Curran: Brady's fire separates him from Manning

Curran: Brady's fire separates him from Manning
November 25, 2013, 1:30 pm
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FOXBORO -- Tom Brady probably didn’t change too many minds Sunday night.

In the eternal “Brady-Manning: Who ya got?” there aren’t many undecideds out there anymore. They’ve played 466 games between them, collected six MVPs, been to seven Super Bowls, made their teammates, coaches and owners untold millions and gone head-to-giant-head 14 times.

If you’re a Manning guy, you’re a Manning guy. If you’re a Brady guy, you’re a Brady guy.

Both sides have ammo.

Manning’s got better numbers, more MVPs, has had to deal with tougher defenses. And, well, he’s got the better numbers and has had to deal with tougher defenses. Oh, and Spygate, Spygate, Spygate. Plus Brady dresses weird.

Brady’s won multiple Super Bowls with good -- not great -- players around him. He went 16-0 and broke Manning’s records when he finally got a toy like Manning’s to play with. Plus, when the games are their most pressure-packed, Brady holds his water instead of springing a leak or blowing a gasket. When Brady throws a pick-six on the would-be game-winning drive of a Super Bowl like Manning did against the Saints, come knocking. Until then, shhh.

The only thing that changed Sunday night -- other than Manning’s winning percentage against Brady dropping to .286 -- was the realization at how stylistically different they are as leaders.

The force of Brady’s will and the raw nature of his competitiveness is a tide that raises his teammates’ level of play. The size of the fight in Brady -- and the conspicuousness of it -- can impact his teams more profoundly than Manning’s more clinical, detached approach, it appears.

Year after year during the Brady-Belichick Era, more talented teams with more decorated players have not gotten as much from their guys as the Patriots get from theirs.

It’s an intangible so, as such, it can be easily dismissed.

Unless you consider some of the recent evidence around it. This season against Miami, the Patriots were down 17-3 at the half. They won 27-17. Last season against the 49ers, the Patriots were down 31-3. They came back to make it 34-31 before losing 41-31.

Now, Brady isn’t out there forcing three-and-outs and turnovers to get the Patriots back in it. But there is an awareness from the defense, I think, that as long as there is time, there is a chance. That if they get stops, Brady and the offense can change momentum.

How often do the Patriots get their collective asses kicked? Last time was at Cleveland in 2010. Even in the playoff loss to Baltimore last season, the Patriots led 13-7 before a deluge.

How often do they enter a game or -- in 2013 -- a season with so many holes and so much work to do that they shouldn’t even have the audacity to consider success? And how often do they find that success only to have people wonder how they did it or dismiss it with qualifiers?

I really think that -- as well-coached and prepared as the Patriots are -- Brady’s willingness to put himself out there as a leader and competitor has an impact.

You see Brady’s reaction to Rob Gronkowski’s touchdown Sunday night -- some bizarre, wild-eyed head-wagging dance. You wonder what impact it has on the rest of the team when a Hall of Fame icon, a corporation unto himself shows how far he is willing to let himself go in the heat of competition.

Brady doesn’t have a monopoly on comebacks. Manning’s got his and he’s gotten them against Brady and the Patriots. In the 2006 AFC Championship, he brought the Colts back from a 21-3 deficit. No comeback was more jaw-dropping than Manning’s against the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers in 2003 when the Colts scored 28 fourth-quarter points and won on an overtime field goal in Tampa.

But Manning is clinical. Surgical. Antiseptic. You can see him, in an office setting, entering in a perfect suit, briefcase in hand, nodding to everyone, entering his office, closing the door and re-emerging at 5 p.m.

I have never covered Manning closely as I have Brady, and I do know Manning’s teammates revere him. Would more spiked water cups and primal screams make him a better quarterback? Would more head-butting after touchdowns help? No. Because that’s not Manning. What he does and the way he’s done it has been good enough to make him -- along with Brady -- one of the five best quarterbacks to ever play.

But does Manning wring the same kind of passion and competitiveness from his teammates that Brady does? The same kind of fearlessness? Do Manning’s teams play with the same kind of chip on their shoulder that the Patriots have with Brady?

Two out of three Hall of Fame coaches may prefer Peyton Manning -- as the NBC graphic before Sunday’s game showed. Because with Manning, there are things you can quantify, I guess.

With Brady, it’s all of that. And more. It’s not Manning’s fault. He just does it differently.