FOXBORO -- The two best quarterbacks of their generation -- arguably of any generation -- will meet once again at Gillette Stadium on Sunday in Brady-Manning XIII. And it could be the last time.
If there's going to be a XIV, it'll have to come in the postseason or the two teams will have to finish in the same place in their respective divisions. And it'll have to come soon because the boys are getting up there -- Peyton Manning will be 37 in March; Tom Brady turns 36 next August.
They've gone through this process enough by now to know how it works in the days leading up to their teams' meeting. Their job is simple. Lob verbal bouquets infused with the baby's breath of respect and admiration until Friday. And then try to eviscerate the other guy's defense on Sunday.
This ain't the Decatur Staleys against the Providence Steamrollers and it's not 1931. Brady and Manning don't need to carnival bark to help this game get attention. We all take care of that for them.
Asked if he wearies of speaking about playing "against" someone who he only touches when he shakes hands with Manning before and after the game, Brady said, "At the end of the day, its the Patriots versus the Broncos. I have a job to do and the defensive guys have a job to do," Brady said.
He did, however, indicate that there may be a different mindset with the Patriots offense against Manning than when it faces a garden variety Locker, Kolb or Fitzpatrick.
"You're not blind to the fact that theres a great player on the other side of the ball that is capable of having a great performance," Brady allowed. "I think you realize that thats a part of the game. He's going to complete passes, they're going to gain yards. Its just a matter of us playing a better 60-minute game, being good on third down, being good in the red area, situationally being good."
And if you listened closely, you heard Brady allude to the history between these teams. He may not have meant to, but when Brady talked about the competitiveness of these matchups, he seemed to reference the 2009 meeting in Indy and the infamous Fourth-and-2 game.
"If we have an opportunity to win the game at the end, thats what youve got to do," Brady added. "It seems like it has always come down to the end against him. When he was playing for the Colts, it was always close games. Theyve been in every game theyve played this year, right down to the end. The two games they lost, the other team was in a four-minute offense and really made a couple critical first downs there at the end to win to not give them the ball back."
Plumbing the interpersonal relationship between Manning and Brady has yielded little. They're friends and maintain contact but they don't seem to run in the same circles.
The competition and rivalry we as media or fan "experts" are forever taking stock of is not the cutthroat one that, say, Magic-Bird was in the early days.
"He's a friend of mine," said Brady. "We dont talk much during the season, but I think hes someone that certainly Ive always looked up to and admired and really respected the way he plays the position, the way he works, the way he leads. Hes been a phenomenal player and we played against him a long time at the Colts -- it felt like very year -- so you see a lot of those games and obviously I have learned a lot from him."
But neither Brady nor Manning will be thinking about the day they played golf at Cypress Point or how they both missed full seasons but came back to play again or whether they'll enter the Hall of Fame on the same August day in the next decade or so.
They will be worried about themselves and their jobs, said Brady.
"We have to score more points than the other team," he pointed out (helpfully). "If they score 10, weve got to score 11. If they score 40, weve got to score 41. I think thats more the mindset. Hopefully the defense goes out there and plays a great game. At the same time, you have to expect to play a great game as well. You cant think that you're going to score 20 points and think its good enough or 30 points and think its good enough. Whatever they score, we have to score more."