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NEW YORK - Peyton Manning took a different approach to earning a record-tying third Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player award.
The Indianapolis Colts quarterback got hurt, struggled when he came back, then lost a bunch of games. Hardly vintage Manning.
But when he rediscovered the touch that has made him one of football's dominant players for a decade, Manning and the Colts were virtually unstoppable.
Now Manning can tell Brett Favre to move over and make room for him atop the roster of MVPs.
"I really feel like it's a team award," Manning said yesterday. "Just what our team went through this year and the way we responded and bounced back to a little bit of football adversity at the beginning of the season, being 3-4.
"It's been the most rewarding regular season that I've been a part of in my 11 years, and I have to believe a lot of the other players and even coaches might feel the same way."
Manning received 32 votes in balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL. He also was the league MVP in 2003, when he shared it with Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair, and in 2004.
Favre, then with Green Bay, took MVP honors in 1995 and '96 before sharing it with Detroit running back Barry Sanders in 1997. The award has been given by the AP since 1961.
Manning finished far ahead of Miami quarterback Chad Pennington and Atlanta running back Michael Turner, each with four votes. Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison and Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson each got three votes. San Diego QB Philip Rivers (2), Tennessee rookie RB Chris Johnson (1) and Arizona QB Kurt Warner (1) also earned votes.
"I'm honored to receive this award because of the number of other worthy candidates who had some great years," Manning said. "It was just fun for me, truly, to watch them. I'm just glad to be a part of it."
Manning has been part of a most unusual season for the Colts, who normally have the AFC South just about clinched by Thanksgiving. Manning had two operations on his left knee in the preseason, cutting into practice time, blunting his usual precision as a passer and, eventually, leading to that 3-4 start.
From there, with Manning getting sharper by the week, the Colts won nine straight games to secure a wild-card berth and a meeting tonight with San Diego.
In that streak, Manning is 209-of-290 for 2,248 yards and 17 touchdowns, with only three interceptions. He extended his NFL record with his ninth 4,000-yard season and finished with 27 touchdown passes, 12 interceptions and a 95.0 passer rating.
"In other years, everything started fast," Colts running back Dominic Rhodes said. "He's still breaking records. But this year, there were a bunch of negative things said in the beginning, and he brought his best when we needed his best. This is probably the best ball I've seen him play."
The folks in Indianapolis might take for granted having Manning behind center, just as Packers and now Jets fans have assumed Favre would be there every week. Favre has started 269 straight regular-season games, the record for quarterbacks. Manning's string is 176 - every game since he was the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft.
The Mannings, of course, are the first family of NFL quarterbacking, from father Archie to Peyton to younger brother Eli of the New York Giants.
"To be able to come back and play the way he has, especially the last nine or 10 weeks where they have been winning and getting into the playoffs, I'm very proud of him and the season he has had," said Eli Manning, the MVP of last February's Super Bowl.
Added Peterson, the league's leading rusher: "I know Manning is definitely worthy of the award. He's an outstanding player and I take my hat off to him."
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