The award that Terrell Suggs really wanted will be handed out Sunday as the New York Giants and New England Patriots play for the Lombardi Trophy. The Ravens outside linebacker got a nice consolation prize Saturday night when he was named the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the 2011-12 season.
The announcement came at the first-annual NFL Honors awards show in Indianapolis, site of Sunday's Super BowlXLVI. Suggs received 21 of 50 votes.
"I want to thank the Ravens organization, my teammates, my position coach [Ted Monachino], all of our defensive coaches, and most importantly, the City of Baltimore," Suggs said. "Our fans are the NFL's best. I've always said that I play for our fans, and this honor is a tribute to them. I'm very appreciative of Ravens Nation and their love and support throughout the past nine years."
Suggs, 29, becomes the third Raven to win the AP Defensive Player of the Year award, following in the footsteps of his long-time teammates, middle linebacker Ray Lewis (2000 and 2003) and safety Ed Reed (2004). Suggs beat out a group of candidates that included Jared Allen (Minnesota Vikings), Justin Smith (San Francisco 49ers), DeMarcus Ware (Dallas Cowboys) andJason Pierre-Paul (Giants).
The award caps the finest season of Suggs' nine-year career. He led the AFC with a career-high 14 sacks and set a franchise-record with seven forced fumbles. A standout on the NFL's third-ranked defense, Suggs also tied career highs with six passes defended and two interceptions.
Suggs was especially dominant in three particular games, totaling nine sacks and five forced fumbles in victories against the Pittsburgh Steelers (Sept. 11), San Francisco 49ers (Nov.24) and Indianapolis Colts (Dec.11).
If there was a blemish on Suggs' season, it was that he was relatively quiet down the stretch, being held without a sack in four of the Ravens' final five games, including in both playoff games. However, Ravens general managerOzzie Newsome said at Wednesday's "State of the Ravens" address that was a result of the increased attention given to the linebacker by the opposition as the season went on.
"We saw people starting to do some things to scheme [against] Suggs – using tight ends or chipping him as they go out," Newsome said. "But what we like about both [Suggs and Haloti Ngata] is that they show up in both the run and pass. The stats show up as far as sacks, but the way both of those guys impact the way we play against the run, it's unbelievable."
There was plenty of competition for the award. Allen, the Vikings' relentless defensive end, finished with 22 sacks, just a half sack shy of tying former Giant Michael Strahan's NFL record. However, the Vikings' 3-13 record almost certainly affected his candidacy.
Smith had 7 1/2 sacks and three forced fumbles and led a physical 49ers defense that keyed San Francisco's rebirth. Ware had 19 1/2 sacks and Pierre-Paul finished with 16 1/2 respectively.
Suggs, who the Ravens selected in the first round of the 2003 draft, has already crafted an impressive resume. He is the Ravens' all-time leader in sacks (82.5), sack yardage (610) and forced fumbles (29). He is second in Ravens' history in fumble recoveries (11) and third in tackles (660).
He is a five-time Pro Bowl selection and a two-time AP All Pro. He also was named the Pro Football Weekly 2011 Defensive Player of the Year and the NFL 101's AFC Defensive Player of the Year for 2011. However, tonight's honor will certainly rise to the top of his resume.
"Terrell Suggs had another outstanding year," said Monachino, who is the Ravens' linebackers
coach. "He showed the rare ability that we all know he has. He was
technical, physical, tough and explosive in nearly every phase of his game.
People see the sack totals and know he is a special player, but it's all the
other parts of the game that prove, week-in and week-out, what a valuable player
he is for our defense and for our team.
"His professional approach, along with his undeniable talent, paid off not only
for him personally, but for the Ravens and the City of Baltimore. Knowing the
other finalists and how stiff the competition was makes this award a tremendous honor for him."