After a week hiatus due to the NFL Draft, and my work-vacation (workation?) in California, Throwback Thursday makes its triumphant return this week.
This week, we'll be looking at, what I believe, is the greatest season a quarterback has ever had in the NFL. Peyton Manning's 2004 season.
The Colts were coming off a season where Manning won his first MVP award, and the team reached the AFC Title Game. After the deflating loss to the Patriots, the Colts went into the off-season with high hopes for 2004.
Briefly, I want to start this narrative in the off-season time period, and with a personal story. The 2004 season was the first year I dove into fantasy football. My draft went well, as I got 2003 co-MVP Steve McNair, leading rusher Ahman Green, Warrick Dunn, Curtis Martin, Tony Gonzalez, Marvin Harrison, and the Dolphins defense. Plus a variety of back-up players.
Of course, I wanted the quarterback of my best receiver (Harrison) and of my favorite team. Quickly I offered a trade to the team owner who had Manning. My trade offer was this: Dunn, Dolphins defense, and McNair for Manning.
What I got was a counter offer:
Manning and Reggie Wayne for Ahman Green.
Despite my buddy saying I was crazy for thinking about the trade, I didn't hesitate. And obviously, I was the winner of that trade.
But, on to Manning's actual 2004 season.
When looking at the numbers, where do I even begin? Let's start with one of the few categories that Manning didn't lead the league in: yards. Despite throwing for 4,557 yards, Manning finished third in the league in yardage behind Trent Green, and league leader Daunte Culpepper.
Manning's 9.17 yards per attempt led the league, which shouldn't come as a surprise. In case you were wondering, rookie Ben Roethlisberger was second with 8.89.
The big number, though, was touchdowns. We all know the narrative in that Manning broke Dan Marino's record of 48 touchdown passes by tossing 49 of his own (in 15 games). That was followed by Culpepper who threw an impressive 39 scores of his own that year.
On the flip side, Manning ranked 22nd in interceptions that year, throwing only 10. And in case you were wondering, out of QBs who started all season, Drew Brees threw the least interceptions with seven, and Jake Plummer, Vinny Testaverde, and our friend Kerry Collins all tied for a league leading 20 interceptions.
Oh and Manning was only sacked 13 times all season.
Normally this is the point in these MVP articles that I compare other players to our MVP to see how they stack up. But is there really a point this time? The closest candidate would have been Culpepper, who threw for 4,700+ yards and 39 touchdowns with a 110 passer rating. Almost any other year, that would be good enough.
The regular season, however, got off to the same start that the playoffs had ended with the year before. Another loss to the Patriots in New England.
Then the Colts reeled off five straight wins, including a shootout over Brett Favre and the Packers, to head into the bye week 5-1.
However, Manning and the Colts struggled in their first game after the bye, losing at home to Jacksonville on a final minute Josh Scobee field goal.
The next week, the Colts lost a 45-35 shootout in Kansas City to dip them to 5-3, and a game behind the division leading Jaguars.
Then Manning and the offense took off. Starting with a Monday Night win over the Vikings, the Colts rolled to seven straight wins, including four weeks in a row where they scored over 40 points each game.
In my opinion the most memorable of those performances was Manning's Thanksgiving Day feast of the Lions defense. Manning tossed six scores in less than three quarters, and set a league record with five consecutive games with four or more touchdown passes.
In Week 16, with the Colts needing a win, Manning broke the single season touchdown record at home against the San Diego Chargers. It always seems to get lost in history that the Colts needed to go for two after the touchdown in order to tie the game.
The Colts would sit their starters in a Week 17 loss to Denver, only to suit back up to face the Broncos in the Wild Card round.
The year before, Manning dismantled the Broncos defense in a Wild Card round route. In 2004, the results were similar. Manning again torched the Broncos as the Colts rolled to a 49-24 win.
Their prize for advancing past the Broncos? Another trip to New England.
I would argue that this was probably the most disappointing loss (to the Patriots) that the Colts have endured. An offense that had not been held under 20 points all season (Week 17 doesn't count) was held to just three points and less than 300 yards.
It was a deflating game for Manning and the Colts.
After a historic season, Manning and the Colts would again have to re-tool and get ready for another season after a disappointing playoff loss.
And how did my fantasy team do, you ask? Well, I suffered one loss in the regular season: the Colts bye week. However, for some reason we played the championship game in Week 17, which meant that half of my players were rested. Needless to say, I lost. I still contend, though, that it is "more probable than not" I would have won had the championship been played earlier.
Next week we'll jump a few years ahead to look at yet another Peyton Manning MVP award.