This coming Sunday night, the best made-for-TV movie of the year will premiere. Brady-Manning XV may seem like the same number of Rocky films, but with greater dramatics and more serious implications.
The Manning-led Denver Broncos (14-3) will play host to Brady’s New England Patriots (13-4). This year has been a disparate one for both teams as Brady’s recent success was mired by the loss of the top-seven pass-catchers from the year previous, whether to free-agency, retirement, or prison. Much has been made about the dysfunction for the Patriots and the arsenal of weaponry that Manning has on the vertical attack.
The only time they have played this season, Peyton Manning’s Broncos jumped out to a 24-0 lead at halftime. However, a fumbled punt by Wes Welker in Overtime led to a Stephen Gostkowski Field Goal for the 34-31 win. The New England Patriots saved the game and that has now set-up possibly the most hyped, non-Super Bowl game in history.
There are two overarching storylines here.
First, it’s the battle of legacies between Manning and Brady.
This season, with Manning setting an array of team and NFL records, he has no reason to lose in the postseason. His 7-9 career record in January and on is the main argument against his greatness. In years previous however, with that sub-.500 record, he has had the fact that Indianapolis did not give him a great defense to fall back on. But this season, with the best offense in NFL history and a decent defense, this test against Brady will test the conception that Manning is a good regular season Quarterback who cannot win when it matters most. Since it will be mid-January in Denver, it will definitely be cold, possibly below freezing. Much has been made of Manning’s struggle there, as well. His comment that people who believe that theory can, “Stick it where the sun don’t sun,” certainly became more poignant after he didn’t play well in the Nov. 30 Patriots game. If Manning loses this game, his legacy will be forever tarnished by an inability to win with the most prolific weapons. If he wins, it would dramatically further the argument that Manning sits ahead of Brady in the best Quarterback ever discussion.
As talent surrounding Manning seems on an uptick, Brady’s company inversely goes downward. His production in this year’s offense has been nothing if not remarkable. He has seemingly willed his team to win on multiple occasions – including at home against New Orleans and staving off a late Atlanta run early in the season. Whether it’s fair or not, the emergence of the running game – and more specifically, LeGarette Blount – has reduced his role at times. With a former college Quarterback and a lesser version of a former Patriot star as the top two targets, a progressing rushing attack has opened the offense and allowed Brady to do interesting things out of play action. Kenbrell Thompkins and his ability to get behind defenders (as evidenced last Sunday) has been the primary beneficiary. Brady’s legacy will be solidified as the best ever if he wins Sunday and makes his sixth Super Bowl appearance since 2000. Winning it would catapult him into territory behest unknown: a Quarterback who transcends the game.
Lose and Brady will have a tag attached which purports that Brady cannot win without a defense, like he had in 2001, 2003 and 2004. This year, with names like Spikes, Mayo, Wilfork, and Kelly all going down (and Talib spending time hurt) Brady has maybe his least-complete defense ever.
So for these two legends at Quarterback, this game means a lot more than the final score. This could redefine legacies.