It's beginning to look a lot like 2004, or 1997.
The '97 vote was Brett Favre's shared MVP:
That was my lonely little Carnell Lake vote, coming from the year when Lake played at an all-pro level at both corner and safety, led the Steelers in sacks, and led a defense that held quarterbacks to a league-low 53-percent completions.
Pretty crazy year. Prompted by Sirius NFL Radio host Adam Schein for his MVP pick the other day, Tony Dungy said if he had a vote he'd pick James Harrison; then, after the Colts' win Thursday, Dungy said of Manning's game: "That was an MVP performance.''
I expect this could be a year when at least five players get MVP votes: Peyton Manning, Roethlisberger, Harrison, Adrian Peterson, Brian Westbrook (if the Eagles make the playoffs), and maybe Haynesworth, Matt Ryan, Ray Lewis or Troy Polamalu. How my list shapes up with one week to play:
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. Thursday night, Jacksonville up 14-0, crowd in Jagland getting fired up about slaying the almighty Colts when it means nothing to the home team and everything to Indy: Manning to Anthony Gonzalez for 12, Manning to Dominic Rhodes for seven, Manning to Rhodes for seven more, Manning up the right seam to Reggie Wayne for 41. Touchdown.
Jacksonville up 17-7 to start the third quarter: Manning to Gonzales for seven, Manning to Dallas Clark for 10, Manning to Wayne for 12, Manning to Clark for 21, Manning incomplete to Gonzalez, Manning to Rhodes for eight, Manning on a middle screen to Rhodes for 10. Touchdown.
Jacksonville up 24-14 late in the third: Manning to Clark up the right side for 33, Manning to Wayne for 15, Manning incomplete to Wayne, Manning incomplete to Clark, Manning to Wayne for 18, Manning to Gijon Robinson for 15. Manning to Clark for one. Touchdown.
Three pressure drives with the game on the line, 15-of-18, 212 yards, three touchdowns. But this is the point I'd like you take away from this game: On those three scoring drives, the Colts attempted six rushing plays and gained two yards. Not including penalty yardage, 212 of the Colts' 214 yards on those three crucial drives were produced by Manning. I understand the depth of the good candidates for this award, and I can't argue with the greatness of Peterson, the precociousness of Ryan or any Steeler for surviving the toughest schedule I've ever seen to win a first-round playoff bye. But this vote, to me, comes down to which team would be damaged most if you took a single player away from it. And I think the 11-4 Colts would be the 4-11 (or 3-12) without Manning.
2. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta. How many rookies win at Green Bay, San Diego and Minnesota, or three such similar contender-types (well, Green Bay was a contender once upon a time)? How many rookies take a team that was at the depths of despair last year to the playoffs this year? We are seeing the dawn of a great NFL career.
3. James Harrison, LB, Pittsburgh. I will lose sleep a week from this morning, figuring out whether Harrison or Ware is the defensive player of the year. Harrison wins this slot, despite the loss at Tennessee, because of the historic nature of this Steeler defensive season.
4. Chad Pennington, QB, Miami. Pennington makes his debut in the MVP rankings this week for being able to win a shootout in 2-degree temperatures in Kansas City on Sunday. He has the prospect of a similarly rugged weather day this week at the Jets, in a game that could give the Dolphins their most unlikely division title of all time. As coach Tony Sparano said after the 38-31 win in KC: "We have a quarterback who can handle the elements. He didn't waver once out there today.''
5. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota. I know they lost a home game they needed, but the Vikes have ridden Peterson in a big way over the past month. He's got 100 carries for 477 yards in the games that mean the most.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Ran into Robert Wuhl the other day. You know, "Arliss.'' After browbeating me for not being a Ray Guy-for-the-Hall of Fame guy, he hit me with this: New York Jets running back Leon Washington made the Pro Bowl, which makes the Herman Edwards trade from New York to Kansas City look pretty good -- since Washington was picked with the 117th pick in the 2006 draft, the choice Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum acquired as compensation for the Chiefs' signing of Edwards to be their head coach.
I went back and checked. Sure enough, Wuhl was right. Remember at the time how the Jets got bashed for not getting enough for Edwards? I'd say Washington is plenty good: 2,187 yards from scrimmage (5.6 yards per touch from scrimmage) and 18 touchdowns in his three years as a change-of-pace back; this year, he leads all NFL players with 10 gains of more than 40 yards. In Edwards' three years, he's coached one playoff team, has a record of 15-33, and is on thin ice as the Chiefs move to replace Carl Peterson soon after the season.
"I'm happy I got here, whether it because of Herman Edwards or whatever,'' Washington said Friday. "You've got to remember -- my senior year at Florida State, I only gained 430 yards out of the backfield, and people had questions about me making the jump to the NFL. The Jets showed a lot of faith in me.''
Enjoyable/Aggravating Travel Note of the Week
People need their coffee.
I found that out Sunday morning, around 8, in front of the Starbucks in the Wintry Mix Capital of the World, Montclair, N.J. Four inches of thick, wet, unplowed snow lay in the street, and a few brave souls either walked or drove to the Upper Montclair Starbucks. One car, a beat-up Corolla, stopped in the middle of the road, put on its flashers, and the driver got out. I mean, the car stopped on a quiet Sunday morning, with the driver apparently afraid to park in the wet snow for fear of getting stuck, and the driver simply left the car idling in the middle of the road and went in to get coffee.
Well, one car came up behind and stopped, and then another, and they stopped, and waited maybe 30 or 40 seconds, and the second car beeped, wondering what was going on, and then the guy hustled out of the coffee shop with a venti something or other, got in the car, and drove away.
Now there's something you don't see every day.