Manning Named Associated Press Most Valuable Player
INDIANAPOLIS – He overcame injury, odds and adversity.
Five months ago, he was recovering from knee surgery, and just two months ago, his team was under .500 and he had just one more touchdown pass than interceptions.
Now, Peyton Manning is something else, something historic.
Now, he is the NFL's Most Valuable Player.
Manning, the Colts' nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback, on Friday capped a season of clutch performance and personal perseverance when he was named the Associated Press' National Football League Most Valuable Player, becoming the third player to receive the league's most-prestigious individual honor three times.
"I really feel like it's a team award," said Manning, who this season completed 371 of 555 passes for 4,002 yards and 27 touchdowns with 12 interceptions for a 95.0 passer rating, his sixth consecutive season with a rating of 95.0 or better.
"What our team went through this year, with the way we've responded and bounced back from a little bit of football adversity at the beginning of the season – I just can't tell you how much I appreciate the opunity to play with great football players as teammates. I really accept this award on behalf of the team and the organization."
Brett Favre won the award as Green Bay Packers quarterback from 1995-1997 and Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown won it in 1957, 1958 and 1965.
"I'm honored to receive this award firstly because of the numerous other worthy candidates that were in the hunt this year," Manning said. "Some great players had some outstanding seasons. It was fun for me to watch some of these other players have these outstanding seasons. I'm honored to win this award, but I really feel what this team has done is what it's about."
Manning, a Pro Bowl selection the last seven seasons, shared the MVP with then-Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair in 2003 when he led the Colts to the first of five consecutive AFC South titles. He then repeated as MVP the following season when he set a then-NFL record by throwing 49 touchdown passes.
Manning's season this season was less about statistics and more about a remarkable two months that Colts President Bill Polian recently said ranked with any quarterbacking performance in NFL history.
"I don't remember anybody playing as well in terms of since he has been back – from Game 5 on," Polian said last week. "I don't know that anybody has played as well as he has."
Manning, who missed training camp and preseason after undergoing knee surgery in July, began the season by throwing 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions in the first seven games.
At the time, the Colts were 3-4, were under .500 after seven games for the first time since 1998 and had just lost back-to-back road games by double digits for the first time since Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy's 2002 arrival. The second loss was a 31-21 loss at Tennessee that all-but ended Indianapolis' hopes for a sixth consecutive divisional title.
Had the season ended in late October, the Colts would have missed the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
In nine games since, Manning – who was named the AFC's Offensive Player of the Week three times this season – has completed 209 of 290 passes for 2,153 yards and 17 touchdowns with three interceptions. The Colts won all nine games, beating three division champions – Pittsburgh, San Diego and Tennessee – and also beating New England, which finished 11-5 to become the first team in 23 years to win 11 games and not qualify for the postseason.
In the first seven games of the season, Manning had two games with a passer rating over 90.
In the last nine games, he has had eight such games and in December, he completed 90 of 110 passes for 1,054 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions.
"I think he's just back on his game now," Colts running back Dominic Rhodes said. "It's hard when you've been sitting out all of training camp. For him, I think it's a rhythm thing. He likes to be in there so he gets the rhythm with all the receivers and with the backs and just with everybody. He finally started catching up to the speed of the game and it slowed back down to him, and how he's on all cylinders, and it's hard to stop him once he's in this type of rhythm."
As the Colts prepared this week for their AFC Wild Card Playoff game against San Diego Saturday, Manning was asked about the possibility of being named MVP.
"It would be part of a team thing," he said. "I know it's an individual award, but it would truly be, in my opinion, a team award. In football terms, let me make this clear: adversity going on in the world right now with the war and the economy – that's real adversity – but in football terms, we have been through some things this year. For us on offense, like I said, me not being as comfortable as I wanted to be early in the season, and then all of a sudden I lose my biggest security blanket in my center, Jeff Saturday. That was a pretty good 1-2 punch to start the season.
"The fact that we've persevered through some of these things and put ourselves in a place here in the postseason, it's been the most rewarding regular season that I've been a part of in my 11 years, and I have to believe a lot of the other players and even coaches might feel the same way.
"So, it would be a nice thing on behalf of the team. I really feel that way."
Manning, speaking on Friday, reiterated that emphasis.
"Starting with (Colts Owner and Chief Executive Officer) Jim Irsay, Bill Polian, Tony Dungy and his staff – there's no way we could have been in the playoffs and bounced back from a 3-4 start and won some of these fourth-quarter close games without those three people creating a winning environment and atmosphere," Manning said. "I really feel that's what got us to this point as a team. I know it's an individual award, but I truly accept it as a team award and I'm just grateful for the opportunity to play with these players and this organization."
Making Manning's season particularly impressive, Dungy said recently, were the circumstances under which he and the Colts' receivers performed. Throughout Manning's career, the Colts have typically been a pass-oriented offense, but have run well enough to force defenses to focus on that area.
This season, the Colts are ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing, their lowest ranking in that area in Manning's career.
The Colts this season also have played through a series of injuries on the offensive line, with Saturday, guard Mike Pollak and tackle Tony Ugoh all missing time. Of the Colts' offensive linemen, only right tackle Ryan Diem has started every game at the same position this season.
"We've done it without really running the ball as well as we normally have," Dungy said. "There's been a lot that has fallen on the passing game, and those guys have executed, they've stayed away from turnovers in spite of the fact that we aren't running it as well as we would like. That's probably been the biggest difference."
Manning's 27 touchdowns have gone to seven different receivers, with wide receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark catching six touchdowns, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez catching four and wide receiver Marvin Harrison catching five.
Running back Dominic Rhodes has caught three touchdown passes, with running back Joseph Addai catching two and tight end Tom Santi catching one.
It's the first time since 1998, his rookie season, Manning has not had a receiver catch at least 10 touchdown passes.
"He is spreading it to a lot of people," Dungy said. "Different guys have had the hot games. It's really been him following his reads and throwing accurately to whoever the defense dictates, and he's been exceptional."