After the Titans beat the Colts 31-21 on Monday Night Football sending the Colts to a disappointing 3-4 start to the 2008 season, Kerry Collins was a more popular pick for NFL MVP than Peyton Manning.
In fact, people far and wide began to suggest that this was the beginning of the end for Peyton, as he’s affectionately known in this part of the country. They said that his surgically repaired left knee would never be the same and that he had lost some velocity on his passes as a result.
In reality, there were other factors contributing to Peyton and the Colt’s slow start like his depleted offensive line that relied heavily on three rookies and was missing its mainstay, center Jeff Saturday for much of the season.
Marvin Harrison, who has been Peyton’s top target for years, finally slowed down in his 13th season meaning that Manning was without his top downfield weapon for the first time ever.
But Peyton’s biggest challenge of the season and possibly his career came from the inconsistency of the Colts’ running game. The Colts’ woeful run game has managed only 76.9 yards per game, good for 31st in the NFL and ahead of only the “pass happy” Arizona Cardinals. And only once this season has a Colts’ running back cracked the 100-yard mark in a game.
So how did Peyton respond to the adversity of Colts’ worst start to since his rookie season? With eight consecutive wins including a magical come from behind victory this week against the Jaguars that his coach, Tony Dungy, referred to as “an MVP performance for sure.”
The win in Jacksonville not only secured a Colts’ seventh consecutive trip to the playoffs, it pushed Peyton to the forefront of the NFL MVP race.
On Thursday night, Peyton yet again picked up the slack for the Colts’ run game, which gained only 32 yards, with one of the finest individual performances in recent memory as he completed 29 of his 34 passes for 364 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
In the process, he officially silenced his critics, you know, the ones worried about his bum knee and lost velocity.
What was once younger brother Eli’s season, whose Giants appeared to be the NFL’s most dominant team until recently, is beginning to look like older brother Peyton’s finest hour as a pro.
And at the going rate don’t be surprised if Peyton walks away with his second MVP award in a few weeks thanks to his second half heroics.
From a statistical perspective Peyton has put up more gaudy numbers in the past, but he’s still in the top five in the league in completion percentage, passing yards and touchdowns.
However, his other “non-statistical” qualities are what have made this a special year for him and Colts fans.
With the odds stacked against him, Peyton’s game management skills and unrivaled on-field leadership ability have led the way to the Colts’ eight-game win streak and make him the most deserving candidate for this year’s MVP award.
An important part of Peyton’s case for MVP rests in the way that the Colts have won their 11 games. They rarely blew out their opponents, instead, they scraped and clawed their way past them week after week.
The Colts have won six games by four points or less and eight games by a touchdown or less meaning that in eight of their 11 wins, the Colts’ success was just a mistake or two away from being failure.
Luckily, Peyton has made the big plays when his team needed them this season, but just as importantly he has kept the mistakes at an all time minimum.
His 16:3 touchdown to interception ratio during the Colts’ eight-game win streak proves that the big plays have been far more common than the mistakes in Peyton’s third MVP season.