The old man came off the coach, jumped onto the field halfway through the year, and led a team to the playoffs. That’s the story being sold for Joe Flacco’s AP 2023 NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award, and it’s a narrative I can get behind.
Ever since Lamar Jackson took the reins in Baltimore mid-way through the 2018 season, Joe Flacco’s career fell off a cliff.
There were backup stops in Denver and New York leading toward the inevitable last stops of free agency and retirement. The guy was all but done, and then the phone rang. He was signed to the Cleveland Browns practice squad on November 20th and was the starter by December 3rd.
Through that five-game stretch, Flacco threw for 1,616 yards, completed 60% of his passes, and had a 13/8 touchdown to interception ratio. The Browns went 4-1 over that run, securing a playoff spot and ending the year 11-6 while resting starters the last week.
I can get behind that story and have no complaints about Flacco winning, but his 151 votes to Tua’s 21 votes doesn’t sit right with me. Tua didn’t even come in 3rd. He was 5th, and that boggles my mind.
What’s Tua’s case?
From the offseason to week one, Tua’s football future was completely up in the air. Most media and fans thought he was another concussion or two from leaving the game altogether. He suffered two to three concussions through the 2022 season and missed close to six games.
Tua was made fun of for doing jiu-jitsu in the offseason and criticized for the weight he put on to get his body better acclimated to the punishment of an NFL season. He played all seventeen regular season games and one playoff game. He wasn’t taken out at any point related to injuries. Only for blowing out the other team.
We saw Tua have to get stretchered off the field after being knocked unconscious and his fingers locked up. He went from that moment to playing eighteen games in 2023 and had great numbers across the board.
Take that in. Multiple concussions, half the NFL world telling him he should retire, to leading the Miami Dolphins to an 11-6 record, leading the league in passing yards while commanding the NFL’s top offense. These are his numbers:
69.3 CMP% (5), 4,624 YDS (1), 29 PASS TD (T-5), 14 INT (T-5), 101.1 RTG (6), 60.8 QBR (10)
When you take into account Tua’s story with concussions and possible retirement, and then couple that with the numbers Tua put up, I’m not sure how you can keep him out of the top spot, let alone put him down to fifth. There were not four players who deserved the award more than him, and the NFL players agreed.
Tua Tagovailoa won the Sporting News 2023 Comeback Player of the Year Award. An award that is voted on by players, coaches, and executives. He edged out Damar Hamlin and Baker Mayfield, while Joe Flacco received around 1% of the vote.
My list would be as follows:
1. Tua Tagovailoa (Miami Dolphins)
2. Joe Flacco (Cleveland Browns)
3. Baker Mayfield (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
4. Damar Hamlin (Buffalo Bills)
5. Matt Stafford (LA Rams)
I know what you’re thinking. “How could you have Damar Hamlin so low?” There’s an easy explanation for that. He barely played at all. He didn’t make a sliver of difference for the Buffalo Bills on the field. It may be a cold opinion, but in my view, the guy who wins this award needs to be someone who made a difference on the field.
Hamlin has the most significant injury type of issue out of anyone nominated. I know. He literally died on the field and had to be revived. I also watched that. It’s still only one side of the argument. The other side is coming back the following year and playing well. He was a backup and special teams guy who had no memorable plays.
The suggestion I have that could honor Damar Hamlin and what he went through is by naming the award after him. There’s no one more deserving of the honor. “The man who died and came back to football.” It’s beautiful, and I hope someone has suggested it to the NFL.
That aside, if you consider both sides of the award, not only did Tua get snubbed from the top spot, but I think that he got disrespected.
Let us know in the comments who you think should’ve won the award!