Statistically, Tom Brady didn't exactly stand out at Gillette Stadium in Week 11. He threw for 210 fewer yards than his counterpart and had half as many touchdowns.
Numbers don't tell an entire story, however, which is the reason the Patriots' quarterback has claimed the top spot on this week's MVP Meter. Brady carried his team to a victory over the Colts — who just happened to be starting Peyton Manning, the man who'd been No. 1 on the Meter since the preseason. Just as the Patriots are now in the pole position of the AFC, having defeated the Steelers and Colts in consecutive weeks, Brady is now ahead of the pack in the race for the league's highest individual honor.
When Brady won the MVP after the 2007 season, numbers were the story. He threw an NFL record 50 touchdown passes and led New England to an undefeated regular season. Teaming with WR Randy Moss, that year's squad overpowered opponents (and scoreboard operators) with a no-mercy cockiness.
This year's team is structured differently, with tight ends becoming Brady's primary target and a collection of little-known running backs doing much of the dirty work. The results are similar though, as this year's Pats squad leads the NFL in points per game. Through 11 weeks, the results of the MVP vote appear to be aligning in familiar fashion as well.
(Last week's ranking in parentheses)
1. Patriots QB Tom Brady (No. 2) — New England heads to Detroit for a Thanksgiving showdown with the Lions in a game that could have special significance to Brady. He made his NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000 vs. the Lions in the Pontiac Silverdome in a 34-9 Turkey Day win for the home team. Brady completed one pass, a six-yarder to TE Rod Rutledge. Since then, he has completed 2,886 passes and thrown for 33,200 yards, but the Lions remain the only NFL team that Brady hasn't thrown a touchdown against.
2. Chargers QB Philip Rivers (No. 5) — If you think the Chargers are on a roll now after winning three consecutive games, just wait until the calendar flips over. Rivers has a career 18-0 record as a starter in December, throwing 33 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions in those games. San Diego plays three of their four December games at home, but it first must get past a tough road test in Indianapolis on Sunday.
3. Eagles QB Michael Vick (No. 7) — During Vick's six years as the Falcons' quarterback from 2001-06, he put up some outstanding stats, made several jaw-dropping runs and even led his team to the NFC championship game in the 2004 season. He never went seven straight games without throwing an interception, though, which is something he has done to start this season. This year he's thrown the ball 191 times without an interception.
4. Saints QB Drew Brees (No. 3) — The Week 11 takedown of the Seahawks was one of Brees' best games of the year, as he threw for a season-best 382 yards and four touchdowns. New Orleans' offense had the look of its '09 form, with the quarterback throwing three TD passes of 22 yards or longer.
5. Colts QB Peyton Manning (No. 1) — Manning threw the game-sealing interception in a tough loss, but it was still hard to not be impressed by his performance vs. the Patriots. Playing with a depleted receiving corps on the road against one of the league's toughest teams, the future Hall of Famer nearly rallied the Colts from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit with a pair of TD passes to Blair White. The second of the TD connections, an 18-yard strike with 4:46 to go, was a throw only Manning seems able to make, hitting a diving White in the back of the endzone while blanketed by a defender.
6. Falcons WR Roddy White (No. 6) — Falcons QB Matt Ryan spread the wealth in Week 11, targeting 10 different receivers in the 34-17 win over the Rams. No target got as much love as White, however, with 11 passes thrown in his direction. He finished with nine catches for 83 yards and a completed two-point conversion. This week will be a tough test for the receiver, as he will often be matched up against the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Packers CB Charles Woodson.
7. Packers OLB Clay Matthews (No. 9) — Just a regular week for Matthews and the Pack: five tackles, two for loss, a pair of QB hits and a sack. The outside 'backer sets the tone for the Green Bay "D," which has allowed just 10 points in the past three games.
8. Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman (NR) — Led by Freeman and a physical defense, Tampa Bay won in San Francisco for the first time since 1980, eight years before the quarterback was born. He'll face a tougher test this week, when the Bucs travel to Baltimore and take on the 7-3 Ravens. Freeman could rise quickly on the Meter next week if they pull off an upset.
9. Jets QB Mark Sanchez (NR) — The second-year pro is developing into one of the league's most clutch passers. The Jets have won back-to-back games on Sanchez-to-Santonio Holmes TD tosses — the first coming with 16 seconds left in OT against the Browns and the second coming with 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter against the Texans. On Thanksgiving night, the Jets are hoping they don't need any late-game heroics from Sanchez to beat the Bengals, who have lost seven in a row.
10. Titans RB Chris Johnson (No. 4) — Johnson is the only running back on the Meter and he is sliding as fast as he runs in the open field. With third-stringer Rusty Smith now his quarterback, the Titans are in make-or-break mode this Sunday vs. Houston. In four career games vs. the Texans, Johnson's averaging 121.8 yards.
Five on the cusp (in alphabetical order) — Ravens QB Joe Flacco, Raiders RB Darren McFadden, Bears DE Julius Peppers, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, Falcons QB Matt Ryan.