The Indianapolis Colts 2009 season was (with the exception of two very unfortunate games) probably one of my all-time favorite seasons as a fan.
The season saw the Colts roll through the AFC as easily the most dominant team in the NFL. And the most dominant player was once again Peyton Manning.
If I had told you, before the season, that Marvin Harrison would leave, his replacement (Anthony Gonzalez) would go down in the first game, and that Manning's receiving corps would be Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, and Pierre Garcon (and Dallas Clark), I think there would have been some cause for concern.
Throw in the fact that the Colts had a new head coach in Jim Caldwell, and the signs could have pointed toward an average (by the Manning-era Colts' standard) season. The team was coming off of a rocky 2008 season in which they only reached the playoffs due to the heroics of Manning.
Let's talk numbers for Manning.
In 2009, Manning finished sixth in the league in passer efficiency despite a 99.9 rating. Drew Brees ended up leading the league with a 109.6 rating. Manning also finished second in the league in passing attempts, completions, and percentage (68.8%). Matt Schaub led the league in attempts and completions, while Brees led the league in completion percentage with an impressive 70.6%.
Manning also finished second in passing yards with 4,500 but surprisingly 10th in yards per attempt. In the touchdown category, Manning finished tied for second in the league with 33 scores with Brett Favre, and Brees led the league with 34.
On the flip side, Manning finished with 16 interceptions, which was tied for seventh most in the NFL (the tie was with Matt Cassel). To no one's surprise, Jay Cutler led the league in interceptions (with 26), and the fewest was a tie between Favre and Aaron Rodgers with seven each.
Purely from a numbers standpoint, Manning doesn't stack up with some of the other quarterbacks. However, the MVP isn't given out simply based on numbers (most of the time). Although, I will admit, I think Favre made a compelling case for the MVP in 2009, leading the Vikings from being an average team, to an elite team in a single season.
However, I would argue that this Colts offense wasn't nearly as talented as some of the Colts mid-2000s teams.
Like I said, the combination of Wayne, Collie, and Garcon wouldn't have struck fear into many teams at the beginning of the season. Add in the fact that the running game averaged an abysmal 3.5 yards per carry, and you shouldn't have a recipe for success. And yet there was Manning, leading the Colts to an undefeated* regular season.
There were certainly some memorable games during the 2009 season. In Week 2, the Colts beat the Miami Dolphins despite only having the ball for about 15 minutes the entire game. In Week 8 they edged the 49ers thanks to a touchdown pass from Joseph Addai to Wayne. In the first game against the Texans, the Colts need a missed Houston field goal in the final seconds to preserve the win, and the second game featured a huge comeback for the second year in a row in Houston.
And of course, who could forget the crown jewel of the regular season, the Week 10 showdown with the New England Patriots. The game saw the Patriots leap out to a 31-14 lead early in the fourth quarter, and it looked to everyone that the game was said done. Then Manning and the Colts went to work. Manning got the Colts within six points with just over two minutes left, but needed some help from the defense to get the ball back.
Help came in the form of the infamous 4th and 2 play. In an attempt to ice the game, Bill Belichick called for the Patriots to go for it, despite being deep in their own territory. The Patriots failed to convert, giving Manning a short field to work with. Manning hit Wayne on a one yard slant to give the Colts a shocking 35-34 win over New England.
Manning would win the MVP, and the Colts would enter the playoffs as the AFC's top team with a 14-0 record*.
In the divisional round, I know I was worried about another one-and-done let down from the Colts. It didn't happen, as the Colts dispatched with the Ravens with a comfortable 20-3 win. The next week, the Colts found themselves down at halftime against the New York Jets. Then Manning went to work again. In a masterful second half, Manning torched the Jets defense, going for over 300 yards and 3 scores, the first QB to do so against the Jets defense all year.
Manning was on to his second Super Bowl. This time, the opponent would be the New Orleans Saints. In one of the very few Colts games I have never watched highlights from since the game was over, Manning and the Colts fell short.
And I'll just leave it at that.
Manning produced a phenomenal and magical 2009 season for the Colts. As weird as it seems, this was his second to last season playing for the Colts.
Now that this MVP series is over, I want to end it with a poll. The Colts had four players win the MVP a total of nine times. Who do you think was the best MVP player in Colts history?
* I have chosen to not recall the debacle of Weeks 16 and 17.