In the end, all the discussion and debate proved unwarranted.
Peyton Manning not only won the MVP award, but ran away with it. The final AP tally ended with 39 ½ votes going to Manning. The closest competition (Drew Brees) managed only seven and a half votes while two other quarterbacks (Philip Rivers and Brett Favre) rounded out the vote with two and one vote, respectively.
There was some speculation that sitting the bulk of the final two games would impact voters, who would look at quarterbacks with complete seasons in a greater light. In that respect the pair of losses may have only proved to highlight Manning’s value as the Colts leader.
Manning also received help against the two other front-runners across the length of the season. Brees’ New Orleans Saints closed the year with a thud, losing their final three games to finish the year. He led the league in passer rating (109.6) but fell 112 yards short of Manning despite more playing time.
Likewise Brett Favre’s Vikings had late season troubles that hurt him in the voting. Minnesota’s 10-1 start closed at 12-4 after the Vikings dropped three of their last five games. Like Brees, Favre was significantly ahead of Manning in passer rating (107.2 to 99.9) but fell nearly 300 yards short of the Colts quarterback while taking far more snaps in the final games.
Philip Rivers put up similar numbers to Favre, with a 104.4 passer rating and 4,254 yards (to Favre’s 4,202) and might have been able to make a late surge behind the 13-3 Chargers and the 11-game winning streak to close out the regular season.
Where he likely fell short was explosiveness. Despite the Chargers putting up nearly 40 points more than Indianapolis, Rivers himself fell short in terms of touchdowns (being the only one of the four with less than thirty). The Chargers' win streak also occurred in less dramatic fashion, with the team holding leads through the bulk of most games.
Manning not only put up a great statistical year (4,500 yards, 99.9 passer rating, 33 touchdowns), but put together a 23-game winning streak that included seven fourth quarter comebacks in the team’s fourteen wins during this season’s portion of that streak.
He spent the entire season as the leading candidate for the MVP award and did not disappoint. His fourth MVP broke a tie with fellow candidate Brett Favre, who had shared the lead among players by taking the award three times.
Both Favre and Manning had another shared trait within their three-MVP tie. Each was a co-MVP in one of their years, with Favre sharing the award with Barry Sanders in 1997 and Manning sharing it with Steve McNair in 2003.
While Favre has the distinction of being the only player with three consecutive trophies, Manning has now become the only player with two different sets of back-to-back awards (2003/2004 and 2008/2009). Only two other players in history have won the award in consecutive years; Jim Brown in 1956/1957, and Joe Montana in 1989 and 1990.
Now all Manning needs to complete his resume is a winning playoff record. Despite shaking the Super Bowl Monkey from his back with a win over Chicago to close the 2006 season, Manning still holds a mediocre 7-8 record in the playoffs.