Welcome to final season of the 2000s NFL Thursday, a decade that caused the NFL irreparable damage in terms of cheating and suspect results (just wait until the debut of a future series on this!). We’ve seen the impact of the first element already in this awards series, of course, and we will see it again, of course. It sucks, actually, for sports to lose their sanctity in the name of the almighty dollar.

But then again, it’s the modern world. Read on for the latest MVP analysis …

2009 MVP: Peyton Manning (original AP & PFWA), Drew Brees (revised)

Last year, we gave the award to a defensive player, shockingly, and that’s why we often start with defensive players to make sure we’re not missing anyone. Among tacklers and sack artists, only Denver Broncos linebacker Elvis Dumervil stands out with 17 sacks in 16 games. No one intercepted more than 9 passes, so this becomes a season where the MVP will be an offensive player once again.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning won both the award votes again, like he did last year, too. But he finished just sixth in the QB rating system (99.9), which is not good enough to claim the award. Also, with 16 INTs, Manning was a turnover machine for the 14-2 Colts. You might argue they won in spite of him, actually.

New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees topped the NFL with a 109.6 rating, followed by Minnesota Vikings veteran Brett Favre (107.2), San Diego Chargers star Philip Rivers (104.4), Green Bay Packers stud Aaron Rodgers (103.2), and Pittsburgh Steelers stalwart Ben Roethlisberger (100.5). All these teams won at least 11 games on the way to the playoffs, except the Steelers (9-7), who lost a four-way tiebreaker for the two AFC wild-card spots.

That’s at least four QBs who were arguably much more valuable to their teams than Manning, so we will separate them later, as we wonder just what the voters were thinking. Manning did not lead the NFL in yards or touchdowns, usually the trigger stats for such a misguided award, so needless to say, again, this is why we do what we do.

On to the runnings backs: We had a 2,000-yard runner this season, Tennessee Titans youngster Chris Johnson (2,006 yards with 14 TDs and only 3 fumbles). No one else even topped 1,500 yards on the ground, in truth, so Johnson is our only MVP candidate here as his team … oh wait, the Titans posted just 8 wins, so even with Johnson, they couldn’t get into that four-way tie at 9-7. That’s a low playoff bar, too, to miss.

Receivers were a mixed bag, with New England Patriots workhorse Wes Welker (123 catches) and Houston Texans stud Andre Johnson (1,569 yards) leading the way in those two categories, respectively. Three different guys caught 13 TD passes to tie for the league lead, but no one stands out here, really.

Overall, however, Johnson set an NFL record that still stands with 2,509 total yards from scrimmage, and no one else was within 450 yards of him. He added 2 TD receptions to total 16 scores overall, with the same 3 turnovers as above. We have to decide then if he is a real candidate with that NFL record on his application.

The Titans opened the season 0-5 and closed over the final 11 games with an 8-3 streak. Looking at the first five games, this is what happened: Johnson got 78 carries and gained 468 yards (6.0 yards per carry), and then the Titans started feeding him the ball more. He gained over 1,500 yards over the final 11 games to finish the season with a 5.6 ypc mark.

Tennessee Head Coach Jeff Fisher gets some credit for figuring it out, but he figured it out way too late. That is not Johnson’s fault, and if he had been fed the ball more early in the season, perhaps the Titans would not have lost to the Steelers, the Texans, or the New York Jets in the first three games—Tennessee lost that trio of contests by a combined 13 points.

Why it took two more games for Fisher to clue in is beyond us, especially after CJ2K ran for 197 yards on just 16 carries in the Week 2 loss to Houston. So, in this case, we are going to declare Johnson a viable MVP candidate. We cannot hold the stupidity of his coach against him, and his value was clearly really high. That being said, let’s do our comparison of teammate support here …

  • Brees: RB Pierre Thomas (1,095 yards with 8 TDs and 2 TOs), WR Marques Colston (1,080 yards with 9 TDs and 2 TOs)
  • Favre: RB Adrian Peterson (1,819 yards with 18 TDs and 7 TOs), WR Sidney Rice (1,312 yards with 8 TDs and 1 TO)
  • Rivers: WR Vincent Jackson (1,178 yards with 9 TDs and zero TOs), tight end Antonio Gates (1,157 yards with 8 TDs and 1 TO)
  • Rodgers: RB Ryan Grant (1,450 yards with 11 TDs and 1 TO), WR Greg Jennings (1,113 yards with 4 TDs and 0 TOs)
  • Johnson: QB Vince Young (82.8), WR Kenny Britt (703 yards with 1 TD and 0 TOs)

Of the four QBs, it appears that Brees and Rivers did the most with the least, so we will move them along, and now the Johnson situation needs some exploring. Young started the final 10 games of the the season, posting an 8-2 mark, so the Titans’ success is partially his as well. Original starting QB Kerry Collins posted just a 65.5 QB rating in going 0-6 to begin the season. Therefore, the Titans basically had two reasons for finishing so strong.

Young wasn’t a dazzling QB, but he ran for 282 yards and 2 TDs himself, in addition to throwing for 10 TDs and leading 6 game-winning drives. This really cuts into Johnson’s value, for while we cannot undervalue his total-yards record, he alone was not responsible for the Titan resurgence: Young gets a good portion of the credit.

Still, Johnson did run for 2,000 yards and set an all-time record that still stands. We just think Brees and Rivers deserve more credit for leading their teams to the postseason. For example, Brees also had WR Devery Henderson (817 yards with 2 TDs and 0 TOs), WR Robert Meacham (804 yards with 9 TDs and 2 TOs), and RB Reggie Bush (725 yards with 8 TDs and 4 TOs) in his arsenal.

But those guys all fumbled a lot, and there was no dominant player. Brees made that team special by spreading the ball around to five guys, and it takes a special QB to do that. Meanwhile, Rivers also had RB LaDainian Tomlinson, a shell of his former self with just 884 yards and 12 TDs (with 2 TOs), RB Darren Sproles (840 yards with 7 TDs and 3 TOs), and WR Malcom Floyd (776 yards with 1 TD and 0 TOs).

Likewise, Rivers is spreading the ball around to a lot of different guys. With the 5-point difference in the QB rating, however, we have to give the Saints star the edge here. So, it comes down to Brees or Johnson, and with all due respect to Johnson and his records, his value isn’t only about the stats. It is in the rejuvenation of his team (which still missed the postseason) that he shared responsibility for with his QB.

Let’s look at the two Tennessee losses with Young at QB:

  • Loss at Indy: Johnson ran for 113 yards on 27 carries while catching 6 passes for 28 yards.
  • Loss at SD: Johnson ran for 142 yards on 21 carries while catching 3 passes for 37 yards.

Young tossed two TDs in the 10-point loss to the Colts, while he was terrible against the Chargers, throwing two INTs and losing a fumble, too. The two players can split responsibility for these losses, basically. Win either game, and maybe the Titans are in the playoffs. This is a divided-value scenario, if we’ve ever seen one.

This just makes us lean more toward Brees for the MVP nod, since he was the primary force behind the Saints’ playoff push.

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