection of photos from the 45th annual 101 Awards.
In addition to the player and coach awards, the Committee of 101 also presents theLamar Hunt Award for Professional Football, which was created in 2007 to honor the life and legacy of the Chiefs founder. This award recognizes a person or group that significantly contributed to the NFL and its status as the preeminent pro sports league in America. The recipient of this year's award is Super Bowl I, a historic event that changed the face of professional football and led to the growth of what has become the single largest sporting event in the world each year. Representatives of the two teams that played in Super Bowl I—the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs—will attend the awards event to be recognized for this landmark, which comes as the NFL celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Super Bowl.
Beginning with this year's event, the new beneficiary of the 101 Awards is The University of Kansas Hospital's Sports Medicine & Performance Center, which strives to improve the health and wellness of student-athletes throughout the region. As a not-for-profit organization, The University of Kansas Hospital receives no state or local funding, relying instead on philanthropy and sound fiscal management.