SANTA CLARA It was heroic and tragic and gut-wrenching all at once. And it happened – over and over – in front of 56 million viewers.
NaVorro Bowman’s knee injury, which came as he stripped the ball from a Seahawks receiver in the NFC Championship Game, probably did more for his Defensive Player of the Year chances than anything all season.
It came amid another outstanding performance by the 49ers inside linebacker. He led the team in tackles that day and had a sack. And it came just when the Seahawks were gaining momentum and the 49ers had to have a game-altering play.
But continuing the theme of tragedy and loss and life’s not fair, it’s unlikely to put Bowman over the top.
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The NFL’s end-of-season honors will be announced Saturday in an Oscars-like awards show at Radio City Music Hall in New York. And the award for best defensive player likely will go to either Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, 49ers public enemy No. 1, or Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt.
Sherman had the championship game’s most iconic play and most talked-about after-game comments. He also led the league in interceptions in 2013, played on the NFL’s top-ranked defense and, in case you haven’t noticed, has been getting a wee bit of attention the last two weeks.
Watt won the award last year. And while the Texans were the worst team in the league, Watt was nearly always the most dominant player on the field.
Here’s a look at who should and who will win the NFL’s six other major awards:
Who should win: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos. In the age of big-armed, mobile quarterbacks, Manning has shown that brains still is the most formidable weapon. He threw for 5,477 yards and had a 55-10 touchdown-interception ratio as the Broncos’ offense smashed all sorts of NFL records, including most points and most passing yards.
Who will win: Manning. He’s been the NFL’s biggest story the last two years. What’s more, there are no other contenders. Tom Brady, Drew Brees and LeSean McCoy all had nice seasons, but they will be watching Sunday’s big game from their sofas.
Offensive Player of the Year
Who should win: Manning.
Who will win: Manning.
Coach of the Year
Who should win: Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs. Everyone laughed at the Chiefs coach a year ago when he traded two draft picks to the 49ers for Alex Smith. After Reid took a Kansas City team that went 2-14 in 2012 to the playoffs this season, no one is laughing at him now.
Who will win: Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers. The Panthers went from 7-9 in 2012 to 12-4partly because of “Riverboat Ron’s” aggressive and calculated style.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Who should win: Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers. No one took as much abuse before the draft than the former Cal wide receiver. His knee wasn’t right. He wasn’t fast. A drug test at the combine was “red-flagged.” Allen began the draft process as the No. 1 wideout but fell to the Chargers in the third round. Allen led all rookies with 1,046 receiving yards.
Who will win: Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers. It’s hard to quibble with this selection. The Green Bay running back helped sustain the Packers when quarterback Aaron Rodgers was injured. Like Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, Lacy is hard to bring down, and his addition will make the Packers’ offense even more dangerous.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Who should win: Kiko Alonso, Buffalo Bills. Last year, Luke Kuechly won this award after making 164 tackles for the Carolina Panthers. Alonso, the Bills’ inside linebacker, had 159 tackles – plus four interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
Who will win: Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets. The defensive tackle had an excellent year on a defense that finished third in the NFL against the run. Besides, given their location, the Jets tend to get more national attention than, say, the Bills.
Comeback Player of the Year
Who should win: Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs. If there is such a thing as karmic justice, the award will go to the star-crossed former 49ers starter, who lost his job in San Francisco because he suffered a concussion. Smith was in the midst of his best season when the injury occurred.
Who will win: Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The cornerback came back from a 2012 ACL injury, and it doesn’t hurt that he used to play in New York.