Brady-Manning: The changing face of a rivalry


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.

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Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.