It was billed as the latest, if not potentially the last chapter in one of the NFLs most storied rivalries, but Brady-Manning XIII never quite lived up to the hype.
In retrospect, maybe that hype was unrealistic. Maybe it was unfair to expect the two oldest starting quarterbacks in the NFL to shrug off every extenuating circumstance and deliver a duel for the ages. But come on, lets be honest: It doesnt matter how old they are or which teams they play for, when Tom Brady and Peyton Manning get together, theres no cap on expectations. Fifty years from now, they could be in their eighties, playing ping-pong at Del Boca Vista, and well still expect an overtime thriller. (And if not, theyll get buried by the Boca Breeze.)
But while there is, and always will be, an urge to throw out reality when these two Hall of Famers face off, yesterdays takeaway was about as real as it comes.
First of all, Peyton Mannings still a damn good quarterback. Regardless of the score, youre never comfortable when No. 18s on the other side. But that being said, hes not the same Peyton Manning not yet, maybe not ever. And more importantly, Eric Decker isnt Marvin Harrison. Demaryius Thomas isnt Reggie Wayne. Willis McGahee isnt Edgerinn James or Joseph Addai. Joel Dreesen isnt Dallas Clark. In 2012, Mannings an aging craftsman with duller tools, and for as long as hes in Denver, hell fight an uphill battle to keep pace with own legacy.
When it comes to Brady, for the second straight week, were reminded that hes no longer New Englands only option. While Mannings taken a step back with his supporting cast, Bradys has expanded. The Pats no longer live and die by his arm, and not because they dont want to, but because they dont need to.
Yesterday, Brady threw for 223 yards and one touchdown in New Englands 31-21 win. There were days in the not so recent past when the Pats needed numbers like that every quarter to be as good as they needed to be. And while there will still be plenty of weeks when Brady lights it up, the Pats can and will survive when he doesnt.
The Broncos picked up Mannings Indy offense and planted it, as is, at Sports Authority Field. The Patriots have revolutionized their attack behind Brady. And for fans in New England, this is beyond exciting. Of course, there are still places where this team needs to improve most notably in the secondary but in terms of offense, the future is finally coming into focus. The future is now. For so long, weve fearfully asked the questions: What happens when Brady gets older? How much longer can they put it all on his shoulders? How will they survive this next stage of his career?
Now we know. The next stage is here. And as Josh McDaniels continues to get more comfortable with what he has, and the team continues to build confidence in who they are, it will only get better. In the last three games, without their most versatile offensive player, the Patriots scored 113 points. Of those, less than half came from Tom Brady touchdowns passes. This is great for New England.
But it doesn't do much for the Brady-Manning rivalry.
Once the two undisputed leaders of the NFL's two model franchises, Manning and Brady head down the stretch in two very different places. With Manning's Broncos still living in 2006, and Brady's Pats already with an eye on 2016. Truth be told, it's no longer fair to compare them to what they once were. The game has changed; everything's changed.
But who am I kidding? We'll throw all that out the window for the inevitable Brady-Manning XIV. Coming soon, to an NFL Playoffs near you.