Tom Brady v. Peyton Manning.
For the umpteenth time this week, this is the XVIIth game in which the two quarterbacks will play against each other.
It’s the IVth time they will meet in the AFC Championship Game.
Can you put the “th” on Roman Numerals?
We’ve heard it so many times over the course of the last week that the "facepalm" is now the involuntary response.
“We get it.” That same old, tired narrative still dominates the conversation: Brady trumps Manning, and it’s not even close.
Brady and the New England Patriots are 11-5 all time against Manning and his teams. If Brady is rising and Manning is falling, what’s the point in even playing the game on Sunday?
“Oh, I don’t know,” Manning told the media on Wednesday. “I know that it’s been, I guess, three different teams. I’ve always kind of given the boring answer, ‘Hey, it’s the Colts versus the Patriots and now it’s the Broncos versus the Patriots.’ All I can say about Tom Brady is he plays the position the way it’s supposed to be played. He’s extremely talented. He’s a very hard worker, very competitive guy and he just plays the position the right way."
“When you do that, there’s a reason you play for a long time and play well for a long time. There have been a lot of different players who have played in 16 of those games but as the quarterback, it’s always been a great honor and privilege to have competed against him that many times over the course of the past 16, 17 years he and I have been in the league together.”
One aspect of this narrative is always overlooked. Not sure if it’s convenient or just lazy.
In AFC title games, Manning is 2-1 against Brady.
Yeah, it doesn’t exactly fit the narrative from above, does it?
Here’s another one: Brady hasn’t beaten Manning in the playoffs since 2005.
In the playoffs, both quarterbacks are 2-2. Neither has defeated the other on the road. The huge edge Brady has over Manning in the head-to-head matchup comes from the regular season. But isn’t the reason Brady has a “greater legacy” over Manning because of the playoffs?
If Manning and the Broncos beat Brady and New England on Sunday, Manning will have a 3-1 record against his rival in title games.
It doesn’t fit the narrative most have pushed, and it needs to stop.
The biggest factor in this game for either quarterback is the defense Manning has on his side. This is the best defense he has ever played with. That means for the first time in his career, he doesn’t have to shoulder the load. He doesn’t have to put up Star Wars numbers for his team to win, let alone have a chance, against Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
All Manning has to do is play efficient, smart football. He must take calculated risks on when he goes over the top and pushes the field for big plays. The rest of the time, he must make the right calls at the line of scrimmage, do his job and not turn the ball over.
If the Broncos run the football and don’t give it to Brady and his offense, they will win on Sunday. Denver’s defense is too good, and it knows what’s at stake.
“This whole season we’ve been the underdog to every single team that we’ve played,” Broncos outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware told the media on Wednesday. “You can also see where we are right now from the hard work that we’ve put in. There are a lot of underdogs on this team, from (cornerback) Chris Harris (Jr.) as an undrafted free agent and is now playing really well to a guy like (outside linebacker Shaquil) Shaq (Barrett) who has played consistently two years and now has an opportunity to be like a starter, play like a starter and do something great.
“That underdog mentality, where you think of a small guy coming from Auburn, Ala., where I started, and tell you that’s a good thing because now the pressure is not on us, it’s on the other team. The only thing we need is to go out there and just get the job done.”
As was the case those first two playoff games in Foxborough when it wasn’t about Brady, it’s come full circle and it’s finally not about Manning.
It’s about the team Manning has around him.
It’s about the Broncos.
That’s what wins in the NFL. That’s what wins AFC championship games.
Brady vs. Manning has a different feel to it all of a sudden.