Brady vs. Manning: A rivalry renewed

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Brady vs. Manning: A rivalry renewed

If I asked you to name the biggest rivalries in Boston sports, youd rattle off a list faster than Antonio Cromartie can name his kids: Lakers-Celtics. Red Sox-Yankees. Bruins-Canadiens. Patriots-Jets. Patriots-Ravens. Patriots-Giants. Patriots-Steelers. Celtics-Heat. Bruins-Canucks. Red Sox-Rays. There are as many rivalries in Boston sports as there are guys named Shamus in Southie.

But what if I asked you for Bostons best individual rivalries?

Think along the lines of Magic-Bird. Or more realistically, something like Nomar-Jeter, Moss-Revis or Youkilis-Joba Chamberlain; a rivalry that doesnt necessarily have to transcend the team dynamic, but still stands on its own.

Take a second and see what you can come up with. I hope you have better luck than I did.

I guess Pierce-Kobe or Pierce-LeBron is up for discussion, but I wouldnt qualify either. First, because Kobes always been too consumed by Shaq and his imaginary rivalry with Michael Jordan to ever care too much about Pierce. And second, because recent history has taken LeBron into another stratosphere. Kevin Garnetts had plenty of rivals, but no one that's on his level. Bill Belichicks had phases with Rex Ryan and Eric Mangini but both have faded with time. Chris Paul and Rondo had the makings of a great rivalry, but they just dont see each other enough. Theres Doc Rivers-Bill Kennedy, Bobby V-Joe Maddon or even Tom Brady-Terrell Suggs but those are too one-sided, petty andor hilarious to register. Over the past few years, the Red Sox have had plenty of great rivalries within their own clubhouse, but nothing that really extends to another team. And while guys like Alex Burrows, Matt Cooke and P.K. Subban have earned the title of Boston Sports Villain none of them has that one individual Bruins rival unless you want to count Cooke and Marc Savard, but that was sadly over as soon as it started.

Who knows, maybe its a product of free agency, or Bostons slow fall from Title Town back to reality, but the fact remains that significant individual rivalries are a rare commodity on our local sports scene.

But thankfully, the individual rivalry is not dead at least not as long as two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history are still going at in the AFC.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. An individual rivalry for the ages. Its the best kind of rivalry, too. Its not based on pettiness, cheap shots or momentary bragging rights. It's a rivalry fueled by history, by permanent legacy, by how each quarterback will be remembered among the greatest quarterbacks of all time. It's a respectful rivalry, an aspect that most likely stems from the fact that these two are never in direct competition. Brady's never hit Manning. Manning's never intercepted Brady. In 11 years, they've never been on the field at the same time. While one's at work, the other's on the bench. Watching, marveling, laser focused on how to be better.

Who is better?

I guess that depends on your definition of better, but really, there's no doubt that Brady has the upper hand.

While Manning still leads in many important statistical categories he's third all-time in completions, while Brady ranks 10th; he's third in passing yards, while Brady ranks 11th; he's third with 407 touchdowns, exactly 100 more than Brady (who ranks fifth) these days, that statistical discrepancy is just as much a matter of time as it is skill. Manning's started 49 more games than Brady, which is more than three extra seasons. And with Peyton's career clock likely to run out before Tom's, it's fair to assume that those gaps will be significantly narrowed by the time both men are done. And even then, there are a number places where Brady already has the edge. He's third all-time in passer rating, while Manning ranks sixth. Brady's also thrown 85 fewer interceptions.

Then, there's winning.

Brady has a .773 career winning percentage, while Peyton's at .667.

Brady's 16-6 all-time in the playoffs (2-4 in his last six), while Manning's 9-10.

Brady's played in five Super Bowls, and won three. Manning only been there once (and he won).

This obviously comes from a slightly biased place, but I don't care if Tony Dungy's making the list, in any breakdown of the best all-time quarterbacks, Tom Brady needs to be ahead of Peyton Manning . . .

Still, that doesn't weaken the hype leading up to Sunday's game.

You know that member of your family who drives you nuts? Right. I know. Which one? Maybe it's an uncle, an aunt, a cousin or all of the above . . . but we all have them. That family member who makes every gathering andor holiday absolute hell. That family member who annoys you by breathing.

Well, last Thanksgiving that member of my family canceled at the last minute. He supposedly wasn't feeling well, but the excuse didn't matter. The rest of us were ecstatic. It was a dream. And we all went on to have one of our most fun and easygoing turkey days in years.

But honestly, something was missing. The whole night was so peaceful and laid back, but for that reason, it didn't feel like Thanksgiving. And in a strange and irritating way, that kind of sucked. It just wasn't the same.

And last season, that's what it felt like in New England with Peyton Manning out of the mix. Initially, it was great to see the Colts take a hit. One of the most difficult games on the Patriots schedule had just become a cupcake. Tom Brady's biggest rival had just been taken down at the knees (or the neck). Everybody wins!

But when that game finally took place, and Curtis Painter awkwardly jogged out onto to the field, everyone missed Manning. Regardless of all the fear and frustration he'd laid on New England in the past, it wasn't the same without him. You wished that he was out there.

On Sunday, after nearly two years away, Manning finally returns to Gillette, and lucky for New England, Tom Brady will be waiting, ready to defend his legacy and bring us all another chapter of Boston's undisputed best individual rivalry.

Even if it might also be the only individual rivalry.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

FOXBORO -- There are plenty of damn good running backs in the NFL but there is only one Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers star shuffles, darts and then dashes, often with bodies crashing all around him, many of them intent on doing serious bodily harm . . . but often failing.

“He’s very unique,” said linebacker Shea McClellin. “I don’t think anyone else runs quite like he does, but it’s efficient and it works.”

Defensive end Chris Long concurred: “His style is so unique, his patience, what he’s able to do with his vision. And as far as breaking tackles, being a complete player, catching the ball, he can do all that stuff.”

Now don’t get it twisted. The Pats respect the hell out of Bell, but they’d prefer they weren’t in charge of corralling him Sunday because everyone has failed during Pittsburgh’s nine-game winning streak. Bell, who played in eight of those games, has piled up over 1,500 yards from the line of scrimmage during that stretch -- 1,172 yards rushing, 336 yards receiving -- while scoring 9 touchdowns. 

“He’s really fun to watch unless you’re getting ready to play him,” said Long.

The respect Bell commands in Foxboro is evident when talking to the Pats running backs, who spoke glowingly about the former first-rounder and in LeGarrette Blount’s case, former teammate.

“No one can do what he does,” Blount told me. “They can try, but it won’t work.”

“That’s his style,” added Dion Lewis, himself a shifty fella. “You can’t try to do that. I’m pretty sure he’s the only guy that can do that.”

So how do the Pats accomplish something no one has been able to do over the last two-plus months? How do they slow Bell down, as they did back in Week 7, limiting him to 81 yards rushing (only 3.9 yards per carry)? 

“I think defensively he really forces you to be disciplined,” said Pats coach Bill Belichick. “You jump out of there too quickly then you open up gaps and open up space. Le’Veon has a great burst through the hole. He doesn’t really need long to get through there, runs with good pad level. He’s hard to tackle so if you don’t get a full body on him then he’ll run right through those arm tackles. [He] really forces everybody to be sound in their gaps.”

“If there’s space or if there’s a gap in the defense or if there’s an edge in the defense, he’s quick to take advantage of that,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia told us during a conference call earlier this week. “He’s going to be able to get into that open space pretty quickly so you can’t really -- I don’t think you want to sit there and guess.”

If the Pats defenders, especially at the linebacker level, do that -- guess and attack a gap aggressively in attempt to make a splash play -- they may fill one gap but open two others. And that’s where a four-yard gain can turn into 40.

“Everyone on the field, it’s their job to get to him, gang tackle and be aggressive,” said Rob Ninkovich. “It can’t be just one time but every time you’re on the field.”

“There’s no one guy that can stop him,” added Belichick. “You’re going to have to have everybody doing a good job in a number of different areas all the way across the front and then do a good job of tackling.”

The Pats are a terrific tackling team, and haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season (actually, not since November of 2015), but the red-hot Bell will put recent history to the test. 
 

Roethlisberger has Brady's jersey hung on the wall of his office

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Roethlisberger has Brady's jersey hung on the wall of his office

FOXBORO -- It was a rare moment between Super Bowl champion quarterbacks. Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger met on the Heinz Field turf before a game back in October, and Roethlisberger -- who wasn't playing that day due to injury -- brought to Brady a request

"Um, hey, listen," he said. "I've never done this before, but I would love to get a jersey at some point. It'd mean...There's not many I want to put in my office. You're the best, dude."

Brady was happy to oblige.

"Sure, I'd love to," Brady said. "I'll get you after the game."

During a conference call with Patriots reporters on Wednesday, Roethlisberger was asked about that interraction, and he sounded a little upset that Showtime's Inside the NFL cameras caught it. 

"I hate that those things get taped and [heard] because it wasn’t meant for that," he said. "I have it hanging in my office. I have a lot of respect for him. I think that’s very well known.

"I think he’s one of, if not the greatest, quarterbacks of all time. It’s been an honor to play against him, to call him a competitor, and so I put it up in my office with the likes of the Marinos and Elways and Kellys and things like that."

Brady was asked about Roethlisberger during a press conference a little later in the day, and it was mentioned to him that Roethlisberger gave his jersey some coveted wall space. 

"Ben is an incredible player, and he’s been that way since 2004 when he came into the league," Brady said. "I’ve always loved the way he plays, very tough, hard-nosed. He’s great for the city of Pittsburgh – a very tough, hard-nosed city. I have a lot of friends from there. He’s just been a great player. I think the respect is very mutual. To play at his level for as long as he has and with his style of play has been remarkable."