The 2020 NFL MVP race has boiled down to Aaron Rodgers seeking a third MVP award in his storied career, Patrick Mahomes looking for his second in only three years as a starter, and Russell Wilson aiming for his first amid a sensational nine-season tenure in Seattle. No matter which year it is, though, one can always look back at the MVP race and identify a performance that helped the eventual winner rise above the competition.
Here, we examine each NFL MVP winner of the last decade and identify their best single-game performance during those remarkable seasons.
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2010 NFL MVP: Tom Brady, Week 13
The 2010 season saw Tom Brady win his second of three AP MVP awards after leading the New England Patriots to a 14-2 season, as he recorded 36 passing touchdowns to just four interceptions. His best performance came against the AFC East division rival New York Jets. In avenging a loss in Week 2, Brady played spectacularly, throwing for 326 passing yards on 21-of-29 passing and four touchdowns, leading the Pats to a 45-3 win. Unfortunately, the Jets would have the last laugh as they beat the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs.
2011 NFL MVP: Aaron Rodgers, Week 13
In Aaron Rodgers’ first MVP season, he sought to send the Green Bay Packers to back-to-back Super Bowls. Rodgers finished the year throwing for a career-high 4,643 passing yards and 45 touchdowns, leading the Packers to a franchise-best 15-1 record. His best game that season came in a matchup against the New York Giants in a contest that saw Rodgers throw for 369 passing yards and four scores.
With 58 seconds left in the game and the game tied at 35, Rodgers took the Packers 63 yards down the field completing passes of 24, 27 and 31 yards, positioning his team to kick a game-winning field goal for a 38-35 win. Unfortunately for Rodgers and Co., the Giants soundly defeated the Packers in the second round of the postseason, 37-20.
2012 NFL MVP: Adrian Peterson Week 7
Adrian Peterson’s MVP season is probably the most spectacular on this list seeing as he suffered an ACL and MCL tear in Week 16 of the 2011 season, which left his NFL future in question. It’s impressive enough just to win the NFL’s most prestigious accolade, much less doing it amid an epic comeback. Just eight months after blowing out his knee, AP was back on the field for the Minnesota Vikings, having the best season of his career. He came up a mere eight yards short of the single-season rushing record.
Peterson’s best performance came in a Week 7 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals in which he carried the Vikings offense rushing for 153 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown, leading his club to a 21-14 win.
2013 NFL MVP: Peyton Manning, Week 1
The 2013 season was Peyton Manning’s second with the Denver Broncos, where he landed after suffering a career-threatening neck injury with the Indianapolis Colts. Manning went on to set NFL records for passing yards in a season (5,477) and passing touchdowns in a season (55) while also helping the Broncos set the single-season record for points (606).
Of all the great performances Manning put up in his MVP campaign, it was his electrifying Week 1 masterpiece against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens that tops them all. Manning threw seven touchdowns passes to break the record for most in a season opener, and matched the NFL record for TD throws in a single game.
2014 NFL MVP: Aaron Rodgers, Week 10
Coming off a year in which Rodgers missed some time with a clavicle injury, the Packers signal-caller went on to have a spectacular season in 2014, logging 4,381 passing yards and 38 touchdowns on his way to winning his second AP MVP. Rodgers’ best game came against Green Bay’s division rival, the Chicago Bears, in Week 10, when he threw six touchdowns in the first half — including three TD passes of 40 yards or more. The Packers shut the Bears out in the first half to take a 42-0 lead into halftime on their way to a 55-14 win.
2015 NFL MVP: Cam Newton, Week 15
Like Rodgers in his 2011 MVP year, Cam Newton also helped lead his Carolina Panthers team to an undefeated record through 15 weeks of the NFL schedule en route to a 15-1 overall record. Newton enjoyed a spectacular season, recording 3,837 passing yards and 35 passing touchdowns along with 636 rushing yards and 10 rushing scores.
Newton’s best game came against the Giants; he put up 340 passing yards and five passing touchdowns along with 100 rushing yards on just eight carries. Leading 35-7 with 5:32 remaining in the third quarter, New York nearly completed an all-time great comeback in scoring four touchdowns to tie the game with 1:46 remaining. Alas, the storybook ending wasn’t to be, as Newton was able to lead his team down the field for a game-winning field goal to preserve a perfect record at the time.
2016 NFL MVP: Matt Ryan, Week 8
Forgetting how the 2016 season ended for Matt Ryan and the Falcons, the regular season saw him put up 4,944 passing yards and 38 touchdowns — both of which are his career highs. Matty Ice’s Week 4 performance against the Panthers was truly special, though. He helped Julio Jones become just the sixth player in NFL history to record 300 receiving yards in a single game.
Amazingly, Ryan’s Week 8 performance against the Green Bay Packers was just a little bit better. He recorded 288 passing yards on 28-of-35 passing and three touchdowns, including a TD strike with 31 seconds left to seal a 33-32 triumph for the Falcons.
2017 NFL MVP: Tom Brady, Week 2
At 40 years old, Tom Brady was still playing at an absurd level, winning the third NFL MVP award of his career. He led the NFL with 4,577 passing yards, adding in 32 touchdowns, in a season full of remarkable outings.
While Brady’s Week 3 performance against the Houston Texans was very impressive, seeing him throw a season-high five passing touchdowns, the Texans had the worst defense in the NFL. One game prior, Brady torched the New Orleans Saints’ top-10 defense with a season-high 447 passing yards and three scores, leading the Patriots to a 36-20 win.
2018 NFL MVP: Patrick Mahomes, Week 2
In the 2018 season, Patrick Mahomes became just the third passer in NFL history to throw for 50 touchdown passes in a single season in his first full year as a starter. Oh, he also recorded 5,097 passing yards. His best game came in a Week 2 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which saw him put up 326 passing yards, completing 23 of 28 passes along with six touchdowns to seize a 42-37 victory. Mahomes threw three TDs in each half, including three first-quarter touchdowns, with five of the Chiefs’ six scoring drives going 60 yards or more.
2019 NFL MVP: Lamar Jackson, Week 12
As was the case with Mahomes, Lamar Jackson was in his first full season as a starter when he won the AP MVP. He finished the season recording 3,127 passing yards and 36 passing touchdowns along with 1,206 rushing yards and seven trips to pay dirt on the ground. Jackson’s 1,206 rushing yards broke Michael Vick’s mark for most rushing yards in a season by a quarterback.
Although Jackson put forth an amazing effort in the Ravens’ season opener against the Miami Dolphins, throwing five touchdown passes, Week 12 was even more impressive in terms of all-around prowess. Facing the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams, Lamar Jackson recorded 169 passing yards, 95 rushing yards and five total touchdowns.