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Throwback Thursday: John Unitas' 1964 Season

This week's MVP review in Throwback Thursday focuses on John Unitas' second MVP award in 1964. The Colts featured the top offense and defense in the league, and finished a NFL best 12-2. But how do Unitas' numbers stack up to the rest of the league that year?

Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

This week, we continue on in reviewing each of the MVP seasons had by Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts players (who all happen to be quarterbacks).

Last week focused on John Unitas' first MVP award in 1959, a year which saw Unitas be one of the most dominant quarterbacks (statistically) in the league. It wasn't even close. The season culminated in the Colts winning the NFL Title over the New York Giants.

This week, we'll be focusing on Unitas' 1964 season.

Under Don Shula, the Colts had a well-oiled machine during 1964. They led the league in scoring offense, averaging 30.6 points per game, and had the top defense in the league as well.

This resulted in a 12-2 record and a Western Conference championship for the Colts.

Of course, the top offense in the league was led by Unitas, who was again near the top of the league in all major passing categories. However, this season, there wasn't as much of a gap as there was in 1959.

Unitas finished second in the league in passing efficiency with a 96.4 rating, just a bit behind Bart Starr. These two QBs were about six points in the passer rating ahead of the next QB, which was Vikings' QB Fran Tarkenton who had a 91.8.

Much unlike 1959, Unitas finished eighth in passes attempted with 305, a full 115 attempts behind league leader Charley Johnson of the St. Louis (football) Cardinals. As you might have guessed, Unitas finished close to the same (ninth) in completions, again well behind Johnson.

I know most of you must be thinking that with fewer attempts and completions, Unitas probably had a better completion percent. Not the case. Unitas was actually ninth in completion percentage as well, with a 51.8% rate. This rate is actually almost identical to his 1959 numbers. Starr led the league with a 60% completion rate.

Passing yards in when Unitas starts to look more impressive. Despite fringe top 10 numbers in attempts, completions, and percent, Unitas was third in passing yards with 2,824. Johnson (as you probably guessed) led the league with a whopping, at the time, 3,045 yards.

The most impressive number, though is yards per attempt. Unitas averaged 9.3 yards per attempt, a full yard over the next closest QB. That's impressive.

Unitas' touchdown number is far less impressive than his 1959 campaign. That year, he tossed 32 touchdowns. In 1964, he threw for 19. However, along with that, Unitas cut his interceptions down to six.

And just in case you were thinking that Johnson had the numbers (and the team record) to win the MVP, now is when I tell you that he threw 24 interceptions to 21 touchdowns.

Unitas actually had the second lowest interception percentage in the league, behind only (you guessed it) Starr.

You could argue that, among QBs, Unitas had good, but not great numbers. Couple that with the league's best offense, though, and he could easily be considered the top QB.

But what about running backs?

Jim Brown and Jim Taylor both averaged 5 yards per carry on the season, but didn't have the touchdown numbers. Brown had seven and Taylor had 12.

Brown would have the benefit of the Browns top record in the Eastern Conference. However, his season was overshadowed by another Colt: Lenny Moore.

Moore finished the season with only 584 rushing yards, but scored 16 rushing touchdowns.

If you were to combine Brown's yards and Moore's touchdowns, you would have an MVP. However, without combining them, neither had the individual numbers to topple Unitas.

So, as with today's NFL, Unitas may not have truly been the league's best player, but played very well and led the league's top offense and team. That will get you the MVP.

So how did the 1964 season go for the Colts?

I mentioned they won the conference and finished 12-2. Their only losses came on opening day to the Vikings, and then in Week 13 against the Lions.

The Colts would reach the NFL Title Game for the first time since 1959 and would face the Browns.

The Colts league leading offense was completely shut down (stop me if you've heard that before) in Cleveland as the Colts lost 27-0 against the Browns.

Unlike 1959, the Colts didn't end up on top in Unitas' MVP season. The loss to the Browns would certainly sting for the team going into the off-season.

Despite the set-back, Unitas had one more MVP season in him. We'll get into that next week.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.