A month after helping Denver win Super Bowl 50, Peyton Manning has decided to call it a career after 18 NFL seasons. Whether you loved him or hated him, he was consistently great and while he did not match Tom Brady, Joe Montana or Terry Bradshaw with four Super Bowl wins, Manning set amazing marks of his own.
He is the career leader in passing touchdowns and yards and ranks second (175 behind Brett Favre) in completions. He also holds the single-season records for touchdowns and yards. The only player to be named NFL MVP five times, Manning also is the only quarterback in history to lead two different teams to victory in the Super Bowl.
But while Manning is able to enjoy the rare distinction of riding off into the sunset as a champion, not every one of his 18 professional seasons were memorable. In fact, even with career-ending Super Bowl victory, Manning’s 2015 season doesn’t make the list of his top 10 most successful ones. So which ones did?
10. 1999 Indianapolis
(13-3, AFC East champs, lost to Tennessee in Divisional round)
After a 3-13 rookie season, Manning and the Colts made one of the biggest turnarounds in NFL history, going 13-3 and winning the AFC East. Manning’s numbers (4,135 yards, 26 TDs, 15 INTs) were solid, resulting in his first Pro Bowl invitation. But more important, this season showed what he was capable of as a quarterback. A loss to the Super Bowl-Bound Tennessee Titans in the Divisional round cut this magnificent season short.
9. 2008 Indianapolis
(12-4, AFC wild card, lost to San Diego in wild card game)
Manning completed 66.8 percent of his passes and threw for 4,002 yards and 27 touchdowns, earning his third MVP award.
8. 2000 Indianapolis
(10-6, AFC wild card, lost to Miami in wild card game)
For the first time in his career, Manning led the league in completions (357), yards (4,413) and touchdown passes (33). The Colts finished 10-6 and made the playoffs for the second straight year. It was a far cry from where they were only two seasons ago.
7. 2003 Indianapolis
(12-4, AFC South camps, lost to New England in AFC Championship Game)
Manning won his first MVP award in a season where he led the league in yards (4,267) and completion percentage (67 percent). The Colts finished 12-4 in the first of seven straight seasons in which they won more than 10 games.
6. 2005 Indianapolis
(14-2, AFC South champs, lost to Pittsburgh in Divisional round)
The Colts finished 14-2, earning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and Manning threw for 3,747 yards and 28 touchdowns and earned a league-best 104.1 passer rating.
5. 2012 Denver
(13-3, AFC West champs, lost to Baltimore in OT in Divisional round)
Manning missed the 2011 season because of a devastating neck injury and was released by the Colts. He was signed by the Broncos and immediately gave them a prolific passing attack. Manning completed a league-leading 68.6 percent of his passes as the Broncos went 13-3 and earned home-field advantage in the playoffs. At end of the season, AP voters named him Comeback Player of the Year.
4. 2009 Indianapolis
(14-2, AFC South champs, lost to New Orleans in Super Bowl XLIV)
The Colts started the season 14-0 and head coach Jim Caldwell famously benched Manning in the third quarter against the New York Jets with a lead and home-field advantage secured. The Jets came back and ended Indianapolis’ perfect season. Manning then led the Colts through two playoff wins into Super Bowl XLIV, where they lost a hard-fought contest to the New Orleans Saints. He earned his fourth MVP award in a season where he completed 68.8 percent of his passes and threw for 4,500 yards and 33 touchdowns.
3. 2004 Indianapolis
(12-4, AFC South champs, lost to New England in Divisional round)
For 20 years, Dan Marino’s record 48 touchdown passes in a season seemed untouchable. Then Manning proved otherwise, tossing 49 touchdowns and shattering Steve Young’s quarterback rating record with a 121.1 finish (Aaron Rodgers surpassed it in 2011). He was named MVP for the second straight year in a season where the Colts finished 12-4.
2. 2013 Denver
(13-3, AFC West champs, lost to Seattle in Super Bowl XLVII)
The numbers for this season are almost unbelievable. Manning threw for an NFL-record 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns and earned his unprecedented fifth MVP award. A blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII is the only reason this season does not top the list.
1. 2006 Indianapolis
(12-4, AFC South champs, beat Chicago in Super Bowl XLI)
After years of heartbreaking losses in college and the NFL postseason, few gave the Colts a chance as the fourth seed in the playoffs. However, they reeled off three gutsy wins, including a dramatic comeback against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, to earn a Super Bowl berth. There, they beat the Chicago Bears 29-17 and Manning was named Super Bowl MVP. Let’s not forget it was the regular season that brought the Colts to this point and Manning led the league in passer rating for a third year in a row.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.