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By Steve Silverman
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The Comeback Player of the Year award is not usually a front-burner issue.
When a 30-something-year-old receiver can come back and catch 60 passes following knee surgery, it’s usually fine to give him a pat on the back, hand him the trophy and send him on his way.
Football fans care about the MVP, the Rookie of the Year and the Coach of the Year. Comeback Player of the Year? Wake me when we get to the good part.
But not this year. The Comeback Player of the Year race between Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos and Adrian Peterson is one for the ages.
It’s possible the winner will also come away with the NFL MVP. It’s also possible that the second-place finisher in the comeback award takes the MVP.
Matthew Stafford won the comeback award last year after playing just three games in 2010 due to a shoulder injury. He threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns last year.
That was a nice comeback, but it pales in comparison to what Manning and Peterson are doing this year.
Manning is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. But it all appeared to be over for him because he didn’t play at all in 2011 due to a neck injury that appeared to threaten his career.
The Colts were ready to move on sometime around the midway point of the 2011 season as they were losing game after game and found themselves getting in a position to draft phenom Andrew Luck.
They did not know if Manning could play football again and if he could, they did not know what his level of play would be.
They ended up parting company with Manning and the quarterback was on the open market. He joined Hall of Famer John Elway in Denver and he began his comeback.
Elway and head coach John Fox did not know how Manning would be physically, but they did know he would prepare like a brain surgeon in his effort to get ready.
Manning seemed to have lost some arm strength and there were persistent reports that he had a tough time gripping the ball on some of his throws.
That’s no longer an issue. Manning is having a stellar season, having completed 347-of-511 passes for 4,016 yards with 31 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. Manning’s passer rating is 103.5 and that ranks fourth in the league, just 1.2 points behind NFL leader Aaron Rodgers.
It’s safe to say that Manning has come back to at least 95 percent of what he was physically and he is doing as good a job of calling plays and reading defenses as any quarterback in the game.
The Broncos are rolling with him at quarterback, having won the AFC West and in position to nail down one of the top two seeds in the AFC.
Peterson’s comeback story does not have the missed-season aspect, but he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament at the end of the 2011 season.
He played 12 games last year and rushed for 970 yards and a 4.7 yards per carry average before he got hurt and missed the last four games of the season.
So it doesn’t look like he had a real statistical downturn last year, even though the 2011 season is the only season he failed to rush for at least 1,298 yards in his career.
But this season, Peterson is having one of the best seasons any running back has ever had. He has rushed for 1,812 yards and a 6.3 yards per carry average with a long run of 82 yards. He also has put the ball in the end zone 11 times.
Peterson has eight consecutive games with 108 rushing yards or more and if he can maintain his pace over the last eight games (164 ypg), he will zoom past the 2,000-yard mark and break Eric Dickerson’s all-time rushing record of 2,105 yards.
To threaten the all-time rushing record after tearing his ACL is a remarkable achievement.
If Peterson can keep up his pace and take the record from Dickerson, that should be enough to get him the Comeback Player of the Year award. Even if he runs for a mere 188 yards so he gets past the 2,000-yard mark, he will have earned that honor.
However, Manning gets the MVP award. The Broncos have won nine games in a row and may find themselves in the Super Bowl.
Both players have been spectacular and deserve recognition for their near-miraculous comebacks.
Who should get the hardware? Make your case in the comments…