Associated Press Enlarge
INDIANAPOLIS -- Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has won the 2011 Associated Press NFL comeback player of the year award.
Stafford beat out six other players who received votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. Stafford fought through injuries his first two seasons, then threw for more than 5,000 yards in 2011 to lead Detroit to its first playoff berth in 12 years.
He received 21 votes, six more than Cleveland linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith finished third, followed by Carolina receiver Steve Smith, Denver defensive end Elvis Dumervil, New England defensive end Andre Carter, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Stafford is the first Lion and the ninth quarterback -- four straight -- to win the award since its inception in 1998.
In other awards announced Saturday, San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh was named AP's top coach for leading the 49ers back to the playoffs, Denver linebacker Von Miller won a two-man race with 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith for top rookie defender, and top pick Cam Newton of the Panthers was the top offensive rookie.
Harbaugh guided the 49ers to a 13-3 mark and the NFC West championship game. He earned 45 votes, easily outdistancing Green Bay's Mike McCarthy, who received three votes, and Denver's John Fox, who got two.
Miller, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, sparked a defensive turnaround in Denver. Miller received 39 votes. Smith got the other 11.
Newton is the second straight No. 1 overall draft pick to take the offensive honor. Rams QB Sam Bradford won it last year.
Newton received 47 votes to three for Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.