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Throwback Thursday: Peyton Manning's 2003 MVP Season

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In 2003 Peyton Manning won his first of a record five MVP awards. It was a sign that Manning had emerged as one of the elite players in the NFL and that the Colts would be contenders for a long time.

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Last week, we took a look at the MVP season of Bert Jones. Many regard Jones as a player who could have been amongst the best all time, had circumstances been different.

This week's Throwback Thursday jumps ahead to 2003 when Colts QB Peyton Manning, widely regarded as one of the best to ever play, won his first of five MVP awards.

Before diving into Manning's numbers in 2003, I do have to note that Manning was the co-MVP along with Titans QB Steve McNair. Ok, now let's dive into the numbers.

As always, I'll start with a look at passer rating. Manning was second in the league with a very good passer rating of 99. Despite this number, Manning was second in the league in passer rating behind McNair.

Manning led the NFL with 379 completions, 25 more than the next closest quarterback, Tampa Bay's Brad Johnson. Manning threw those completions on 566 attempts, which was good for second in the league behind Johnson. These numbers culminated in Manning having a 67 percent completion rate, two points higher than Brett Favre, the next closest QB.

By comparison, McNair was 250 of 400, which was good for a 62.5% completion rating, ninth in the league.

Manning also trounced the other quarterbacks with passing yards, throwing for 4,267 yards, 200 more than Trent Green who was the next closest. Manning and Green were the only two quarterbacks in the league to throw for more than 4,000 yards on the season.

Yes, this was over 1,000 yards more than McNair had.

Despite all the yards, Manning did not lead the league in touchdowns. He threw 29 scores, but that was second to the 32 thrown by Favre. Fortunately, Manning did not rank that high in interceptions, throwing only 10, ranking him 26th in the league.

In case you were wondering, McNair tossed 24 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.

Strictly based on numbers, I would say Manning has a slight edge over McNair. Both teams tallied a 12-4 record as well, with the Colts winning the division due to a head-to-head tiebreaker over Tennessee.

While Manning had superior numbers, though, it's clear to anyone who remembered the early years of the Titans that McNair was the offense. Outside of McNair and Eddie George, that team didn't have much.

Additionally, Manning led the Colts to one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history during the 2003 season over Tampa Bay. The Colts were also helped out by Mike Vanderjagt setting a record for consecutive field goals made.

However, quickly, I want to duck over to the running back position to look at two other very justifiable MVP candidates: Jamaal Lewis and Priest Holmes.

Let's start with Holmes. The Chiefs offense was firing on all cylinders in 2003 with Trent Green, Holmes, and Dante Hall providing most of the firepower. In 2003, Holmes ran for 1,420 yards and set the single season record for touchdowns with 27. What takes away from Holmes' MVP case is that a majority of his touchdowns (from what I remember) were from very short yardage. Plus, with Green throwing the ball, Holmes didn't carry the offense, he just scored the points (and made him a Fantasy Football monster).

Jamaal Lewis was named offensive player of the year, mostly thanks to his effort in churning out 2,066 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. His 2,066 yards are the third most in NFL history.

Keep in mind that Lewis was basically the Ravens' offense. Quarterbacks Anthony Wright and Kyle Boller combined to throw 2,459 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. Yikes.

What hindered Lewis, though was his defense. The Ravens defense was still one of the most dominant forces in the league. Ray Lewis was named Defensive Player of the Year, and Terrell Suggs was Defensive Rookie of the Year.

All in all, I'll still give the nod to Manning and McNair as the co-MVPs. Certainly 2003 was a stacked year in terms of talent, and these two rose above the rest.

But how did Manning's Colts fair? I already mentioned that the Colts went 12-4 in the regular season and were AFC South Champions for the first time.

Until this point, Manning had never won a playoff game. That all changed in the Wild Card round when the Colts hosted the Denver Broncos. Manning looked every bit the MVP, leading the Colts to a 41-10 rout of the Broncos.

The next week, the Colts headed to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Chiefs, who boated the highest scoring offense in the league.

In a shootout, Manning led the Colts to a 38-31 victory and the Colts won their first road playoff game since beating the Chiefs in 1995.

However, the AFC Championship Game is where the Colts season ended. The game was one of the worst in Manning's career as the Patriots defense had their way with him and the Colts receivers.

Still, the 2003 season was a sign that Manning and the Colts had arrived, and were set to be a force in the NFL for years to come.

Next week, we'll jump just one year later to 2004 to look at Manning's second MVP in a season still regarded as one of the greatest quarterbacking seasons ever.