For this week’s edition of NFL Thursday, we look at the 2004 season of professional football in America. Sadly, it was another year where Cheatin’ Tom Brady and the New England Patriots won a Super Bowl, their third in four seasons. Fortunately, the Biggest Loser has yet to become a legitimate MVP candidate at this point, so we don’t have to have a discussion about that just now.

So, on with the real football stuff!

2004 MVP: Peyton Manning (original AP & PFWA, confirmed)

It was a relatively down year for defense, as no player averaged at least 10 tackles a game, and only one guy—Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney (16)—registered at least one sack a game. Meanwhile, Baltimore Ravens strong safety Ed Reed had a nice, all-around season with 9 interceptions (which led the league), 17 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 sacks to go along with 78 tackles.

He also scored on both a 106-yard INT return and a fumble return. But as good as that season was, the Ravens went just 9-7 and missed the playoffs by a game. We may or may not return to Reed’s season as we look at the other candidates.

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning—who we stripped of his share of the MVP Award in 2003—won both the AP and the PFWA votes this time around, and he probably deserved it. He posted a 121.1 QB rating, the highest ever at the time, and it was built on a record 49 touchdown passes and only 10 INTs. Throw in the fact that Manning was only sacked 13 times the entire season, and you see why he won the MVP votes.

Three other QBs also finished with ratings over 100, demonstrating that after seven straight seasons now of running backs winning our award here, it is definitely the time of the QB in the NFL now. Minnesota Vikings veteran Daunte Culpepper (110.4), San Diego Chargers phenom Drew Brees (104.8), and Philadelphia Eagles star Donovan McNabb (104.7) also played outstanding football at the position. But Manning was easily the best.

Five RBs averaged at least 100 yards per game rushing, but only three of them played enough games to matter: New England Patriots veteran Corey Dillon (1,635 yards in 15 games), New York Jets workhorse Curtis Martin (1,697 yards in 16 games), and Seattle Seahawks stud Shaun Alexander (1,696 yards in 16 games). But Dillon and Alexander each fumbled 5 times, while Martin coughed it up just twice.

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez led all receivers with 102 catches, while Carolina Panthers wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad gained the most yards receiving (1,405). He also led the NFL with 16 receiving TDs, too. Overall, no receiver really had a season here to compete with the running backs, let alone Manning.

Two other players we haven’t mentioned yet stood alone atop the scrimmage yards pyramid: New York Giants RB Tiki Barber (2,096 total yards with 15 TDs and 5 fumbles) and Colts RB Edgerrin James (2,031 total yards with 9 TDs and 6 fumbles). The Giants won just 6 games, and James fumbled too much, so neither player cracks our elite list this time around—which, admittedly, is a very short list with just Manning and Martin on it.

The reality is this, however: Manning broke two hallowed passing records, and his team won 12 games to make the playoffs. One of the more interesting facts here is that he threw just 497 passes, which say volumes about his efficiency and the volume of TDs and yards (4,557). A lot of guys had very good seasons in 2004, but Manning had the truly historic season, and that’s why we confirm his MVP awards.

Check in every Thursday for our NFL awards historical analysis on The Daily McPlay!