January 2, 2009

Peyton's place is holding USA TODAY's NFL MVP award

http://i.usatoday.net/sports/_photos/2008/12/31/manningx.jpg

In a year when no NFL player ran away from the pack, Peyton Manning, in his dependably overachieving fashion, emerged from the competition with yet another dominating performance that has earned him USA TODAY's NFL MVP award.

Manning recovered from a preseason knee surgery that hampered his slow start to lead the Colts to a 12-4 record with nine consecutive victories to close the season.

NFL MVP: Manning claims record-tying third honor

His stats may not have been as eye-popping as some of his past seasons (though Manning extended his NFL record of seasons with 4,000 passing yards to 10), but Manning was consistently the best player on the field for the Colts.

Manning put the Colts on his back after they fell to 3-4 and faced a showdown with their nemesis, the New England Patriots, in Week 9. A loss in that game could have permanently derailed Indianapolis' playoff hopes.

Manning led an 18-15 win against New England that started the Colts' streak, during which Manning threw 17 touchdowns and just three interceptions. (And consider that victory was the difference between a wild-card berth for the 12-4 Colts and no playoff spot for the 11-5 Patriots.)

"I've seen stretches where he's been hotter, but the way he's done it this year, they've all been must-win games," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "For winning under pressure, this has been a great stretch."

Manning stumbled out of the gate when the Colts lost two of their first three games and he had thrown more interceptions (four) than touchdowns (three). But he was playing through a rehab of knee surgery to repair an infected bursa sac that Manning revealed this week to SI.com was so swollen it looked "like a brain."

Manning said the follow-up surgery he underwent in July needed 80 sutures to close.

He missed the preseason, but started Week 1 against the Bears, as he has in every game since the Colts drafted him No. 1 overall in 1998. In the opener he wasn't close to 100%, which showed on the field. His knee lacked strength and range of motion. He said he couldn't finish the throws he's accustomed to.

But by early November when the Patriots arrived in Indianapolis, Manning was rounding into form. "I truly believe it is no coincidence we have gone on the winning streak since then," Manning said to Sports Illustrated.

Manning, who won the NFL MVP award in 2003 and 2004, has been nearly unstoppable in the last nine weeks, when he's had a passer rating of 109.6.

Does he think he's earned MVP honors?

"(The MVP) is an individual award but it's truly a team award because we've been through some things as a team," Manning said. "Then not being as comfortable as I wanted to be early, losing (center Jeff Saturday to injury), that was a pretty good one-two punch.

"Just the fact we've kind of persevered, it's been the most rewarding regular season I've been a part of in my 11 years."

Contributing: Bob Kravitz

VOTING TOTALS FOR USA TODAY'S NFL MVP

First-place votes in parentheses

1. Peyton Manning, Colts QB, 38, (12)

2. Adrian Peterson, Vikings RB, 15.5

3. Michael Turner, Falcons RB, 11, (1)

4. Chad Pennington, Dolphins QB, 5.5

5. Philip Rivers, Chargers QB, 4

6. Ed Reed, Ravens S, 3, (1)

7. Drew Brees, Saints QB, 2

7. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers RB, 2

9. Matt Cassel, Patriots QB, 1

9. James Harrison, Steelers DE, 1

9. Albert Haynesworth, Titans DT, 1

Points represent votes by 14 reporters and editors of USA TODAY's NFL staff. Three points were assigned for a first-place vote, two for a second-place vote and one for a third-place vote.

Source: USA Today

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