Peyton Manning won the Associated Press Most Valuable Player award the other day. His third. Now, Manning had a fine season, but the wrong man won the award. Your true 2008 MVP was none other than James Chad Pennington. Yes, I'm a biased Dolphin fan so let me carefully lay out my logical, irrefutable argument in painstaking fashion.
1) The Numbers. Sure Manning threw for more yards and touchdowns, but Pennington surpasses Manning in all of the most important numbers.
Net Yards Per Attempt
Manning may have posted bigger totals, but clearly Pennington was the more efficient passer. Pennington made his throws count more and, most importantly, he turned it over less.
2) The Supporting Cast. Not only did Pennington pass more efficiently, he did it with a receiving corps consisting of Ted Ginn, Greg Camarillo, Davone Bess, Anthony Fasano and David Martin. Now those guys played their guts out this year and surprised a lot of people but I don’t think I’m making a controversial assertion in saying the guy throwing to Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison (admittedly not what he once he was), Dallas Clark and Anthony Gonzalez had a huge advantage. Yet Pennington surpassed Manning with far inferior targets.
Arguably Pennington was aided by a superior running game. The Colts were terrible on the ground, ranking 19th in rushing yards and dead last in yards per carry. Yet Miami wasn’t exactly spectacular here either. The Dolphins ranked 11th in rushing yards and 15th in yards per carry. So Miami ran better than Indianapolis in 2008, but Miami’s running game was only average just like it was the season before when they ranked 16th in yards per carry. The team did not improve in this area. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams sound like an all-star backfield but Brown clearly wasn’t the same electrifying runner he was prior to tearing his ACL in 2007. His YPC dropped by almost a yard in 2008. And Ricky played well at times but all the years, suspensions and bong hits have taken their toll. This isn’t the dominant 2002 Ricky Williams. No, Pennington’s the man who deserves most of the credit for the improvement of his team’s offense.
As for the defenses, Miami’s defense did step up. The team ranked 30th in points allowed in 2007 and moved all the way up to 9th in 2008. But the Colts were better, ranking 7th. And I think it’s important to note the Dolphins’ improvement in yards allowed was not as impressive; they moved from 23rd to 15th. So it’s likely Miami’s bend-but-not break defense was aided by Pennington’s superior play. By not turning it over and by his efficient passing (the team ranked 11th in first downs and 8th in net yards per attempt), Pennington gave his defense far fewer short fields than they had last year.
Plus, while some of their players had some disappointing years, remember that the Colts are a team that makes the playoffs year after year. A team that wins 12 games a year like clockwork. A team featuring many veterans of Super Bowl XLI. Meanwhile the Dolphins haven’t sniffed the playoffs for years. Pennington had no experienced vets to rely on in pressure situations. Manning did.
3) The record. Everybody wondered how well Indianapolis might have done had Manning not recovered from his knee surgery. And I suspect they may not have been a playoff team. But that’s speculation. We know for sure the Dolphins won a single game without Pennington and with him they stunned everybody with 11 wins and a division title. That’s tied for the greatest turnaround in NFL history and the best ever turnaround for a one-win team. Miami obviously upgraded in several areas (notably coaching), but other than rookie OT Jake Long (who played well but isn’t going to any Pro Bowls just yet), the offensive side wasn’t much different than a year ago. And the biggest star on defense, Joey Porter, was a Dolphin in 2007.
4) Clutch play. Manning led his team to a number of key comebacks this year and his team won their final 9 in a row after a 3-4 start. No way to criticize that. But Pennington just about matched that, leading Miami to wins in 8 of their final 9 games after a 2-4 start. And I really want to highlight something here. Even when they had good teams, the Dolphins historically have played poorly late in the season and especially in cold weather games. They’re famous for blowing those late season cold weather games. But not this year. In their last two games of the year Miami traveled to Kansas City, where they played in what turned out to be the coldest game in team history, and then to the Meadowlands in New York, the Dolphins’ personal house of horrors. In other years you could bet your house on Miami losing those games. But not this year. With the division title hanging in the balance, Pennington led Miami to come-from-behind wins with big second half TD drives. The man was clutch when it mattered most.
With a weaker supporting cast Pennington posted better stats than Manning and, by leading the Dolphins to the playoffs after a one-win season, he did the impossible. He didn’t win the award but Chad Pennington was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.