The Associated Press will hand out its individual NFL awards on the night before the Super Bowl in Miami. Until then, here are some off-the-beaten track honors to consider. BEST GAME: Week 10, the best Monday night game in years saw Seattle beat San Francisco 27-24 in overtime in a key NFC West matchup. This one had everything, from huge defensive plays to special teams highlights (and lowlights) to Russell Wilson working some magic on the winning drive. Watching Pete Carrollâ€™s resilient squad hand the Niners their first defeat was worthy of the prime-time spotlight.
Runners-up: 49ers 48, Saints 46, Week 14. Almost as good as the Niners’ loss to Seattle, but lacked the overall balance. Throw in the Niners’ 20-17 last-second defeat at Baltimore, and it was a nail-biting but fun season for their fans.
WORST GAME: Seems we often find a Jets game to fit this bill. How about New England 33, New York 0 – in prime time. When will the league learn to B-A-N the J-E-T-S from national TV?
Sam Darnold threw four interceptions and lost a fumble. Worse yet, he was caught on the sideline by ESPN and NFL Films cameras saying heâ€™s â€œseeing ghosts.â€ Darnold went 11 for 32 for 86 yards and the Jets finished with 154 yards.
Runners-up: The Patriots had a hand in this one, as well. In Week 2, they demolished the Dolphins 43-0 in the kind of snoozer we expected from Miami all year.
Almost equally lacking entertainment value were the Bengals, who have bungled their way to 1-14. The worst of their litany of losing was a 49-13 flop against Baltimore in which Lamar Jackson completed a 49-yard pass on his first play and had only one incompletion – on a spike – as Baltimore took control in the first half. He finished 15 of 17 for 223 yards and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. And he did have a play of the year nominee (see below), so maybe it wasn’t such a bad game.
BEST CELEBRATION: Nick Bosa’s revenge. In the 49ers’ 31-3 rout of Cleveland, the San Francisco defensive end poked fun at Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield after forcing Mayfield into a hurried incompletion. Bosa, the second overall draft pick, got up and pretended to wave a flag and plant it in the turf as the crowd roared. It was a clear shot at Mayfield, who planted an Oklahoma flag in the turf after leading the Sooners to a win over Bosa and Ohio State in 2017.
“I think everybody knows what that was for,” Bosa said. â€œJust wanted to get payback. He had it coming.â€
Runners-up: Seattle’s â€œBye Bye Byeâ€ mimic of NSYNC’s dance moves in a victory over Cleveland. AND their rendition of New Edition’s steps vs. Minnesota.
BEST PLAY OF THE YEAR: The 49ers again, this time at New Orleans in a game-saving play that will be George Kittle’s legacy – until the tight end pulls it off again.
On fourth-and 2 in the final moments, Jimmy Garoppolo’s short pass found Kittle, who galloped up the sideline, making move after move and embracing an opportunity to defiantly jerk his head back and forth as a Saints defender grabbed his face mask.
â€œRun through people, but have a good time doing it,â€ Kittle said of the play, which gained 53 yards after the Saints’ penalty and set up a winning field goal.
Runners-up: Dolphins punter Matt Haack’s touchdown pass to kicker Jason Sanders on a fake field goal in an upset of the Eagles. Jackson’s 360-degree spin on a 47-yard TD run against Cincinnati that highlighted his spectacular skills even more. Listen to Kevin Harlan’s â€œHoudiniâ€ call on CBS.
WORST PLAY OF THE YEAR: Redskins rookie QB Dwayne Haskins taking a selfie with a fan when he was supposed to be taking a snap for a kneel-down in a win over Detroit.
Runner-up: Baker Mayfield basically giving Patriots DL Lawrence Guy the ball at the line of scrimmage.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER (OFFENSE): Back to the Niners, where one of their backs, Raheem Mostert, has gone from special teamer and fourth-string halfback to a key to their run to the playoffs. Mostert has been especially dynamic in the second half of the schedule and has averaged 5.6 yards per carry with six touchdowns.
Runners-up: Titans QB Ryan Tannehill; Panthers WR DJ Moore; Raiders TE Darren Waller.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER (DEFENSE): Shaq Barret t was a nice player in Denver, where he had 14 sacks in five seasons. He left for Tampa Bay as a free agent – and became a monster with 16 1-2 sacks so far and certainly will get strong consideration for the AP All-Pro Team.
Runners-up: Vikings free safety Anthony Harris; Bills DT Jordan Phillips; Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER (OFFENSE): OBJ was MIA for much of the season. After his ballyhooed trade from the Giants to Cleveland, Odell Beckham Jr., was supposed to be the missing link to the Browns ending the longest non-playoff streak in the NFL. Instead, he barely contributed anything positive.
Runners-up: Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky; Jets RB Le’Veon Bell; Giants T Nate Solder. And Bengals WR A.J. Green, who never got on the field.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER (DEFENSE): Washington gave safety Landon Collins an $84 million six-year contract to join. His impact was minimal on a unit that ranks 25th overall and 29th against the rush, supposedly one of Collins’ strengths.
Runners-up: Broncos LB Von Miller, a perennial All-Pro who struggled in Vic Fangio’s scheme; Lions DE Trey Flowers; Eagles CB Ronald Darby.
MOST SURPRISING TEAM: San Francisco is in position for the top seed in the NFC. Last year, it was in position for the second overall draft pick.
Runners-up: Green Bay, Buffalo and Miami; Dolphins supposedly were tanking this season.
MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM: Dallas should have romped in the league’s worst division, the NFC East. Instead, if injury-ravaged Philadelphia beats the Giants on Sunday, the Cowboys will be home for the playoffs.
Runners-up: Chicago, both Los Angeles teams.
WEIRDEST INCIDENT: Cleveland’s budding star DE Myles Garrett wildly swinging the helmet of Steelers QB Mason Rudolph into Rudolph’s head near the end of the Browns’ victory over Pittsburgh on Nov. 14. Garrett has been suspended indefinitely.
Runners-up: The black cat that invaded MetLife Stadium ‘s field during a Monday nighter between Dallas and the Giants.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott messing up the team’s decision for the opening-game coin toss against the Rams.
BEST PLAY-BY-PLAY ANNOUNCER: It seems as if Kevin Harlan always is on the air. As long as he keeps doing NFL games, on TV for CBS and on radio for Westwood One, weâ€™re fine with his busy schedule. Harlanâ€™s full descriptions of plays, avoiding clichÃ©s at all costs, his passion and his sense of humor make any game he does a treat. Too bad CBS doesnâ€™t give him and analyst Rich Gannon more high-profile games. Theyâ€™re the networkâ€™s best team, though Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts are a close second.
Runners-up: Ian Eagle (CBS), Chris Myers (Fox); Kevin Kugler (Westwood One).
BEST ANALYST: As close as a fourth-and-inches play, weâ€™ll give the nod to Foxâ€™s Troy Aikman, especially with his working two games (Thursday and Sunday) in some weeks. Aikman used to pull punches, but that was years ago and heâ€™s gotten better and better as heâ€™s become more candid.
Runners-up: A very close second goes to Gannon, Fouts and James Lofton (CBS), and Kurt Warner (Westwood One).
AP Pro Football Writers Josh Dubow, Dennis Waszak Jr., Dave Campbell, Teresa Walker, Schuyler Dixon and Simmi Buttar, and Sports Writers Tim Booth, Will Graves, Tom Canavan and Steven Wine contributed.
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