Sunday, December 21, 2014

NFL Top 10: Brady-Manning Games

The 2015 AFC playoffs are almost here and we may yet again see Tom Brady and Peyton Manning square off.   Given how much energy this rivalry has generated it ranks as something the league really has never seen before - a rivalry driven exclusively by the showdown of the two quarterbacks.   Team rivalries and coaching rivalries have been many a chapter in NFL history but this rivalry may top them all.   

In the format of NFL NETWORK'S series NFL Top 10, we look back at the top ten games of the Brady-Manning rivalry -


#10: THE 2001 DEBUT - Tom Brady had been a low-round draft pick who'd risen up the New England Patriots depth chart almost entirely unnoticed; in Week 3 of 2001 he took over as starter after the near-fatal chest injury absorbed by Drew Bledsoe.   The Indianapolis Colts were division rivals of the Patriots and Peyton Manning was in his fourth season; he had already won 28 games and made two ill-fated playoff trips; Manning's Colts had already crushed the New York Jets and Buffalo by a combined score of 87-50 entering this game.

It didn't matter.   Bryan Cox's savage hit on receiver Jerome Pathon surged throughout the Colts lineup and suddenly they were playing scared.   Otis Smith and Ty Law ran back Manning interceptions for touchdowns; trailing 23-7 the floor collapsed on the Colts in the fourth quarter as the Patriots nailed down 21 points for the ultimate 44-13 win.  Brady put up 168 passing yards in a modest start while five Patriots players combined for 177 rushing yards. 

A month later at the RCA Dome Brady unleashed a more aggressive quarterbacking attack; he threw three touchdowns while receiver David Patten threw a 60-yard bomb, caught a 91-score, and ran in a touchdown as the Patriots absorbed nearly 500 Indianapolis yards to win 38-17.   Peyton Manning managed only one touchdown as Colts GM Bill Polian was overheard in the press box demanding his players break bones of Patriots players.

It was just the beginning.


#9: THE GOALLINE STAND, 2003 -  Entering Week 13 of the 2003 season the Colts had become a superpower in the race for the playoffs after exploding to a history-making comeback win over the Tampa Bay Bucs in Week 5; the Patriots were also in the race after a slugfest of a win over the Tennessee Titans in Week 5 (the Titans for their part were neck-and-neck with both at 9-2) and at the RCA Dome at the end of November the Patriots and Colts met for the first time since divisional realignment put the Colts into the now-second-year AFC South.  

It began as another Patriots rout; Tom Brady led three drives putting up 17 points.   The Colts scored 10 points before Bethel Johnson ran back a 92-yard kick at the end of the first half.   The game then changed after Brady led another touchdown drive for a 31-10 lead; two interceptions and three Manning touchdowns put the game 31-31; another monster Johnson kick return led to a Brady touchdown to Deion Branch; a Kevin Faulk fumble led to a Colts field goal, then in the final minutes a bad shank of a punt by Ken Walter put the ball around the 50 and Manning whipped the Colts to the Patriots 2, but there two runs and a forlorn toss led to a 4th and 1 run by Edgerrin James blown up for a loss of two yards and a 38-34 Patriots win.   Willie McGinest played a key role; "I saw (Manning) tap his butt" thus signalling a run play he helped blow up.  


- The NFL inaugurated Thursday Night Football in 2004 by scheduling the Colts at Foxboro in Week 1.   Manning led the Colts to a 17-13 halftime lead, but then Brady erupted to put the Patriots up 27-17; a late Colts touchdown was followed by a final drive, but on 3rd down McGinest sacked Manning, setting up a 48-yard field goal try by Mike Vanderjagt, who hadn't missed in over 40 consecutive tries and taunted the Patriots sideline by rubbing his fingers in a "money" gesture - except he wasn't money, shanking the kick for the 27-24 Patriots win.


#7: THE PLAYOFFS, 2003 AND 2004 - The Colts won the AFC South title in 2003 and 2004 and faced the Patriots in snowy Foxboro both times.   In 2003 the Patriots edged the Titans 17-14 as Steve McNair, co-MVP with Manning that year, lived up to being MVP in a taut game where he barely came short on a pass to Drew Bennett.   Manning meanwhile had exploded to his first two playoff wins, but in the AFC Championship Game he was not in McNair's playoff class as he was intercepted four times.   The Patriots for their part didn't play particularly well, forced into five Adam Vinatieri field goals and eventually grinding out a 24-14 win and path to Superbowl XXXVIII against the upstart Carolina Panthers.

In 2004 Manning was back, but this time the Patriots unleashed a powerful run game led by Corey Dillon, the former Bengal.   Dillon and Kevin Faulk combined for 200 rushing yards and ate up so much clock it gave Manning indigestion; his endzone interception on the final play capped off a hideous playoff failure, 20-3, as Brady was on his way to another Superbowl.  


#6: PEYTON'S BREAKTHROUGH, 2005 - 2005 was mainly a forgettable season for the Patriots as they limped into November 7's Monday Night Football match at 4-3 with the Colts at 7-0.   Brady managed three touchdowns but Manning was unstoppable rolling to 40 points and his first win over the Patriots since 2000, and first ever win at Foxboro.   This win signalled a permanent change in the rivalry, as Manning would never again be New England's patsy.


-  Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth, Wes Welker, and Adalius Thomas were the key free agent pickups as the Patriots made the most determined run to a Superbowl ever seen, exploding to put up over 34 points per game.  The Patriots were 8-0 and the Colts 7-0 as they entered November at the RCA Dome.   The game became one of the highest-rated broadcasts in CBS history as Randy Moss caught a short touchdown but the Colts clawed to a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter.   Down by two scores, Brady finally got his offense going on a 60-yard bomb to Moss to the Colts 3, and a third-down touchdown to Welker.   After forcing a Colts punt the Patriots raced to the go-ahead touchdown, on a pass to Moss, a 40-yard strike to Stallworth, and the touchdown to Kevin Faulk.   Manning was then strip-sacked by former RCA Dome popcorn vendor Roosevelt Colvin, a longtime nemesis of Manning from his Chicago Bears days.   Brady converted the needed first down and the Patriots had broken the Colts' unbeaten streak, 24-20.


#4: FOURTH AND TWO, 2009
- The Colts were unbeaten on November 15, 2009 when they hosted the Patriots, and the game started as a Patriots runaway as Brady and Manning combined for four touchdowns and a 24-14 Patriots lead; a goalline fumble by embattled running back Laurence Maroney wiped out a third-quarter Patriots touchdown, and Moss' catch put the Pats up 31-14 entering the fourth quarter.   But Manning connected with Pierre Garcon and in the final three minutes the Patriots led 34-28 but were pinned at their own 28 needing two more yards; Bill Belichick went for the fourth down conversion and a pass to Kevin Faulk appeared to break the first down plane but was ruled short by referee Scott Green.   When Manning tossed the winning touchdown in the final seconds the media storm against Belichick was enormous like the league hadn't seen since 1995's fourth down failure by the Cowboys against the Eagles.  


- In 2010 the Colts traveled to Foxboro for the first time since 2006 and were 6-3 with the Patriots 7-2.   The Patriots had changed their offense with Randy Moss traded after Week 4 and Deion Branch returned after four seasons in Seattle; they had also drafted two boffo tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.   The game on November 21 began with the pattern that had developed from 2003 - once again the Patriots raced to a big lead, taking a 31-14 lead in the fourth quarter.   And once again Manning roared back, this time with two touchdowns to Blair White in the fourth.   Once again the Patriots couldn't put Manning away and Peyton had the ball in the final minutes driving remorselessly.

But this time a pass to the Patriots 6-yard line was intercepted by James Sanders, and the Patriots won 31-28.   The game began a three-game losing streak for the Colts, and amid a 38-35 overtime loss to the Cowboys radioman Bob Lamey was heard to blast Peyton's declining play.   Following a wildcard round bow-out to the NY Jets, neck surgery for Manning wound up ending his career at the Colts.  


BEST OF THE REST: - After Manning left the Colts, Tom Brady faced heralded youngster Andrew Luck in 2012 and again in the 2013 playoffs; the results were disturbingly reminiscent of days of yore for the Colts; in 2012 two interceptions were turned into Patriots touchdowns and New England won 59-24.   In the 2013 playoffs LeGarrette Blount led an unprecedented Patriots rushing attack while Luck was intercepted four times in a 43-22 Patriots win.

Before Manning faced Brady, he squared off against Drew Bledsoe for three seasons.   In September 1999 at Foxboro Manning exploded to three touchdowns and an Edgerrin James rushing score, but Bledsoe erased Manning's 28-7 lead on three unanswered touchdowns (including the final two career scoring catches for tight end Ben Coates).   James' late fumble set up the winning field goal by Adam Vinatieri and the 31-28 Patriots win.  

Blowing a 21-point lead in Foxboro was a harbinger of another Manning disaster fourteen years later.......

- Manning was signed by the Denver Broncos in 2012 and led Denver to a 13-3 season.   In 2013 on Sunday Night Football the Patriots hosted the Broncos a year after defeating Manning 31-21 and now fresh off a controversial loss to the Carolina Panthers.   The first half was a disaster for the Patriots, as three fumbles and a failed fourth-down attempt led to a Von Miller touchdown, a Manning score, and a 24-0 Broncos lead.  

But facing cold winds Tom Brady put on a history-making performance, exploding to three touchdowns, a fourth touchdown drive, and a Stephen Gostkowski field goal, all aided as the Patriots defense bullied the Broncos into three fumbles and a Manning interception.   The Patriots led 31-24 before a late Manning touchdown tied the game.  In overtime (a first for the rivalry) the Patriots elected to defend the endzone where the winds were blowing toward the Broncos instead of take the initial possession, a decision that puzzled observors, but after an exchange of three punts the Patriots at the very least didn't look foolish; instead on their second punt former Patriot Wes Welker hesitated on the kick and the ball bounced off a teammate and was grabbed by the Patriots at the Broncos 12-yard line.   The Broncos called two timeouts and the two-minute warning for overtime passed before Gostkowski drilled the winning field goal, 34-31.   It was the largest comeback win in Patriots history, surpassing 1984's comeback win over the Seahawks down 23-0 to win 38-23.   It also cemented Brady's repuation as a superior cold-weather quarterback.  


BEST OF THE REST: In 2014 Manning and Brady met for the sixteenth time and the Patriots authored their most lopsided win over Manning (43-21) since 2001. Brady threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns while Manning was intercepted twice and stopped on fourth down four times, three of them in the fourth quarter. 


The Number One Brady-Manning Game Of All - THE 2006 AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME - It will almost certainly be cited as the greatest by all retrospectives on their careers.   The showdown for Superbowl XLI was a shocker that still permeates both New England and Indianapolis.   The Colts had shot down the Chiefs and Ravens while the Patriots upended the Jets and Chargers for this meeting at the RCA Dome, and the Patriots once again raced to a big lead; when Asante Samuel intercepted Manning and scored, the Patriots led 21-3, but Manning exploded the Colts to tie the game.   After swapping touchdowns and field goals the Patriots led 34-31 but needing a goalline stand in the final minute, they didn't get it; after Joseph Addai's touchdown Brady was intercepted and the Colts had won 38-34, on their way to only the second Superbowl win in their history and first as an Indianapolis team.  

2013's AFC Championship Game turned out to be another Manning triumph, his eighth in 22 career games against the Patriots, and fifth in fifteen meetings with Tom Brady.   It was anything but an end; Brady and the Patriots authored their worst rout of Manning since 2001 in 2014's 43-21 slaughter at Foxboro; the win was another on Brady's path to his history-making Superbowl XLIX triumph.   The rivalry thus awaits the 2015 season at Mile High.

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