|TOM BRADY Captures 49 of 50 votes (file/Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)|
Since he altered the Patriots' fortunes by going from unheralded backup to franchise quarterback, Tom Brady has been an MVP - Most Valuable Patriot. Finally, the rest of the NFL recognized what's been fact in Foxborough since 2001.
Brady was named the Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player yesterday, picking up 49 of a possible 50 votes to become the first Patriot to win NFL MVP honors. Packers quarterback Brett Favre got the other vote.
"He's our MVP. I think we've known that for quite some time, whether he's the media or writers' - whoever votes - MVP, he's our MVP," said linebacker Mike Vrabel, who has played with Brady on all three of the Patriots Super Bowl title teams.
The two-time Super Bowl MVP won the award for the first time after throwing an NFL-record 50 touchdown passes, surpassing Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning's record of 49, and leading the Patriots to the first 16-0 regular season in league history.
Augmented by the addition of wide receivers Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Donté Stallworth, Brady silenced critics who said he wasn't capable of putting up prolific numbers like his Indianapolis counterpart, a two-time MVP, and guided an offense that helped set NFL records for points in a season (589) and touchdowns (75).
Brady, 30, had the best season of his eight-year career, leading the league in touchdown passes, passing yards (4,806, the third-highest total in NFL history), completion percentage (68.9), and passer rating (117.2).
"Tom is an amazing player. Every year I have been here, he has always been the MVP in my eyes, hands down," said defensive end Ty Warren. "He is going to be remembered as one of the best that ever played in this league, and he has definitely put on a clinic this year with the guys that he has had around him. He deserves it, and I am happy for him."
Brady established an instant rapport with Moss. The two connected an NFL-record 23 times for TDs. Brady broke Manning's mark last Saturday with a 65-yard touchdown pass to Moss that erased a 28-23 fourth-quarter deficit and propelled the Patriots to a 38-35 victory over the New York Giants that completed a perfect regular season, the first since the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
"He's Tom Brady. He's a fierce competitor, and as long as we have time on the clock, he feels like we have a chance to win and everybody around him feels that same way," said wide receiver Jabar Gaffney. "We know that some way he's going to get the job done."
Brady set an NFL record by throwing three or more touchdown passes in each of the Patriots' first 10 games, and his 12 games with three or more TD tosses was also an NFL record. He tied the Patriots franchise mark with five touchdown passes in a win over the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 14 and broke it the next week, throwing for six in a 49-28 rout of the Miami Dolphins.
The iconic quarterback finished the season with just eight interceptions to go with his 50 TD passes. The plus-42 differential was yet another NFL record.
But the most important set of numbers for Brady and coach Bill Belichick was 16-0. Belichick, who was named the AP NFL Coach of the Year Thursday, has often said that the only stat he measures quarterbacks by is wins. Brady's 86-24 regular-season record (.782) is the best of any starting quarterback in the Super Bowl era (since 1966), and including playoffs, he is 98-26 (.790).
"I have thought for a long time that there is no past or present quarterback I'd rather coach than Tom Brady, and I am more certain of that every year he plays," said Belichick.
Brady's reaction to winning the award, which was released through a team statement, gave a glimpse of what makes him great. He deflected all the credit, thanked his teammates, coaches, and the organization, and alluded to preparing for the Patriots' first playoff game, which will be Saturday, his focus on becoming the 16th AP NFL MVP to win a Super Bowl in the same season and the first since Kurt Warner (1999).
"I am flattered to join such an esteemed list of players, many of whom I consider the greatest of all-time," said Brady. "I hope that I can set as great of an example for kids around the world as the previous MVPs did for me. I am grateful to all of the voters. It is a tremendous honor, and I am sure it is one that my family will one day look back on with great pride.
"There is still plenty of football to be played this season and I look forward to getting back on the field with my teammates and preparing for next weekend's game."
Mike Reiss of the Globe staff contributed to this report.