brady manning2

When we discuss the great quarterbacks of our time, we’re always discussing Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. A quarterback discussion of any kind is not possible without those two, and five years after their respective retirements, we’ll be having the same discussion.

Eras and legacies are grandiose and impossible to define, yet we try anyway, and we do it through comparisons. We do that because a player can best prove himself when being compared to his most skilled peers. Years from now it’ll be fun to have this exact same conversation with the other two young arms pitted against each other in the NFC half of championship Sunday. But right now with the 15th Tom Brady-Peyton Manning meeting upon us in the AFC, that’s where the focus lies.

About that history: it’s flooded with many a Manning tear.

Of the previous 14 meetings, Brady’s Patriots have won 10 times. But although all that matters is scoring more points than the other guy, pummeling has been infrequent for either quarterback lately. Looking back on the last seven meetings, six of them have been decided by a touchdown or less, and the average margin of victory has been 3.6. Overall the Patriots have scored 30.0 points per game, and the Colts/Broncos have scored 24.6. It seems good quarterbacks give is good games that make us feel good all over.

Those good vibes were certainly present earlier this year in Week 12, Wes Welker’s return to New England. When Patriots running backs neglected the simple skill of holding on to the a football while fumbling three times, the Broncos scored three touchdowns in the first half, and entered halftime leading 17-0. That brought out rage Brady, who then passed for 163 yards in the third quarter, leading his offense to four unanswered touchdowns, and an eventual 34-31 overtime win.

That game made me dizzy, and gave me even less faith in the Broncos defense, and their ability to slow the Brady train. Yes, Brady doesn’t have Rob Gronkowski, and he did in that game. But in Week 12, the Broncos had Von Miller and Chris Harris, two massive absences in their defense this time around. Yet even with those two, they still gave up 344 yards and three touchdowns to Brady. From Vince Wilfork to Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes, the Pats have their own defensive breaks and rips too.

What we can glean from Manning-Brady in 2013-14 then points to the likelihood of a game this Sunday where one quarterback will be given a loss, yet he’ll lose the game while standing on the sideline and watching helplessly. Going further back and doing some time traveling with a stop at Florida the other 13 meetings, we find equal doses of development, disappointment, and heroism.

Let’s take that journey then, and see what we can see.

(Disclaimer: like others who have taken a similar historical trip, we’re all aware here that Manning plays on a different team now, one with different offensive weapons, different backfield and defensive support, and one with an entirely different name. Everything is different, but on a simple yet fundamental level, in a playoff game the quarterback still needs to complete passes, avoid turnovers, and advance his offense regardless of who is catching the ball.)

2001: Week 3

Final score: Colts 44, Patriots 13

Manning’s line: 20/34, 196 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions

Brady’s line: 13/23, 168 yards, zero touchdowns, zero interceptions

Other numbers/notes of interest:

  • After now famously taking over for Drew Bledsoe, this was Brady’s first start.
  • It wasn’t at all even a little bit close, with Manning retreating to his sideline in the fourth quarter, and Brady’s longest completion to a wide receiver went for just 17 yards.

2001: Week 6

Final score: Patriots 38, Colts 17

Manning’s line: 22/34, 335 yards, one touchdown, zero interceptions

Brady’s line: 16/20, 202 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions

Other numbers/notes of interest:

  • The Patriots’ thumping was paced by three unanswered touchdowns in the second quarter, with the score 28-6 at halftime.
  • While deep passing was mostly absent in the first game, this one featured a 68-yard bomb to Marvin Harrison, while Brady connected on a 91-yarder to David Patten.

2003: Week 13

Final score: Colts 38, Patriots 34

Manning’s line: 29/48, 278 yards, four touchdowns, one interception

Brady’s line: 26/35, 236 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions

Other numbers/notes of interest:

  • Through their first three games against each other, only one quarterback passed for over 300 yards.
  • Yet again there was a lack of deep passing for Brady. If we exclude a 31-yard completion to Dedric Ward, his longest connection went for 16 yards.

2003 AFC Championship

Final score: Patriots 24, Colts 14

Manning’s line: 23/47, 237 yards, one touchdown, four interceptions

Brady’s line: 22/37, 237 yards, one touchdown, one interception

Other numbers/notes of interest:

  • Of Manning’s four interceptions, two of them cam deep in New England territory. One was caught in the end zone, and one at the Pats’ 11 yard-line.
  • Deep passing didn’t happen much (yep, again). Brady and Manning combined for 45 completions, and only three went for over 20 yards.
  • Both quarterbacks averaged less than 6.5 yards per pass attempt, with Manning falling to 5.0.

2004: Week 1 

Final score: Colts 27, Patriots 24

Manning’s line: 16/29, 256 yards, two touchdowns, on interception

Brady’s line: 26/38, 335 yards, three touchdowns, one interception

Other numbers/notes of interest:

  • Manning threw three +40 yard passes.
  • Brady spread the love nicely, with three of his receivers (Patten, Deion Branch, and David Givens) finishing with more than 80 receiving yards.

2004: Divisional Round

Final score: Patriots 20, Colts 3

Manning’s line: 27/42, 238 yards, zero touchdowns, one interception

Brady’s line: 18/27, 144 yards, one touchdown, zero interceptions

Other numbers/notes of interest:

  • The score was 6-3 at halftime in a game where winning apparently wasn’t a thing either team wanted to do.
  • A Colts offense that led the league in 2004 with an average of 32.6 points per game scored three points. Three.
  • Brady was generous again, distributing the ball to 10 receivers. His leading receiver? David Givens with all of 26 yards.

2005: Week 9

Final score: Colts 40, Patriots 21

Manning’s line: 28/37, 321 yards, three touchdowns, one interception

Brady’s line: 22/33, 265 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions

Other numbers/notes of interest:

  • Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne finished with over 120 receiving yards.
  • The Colts held their lead early, entering halftime up 21-7.

2006: Week 9

Final score: Colts 27, Patriots 20

Manning’s line: 20/36, 326 yards, two touchdowns, one interception

Brady’s line: 22/35, 201 yards, zero touchdowns, four interceptions

Other numbers/notes of interest:

  • This was easily Brady’s worst game against Manning. A third of his interceptions with Manning watching came on just this day.
  • With his 145 receiving yards and two touchdowns, Harrison had nearly 100 more yards than any Patriots pass catcher (Benjamin Watson led with 54).

2006 AFC Championship

Final score: Colts 38, Patriots 34

Manning’s line: 27/47, 349 yards, one touchdown, one interception

Brady’s line: 21/34, 232 yards, one touchdown, one interception

Other numbers/notes of interest:

  • In the only time he’s been able to out duel Brady during a playoff shootout, Manning led what Colts fans later dubbed “The drive“, an 80-yard push down the field with only 2:17 left that ended in a one-yard game-winning touchdown from Joseph Addai.
  • Needing a touchdown of his own with 54 seconds left and two timeouts, Brady was forced to press, which resulted in an interception.

2007: Week 9

Final score: Patriots 24, Colts 20

Manning’s line: 16/27, 225 yards, one touchdown, one interception

Brady’s line: 21/32, 255 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions

Other numbers/notes of interest:

  • This was an odd game, and the proverbial tale of two halves. In the first half the Colts’ offense outgained New England 229-114, but then after Brady and Bill Belichick did their usual halftime adjusting, Indy trailed in second-half yardage 228-100

2009: Week 10

Final score: Colts 35, Patriots 34

Manning’s line: 29/44, 327 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions

Brady’s line: 29/42, 375 yards, three touchdowns, one interception

Other numbers/notes of interest:

  • Of the 14 Brady-Manning games, there’s been four shootouts when both teams had at least 30 points. But up to this point in 2009 through 10 games, both quarterbacks hadn’t yet passed for over 300 yards on the same Sunday.

2010: Week 11

 Final score: Patriots 31, Colts 28

Manning’s line: 38/52, 396 yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions

Brady’s line: 19/25, 196 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions

Other numbers/notes of interest:

  • The Colts’ run/pass split resembled that of a team quarterbacked by Peyton Manning even more so than usual. This game represents Manning’s highest single-game pass attempt total in the entire series, and Indianapolis only ran 20 times, a gap that was the product of a 17-point second-half deficit.
  • Manning nearly sprinkled his hero dust on this game to overcome that hole. But alas, a second-half surge highlighted by two touchdowns fell short when he was intercepted with 31 seconds left. Manning had advanced his offense to the Patriots’ 24-yard line, well within field goal range for Adam Vinatieri, but he was gunning for the regulation win.

2012: Week 5

Final score: Patriots 31, Broncos 21

Manning’s line: 31/44, 337 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions

Brady’s line: 23/31, 223 yards, one touchdown, zero interceptions

Other numbers/notes of interest:

  • Like the previous meeting directly above, this game could have — and maybe should have — been a lot worse. At one point late in the third quarter the Pats were up 31-7, but then with the support of a defense that forced two fumbles in the fourth quarter and sacked Brady three times, Manning brought his offense to within 10.
  • No game ever rests on one, single play or misplay. But after they had just scored, a drop by Willis McGahee on fourth and one at midfield was pretty painful.

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