NEW YORK – Peyton Manning can tell Brett Favre to move over and make room for him atop the roster of NFL Most Valuable Players.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning waves as he leaves the field after the Colts' 23-0 win over the Tennessee Titans in an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2008. Manning threw for 95 yards to put him over 4,000 yards for the ninth time in his 11 seasons.
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
For the third time, Manning won the award by The Associated Press, tying Favre as the only players in that elite category.
The Indianapolis Colts quarterback was a landslide winner Friday in balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL. Manning also was the league MVP in 2003, when he shared it with Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair, and in 2004.
Favre, then with Green Bay, took MVP honors in 1995 and '96 before sharing it with Detroit running back Barry Sanders in 1997.
"I know it's an individual award, but ... truly, in my opinion, a team award," said Manning, who received 32 votes, far ahead of Miami quarterback Chad Pennington (4) and Atlanta running back Michael Turner (4).
"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."
This has been a most unusual season for the Colts, who normally have the AFC South just about clinched by Thanksgiving. Manning had two operations on his left knee in the preseason, cutting into practice time, blunting his usual precision as a passer and, eventually, leading to a 3-4 start.
From there, with Manning getting sharper by the week, the Colts won nine straight games to secure a wild-card berth and a meeting Saturday night with San Diego.
In that streak, Manning is 209-of-290 for 2,248 yards and 17 touchdowns, with only three interceptions. He extended his NFL record with his ninth 4,000-yard season and finished with 27 touchdown passes, 12 interceptions and a 95.0 passer rating.
"It's just been different," Manning said. "It's been an entirely different season. I think the one thing that's been inaccurate is that the seasons we were starting out 13-0, 8-0, 7-0, that it was easy. So all of a sudden this year we are 3-4 and now things are hard. Believe me, it's never easy to win a game. I've never taken for granted winning a football game."
The folks in Indianapolis might take for granted having Manning behind center, just as Packers and now Jets fans have assumed Favre would be there every week. Favre has started 269 straight regular-season games, the record for quarterbacks. Manning's string is 176 — every game since he was the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft.
"In other years, everything started fast," Colts running back Dominic Rhodes said. "He's still breaking records. But this year, there were a bunch of negative things said in the beginning, and he brought his best when we needed his best.
"This is probably the best ball I've seen him play."
Tony Dungy would agree. The Colts' coach said several times he favored Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison for MVP — Harrison tied with Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson with three votes. But after Manning's flawless work in the second half of the season, Dungy, while admittedly biased, changed his mind.
"I said after we left Pittsburgh (on Nov. 9) that I would vote for James Harrison," Dungy noted this week. "If I was voting today, I'd vote for Peyton Manning."
A vast majority of the voters did.
Also receiving votes were San Diego QB Philip Rivers (2), Tennessee rookie RB Chris Johnson (1) and Arizona QB Kurt Warner (1).