Source: USA TODAY
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Peyton Manning got a head start in the MVP race.
By throwing seven touchdown passes on a Thursday night in the first week of September, before 30 other teams had even taken their first snap, Manning became the front-runner to win his fifth MVP award.
Fourteen games later, Manning remains the favorite.
“I don’t think it’s close, personally,” Broncos coach John Fox said Wednesday.
Manning laughed, a deep, hearty chuckle even, when asked if he deserves to be the MVP. If it didn’t have to do with Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans, Manning didn’t really want to discuss it, even if this is the time of year when the MVP discussion really gets cranking.
“It gets heated up maybe for you guys,” Manning said. “It does not get heated up for me.”
There will be late-season bids by players such as Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, with his five touchdowns last weekend against the Oakland Raiders, and quarterback Tom Brady, who has the New England Patriots on the verge of the AFC East title despite a lackluster group of players around him. Some young quarterbacks have entered the conversation, such as Russell Wilson, who has led the Seattle Seahawks to the NFL’s best record, or the Philadelphia Eagles’ Nick Foles, who, like Manning, has thrown seven touchdown passes in a game.
But voting for anyone other than Manning would be downright silly, at least according to Fox.
Fox stated his case for Manning’s MVP candidacy less than two weeks before the 50 voters chosen by The Associated Press will cast ballots that contain just one name. This isn’t like the Heisman Trophy, where voters can rank several worthy candidates.
Last year, Manning finished second in MVP voting to Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
Fox thinks Manning should have won the award last year, when he led the Broncos on an 11-game winning streak in his first season in Denver. Manning has led the Broncos to a 11-3 record and is on pace to break several major individual records, including TD passes and passing yards.
“I don’t think there is any question the kind of season he’s having this year, and not just individual records. I think his win-loss record and team success speaks for itself,” Fox said.
Manning has won four other MVP awards in his career — in 2003 (shared with Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair), 2004, ’08 and ’09. Never has he won the award by a unanimous vote. Manning was close in 2004, receiving all but one vote (that rogue vote went to then-Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick).
He likely won’t be unanimous this year, either — if voting history is any indication. Even Brady, when he threw 50 touchdown passes and led the Patriots to an undefeated regular season in 2007, received 49 of the 50 votes. In 2011, two voters picked Drew Brees over Aaron Rodgers in a season in which Rodgers threw for more than 4,600 yards with 45 TD passes and six interceptions.
But even if Manning is reluctant to campaign for himself, his teammates and coaches — and even opponents — are willing to do it for him.
Through 14 games, Manning already has thrown for more yards than he did in any of his four prior MVP seasons, and he is within two touchdown passes (47) of tying the career high he set in 2004.
“No disrespect to any of these other great players, but I think he’s No.1,” receiver Andre Caldwell said.
An argument in Brady’s favor could be his sustained success while playing significant stretches without tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Danny Amendola — the player signed to replace Wes Welker. In Denver, Caldwell is the perfect example of the similar argument that could be made for Manning.
When Welker missed last weekend’s game with a concussion, Caldwell, the team’s No. 4 receiver who had five catches in the first 13 games, caught six passes and scored two touchdowns.
Said Caldwell: “(An MVP) should be on a winning team, and it should also be about how much your team depends on you. There are some great players out there, but things would still roll. If we didn’t have Peyton, it would be a totally different show around here.”
While his teammates certainly want Manning to get the award, the Broncos insisted this week that they were driven by far more than breaking records and winning individual awards. Denver remains tied with the Chiefs atop the AFC West and can clinch the division title with a win vs. Houston this week and a Kansas City loss to the Indianapolis Colts. That won’t happen, players said, if the Broncos play the way they did in a loss to the San Diego Chargers in Week 15.
Fixing an offense that scored 20 points and a running game that had 18 yards is of higher priority than notching TD passes Nos. 48, 49 and 50. The Broncos are 8-1 this season in games in which Manning has thrown at least three TD passes.
“We got whipped in a lot of areas,” he said. “I would hope we respond to that loss with a better performance this week. It doesn’t guarantee anything. There are a lot of teams that get mad when they lose and say, ‘We’re going to play better next week,’ and it doesn’t happen.”