Tom Brady dazzled with his moxie once again in beating the Texans on Monday night, but there was an extra energy in the air.
On a third and 5 late in the third quarter, Brady scrambled for a 6-yard gain and a first down. He got up from the turf and roared to the delight of the crowd, throwing in a couple of punches to no one for extra measure. The fans at Gillette Stadium kindly responded with chants of “M-V-P.”
In his 13th season, the Patriots quarterback is in the throes of another spectacular run and will most certainly be a candidate for the league’s top individual prize. But he’s got some good competition before we put a crown on his head.
The prime candidates:
Peyton Manning, Broncos quarterback
The case for Manning: In his first year with Denver, Manning has led the Broncos to a 10-3 record and an AFC West title, compiling 30 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and a 104.0 quarterback rating. He’s ended the uncertainty of the Tim Tebow era by providing a dependable presence in the pocket. And his receivers, starved under a run-heavy offense prior to his arrival, love him for it.
Statement game: In Week 1, Manning proved he could win the tough ones, a 31-19 bruiser against the Steelers, and also proved he was back after missing a season with a neck injury that left him with many doubters. In Week 8, he provided the kind of performance that has made him one of the most feared quarterbacks in the NFL the past 15 seasons. He carved up the Saints for 305 yards on 22-of-30 passing and three touchdowns.
Quote: “He’s a different type of player,” Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme told USA Today. “Not only can you not replace what he does, you can’t really get an understanding for it unless you’re with him every week, preparing.”
Adrian Peterson, Vikings running back
The case for Peterson: Peterson is running toward the record books. After coming back from another devastating knee injury, he’s piled up 1,600 yards rushing and found new ways to add to his legendary elusiveness in doing so. He’s averaging 6 yards a clip and his 1,600 yards are better than 23 NFL teams. Whether he’s breaking tackles, outrunning defenders, or simply being an athletic freak of nature, he’s powered the Vikings to a 7-6 record. With 506 more yards, he would break Eric Dickerson’s NFL rushing record of 2,105 yards in a season.
Statement game: Peterson’s top performance came in Week 14, a 21-14 win over the Bears. He picked up 154 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 31 carries. He also broke off a 51-yard run, finishing a seventh straight game with at least 100 yards rushing. It was a huge performance considering the Vikings had lost their last two games, including one to the Bears.
Quote: “I think about [Eric Dickerson’s record], but I don’t try to think about it too much,” said Peterson, according to the Sporting News. “I feel like it will happen. It’s obvious we’re going to continue to run the ball.”
Tom Brady, Patriots quarterback
The case for Brady: Brady is the most efficient passer in the game. He’s thrown for 3,833 yards, including 29 touchdowns and four interceptions this season. His quarterback rating (104.2) is tied for tops in the league with Robert Griffin III. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is once again envied by other quarterbacks and he’s led the Patriots to a 10-3 mark and another AFC East title. Not bad for a 35-year-old.
Statement game: Beating Houston was sweet. Not only were the 11-1 Texans considered the top team of AFC, but it marked the second time Brady led the Patriots to a win over a division-leading opponent. He took the league’s fourth-ranked defense and racked up 296 yards and four touchdowns on 21 of 35 passing en route to a 42-14 win. It wasn’t just a loss for the Texans, it was an embarrassment. And Brady led the way.
Quote: “I gotta go with my own guy. I gotta go with Tom,” said Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo on picking an MVP. “He’s playing well for us. It’s just amazing when you’re on the sideline and he’s throwing the ball like that. When he’s in the zone, you can’t stop him.”
There are only a few other players truly in the conversation for MVP. Houston’s J.J. Watt, despite being shut down by the Patriots, has 16.5 sacks and 15.5 passes defensed. But a defensive player hasn’t won the award since 1986. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan has led the Falcons to an 11-2 record while throwing for more than 3,900 yards and 24 touchdowns. And then there are some talented rookies to consider in Indianapolis’s Andrew Luck and Washington’s Robert Griffin III. Both are having outstanding seasons. Luck’s Colts are 9-4 while Griffin has thrown for 2,906 yards and 18 touchdowns while running for another 748.