Brady-Manning: The changing face of a rivalry

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Brady-Manning: The changing face of a rivalry

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.

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

Scaramucci says Kraft gave Super Bowl LI ring to Trump

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Scaramucci says Kraft gave Super Bowl LI ring to Trump

Anthony Scaramucci isn't afraid to say stuff. This time, it involves the Patriots. 

The outspoken former White House communications director follows over 180,000 Twitter accounts. One of them is @rslashpatriots, who asked about Robert Kraft's Super Bowl rings via direct message. 

Putin famously stole Kraft's Super Bowl XXXIX ring while Kraft was visiting Russia in 2005. According to Kraft, he took out the ring to show it to Putin, but Putin put it in his pocket and left without giving it back.

Now that Trump has Kraft's ring, Kraft theoretically only has three of a possible five Super Bowl rings now. Guessing he could get new ones made. 

Availability key for Rex Burkhead during transition to Patriots

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Availability key for Rex Burkhead during transition to Patriots

It can be difficult to pick up the Patriots offense even for players who are on the practice field on a daily basis. For those who aren't? They have some catching up to do. 

It remains to be seen just how much, if at all, that reality will impact how Patriots running backs are deployed moving forward.

Though Mike Gillislee was given what looked like typical "big back" responsibilities early in training camp when the pads were introduced -- he had back-to-back touchdown runs during one of the first goal-line periods of the summer -- he's hardly practiced at all since then, sidelined with a reported hamstring issue. 

During joint practices with the Texans last week, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about the difficulties that a new player faces when he's trying to learn a system and a new set of teammates without the benefits of practice time.

"Yeah, well that’s one of the challenges of training camp," Belichick said. "No pads in the spring so you only have so many padded practices and preseason games at this time of year. Each one that’s missed is an opportunity to improve on the field, but what we can’t do is let what we can do take away from what we can’t do.

"The things that we can do in terms of training or whatever drills or learning experience we can gain, we have to try to gain as much as we can. And then when the opportunity comes to do the things that we can’t do, we have to be able to take advantage of that. Look, this is not the first time a player has ever missed a practice in training camp, so let’s not act like this is an historical event. Every team deals with it every year, but you do the best you can with it. You work through that players individual circumstances and where your team is and you do the best that you can with the opportunities that you have."

Though there's plenty that Gillislee can do in terms of workouts and sitting in on meetings, contrast his situation with that of Rex Burkhead, and the difference in the number of on-the-field opportunities for the two players has been stark.

Burkhead has been present and on the field for the vast majority of Patriots training camp practices, and In Saturday's game against Houston, he saw 13 snaps, finishing with seven carries for 20 yards and three receptions for 50 yards. One of those catches went for a 22-yard touchdown where he freed himself from linebacker Zach Cunningham with a nifty move over the middle of the field. 

"Rex has missed very little time," Belichick said when asked about Burkhead's progress on Sunday. "He’s basically been out there every day and we’ve worked with him in all areas of the game that we think he can contribute in, which is all three downs offensively and the four phases of special teams that he’s been involved with, from Day 1."

Burkhead, who signed a one-year deal with the Patriots this offseason after four years with the Bengals, has been used in a variety of roles, as Belichick alluded, including in hurry-up packages and on the goal line. His frame (5-foot-10, 210 pounds) and his skill set could make Burkhead a viable option as the team's "big back" should Gillislee miss time in the regular season. But he's also a more-than-capable pass-catcher, as he showed against the Texans. 

How he'll be used when the games matter remains to be seen, but he's available, and at this point that may be his most important quality.