Wilmington, MA~ On Sunday, January 18th, the New England Patriots will host the Indianapolis Colts for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLIX.
This matchup was determined by the tale of two legendary quarterbacks whose careers faced a crossroads in last week’s divisional playoff round.
With 10 minutes and change left on the clock Tom Brady and his offense took the field down 31-28. Plenty of time for the three time Super Bowl champion, right?
Not when you consider the opponent.
Brady would have to complete this comeback against the Baltimore Ravens, a team that has played the anti-hero in the eyes of many by fearlessly marching into Gillette Stadium and abruptly ending the season of those, as Terrell Suggs put so eloquently, “Arrogant F****”
Even NBC color commentator Cris Collinsworth bluntly stated the significance of this game to Tom Brady’s career. As Brady drove down the field, Collinsworth noted all the Super Bowl’s he had won earlier in his career, but had failed to deliver a championship in a decade and the two Super Bowl losses in between.
“And here it is, all right in front of him,” Collinsworth ended.
And he seized it.
Tom Brady led his offense on a 10 play, 74-yard drive, capped off by a beautiful 23-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Lafell. The drive proved to be the difference in the game, as the Patriots went on to win 35-31.
As for Peyton Manning’s affair with his former team, well, it was far from pretty.
While the numbers were OK (26-46, 211 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) the true assessment of his poor play comes from the eye test. The Colts plan was to force Manning to throw over the top. All Manning had to do was muster up the arm strength to hit his receivers on straight vertical routes, and he simply could not do it.
Not only was Manning unable to throw the ball deep, he struggled to make intermediate throws as well. After missed throws, wobbly passes, and balls that seemed to float in the Mile High sky for an eternity, Peyton Manning and the Broncos were only able to gathe
r 13 points in a playoff loss to the Colts.
As people may know, but are afraid to point out, Manning struggled greatly toward the end of the 2014 campaign. In his last six games, including the playoff loss, he threw six touchdowns and six Interceptions. Hardly Peyton Manning numbers.
Whether or not those pedestrian numbers had anything to do with his quad injury or not Manning’s future still remains in doubt.
If these past six games were the last of Manning’s career, than it truly was a humiliating way to go out. With a massive decline in his play which resembled that of a beloved aging family dog slowly dying, topped off with a
record 9th one-and-done in the playoffs at the hands of a Colts defense who gave up 23.1 points per game (good for 19th in the NFL), it surely was not a storybook ending.
If this were indeed the end for Manning, it would also put a close on one of the greatest rivalries in NFL history, Brady v. Manning.
The two quarterbacks combine for seven MVP awards, four Super Bowl rings, three Super Bowl MVP’s, 922 touchdown passes, and 122, 949 passing yards.
So, who has the edge?
As of last week, the obvious answer has to be Tom Brady.
If Brady’s three championships to Manning’s one championship, Brady’s 19-8 postseason record to Manning’s 11-13 postseason record, or Brady’s 11-5 advantage in head-to-head meetings are not convincing enough, consider this stat.
As Manning was sent home after his first playoff game for the 9th time in his career, Tom Brady is preparing for his 9th AFC Championship Game.
Despite the overwhelming success Brady has achieved over the course of his career, success that exceeds what Manning has accomplished, there will still be fans and critics alike that will chose Manning over Brady.
One of these critics may include Brady himself.
Behind every “He’s a great player” remark or every “”I’ve been fortunate to play against him” comment Brady has made over the years, lies a killer instinct, a fiery passion that consumes him year in and year out to capture another Lombardi trophy. A unique passion that drives him to win, to be the best.
Even though he has done more with lesser talent, has won more Super Bowls, has won more playoff games, has more game winning drives and more come from behind wins in the postseason, it is feasible to believe that Tom Brady does not consider himself better than Manning.
Why? He has not done all he can to settle the debate once in for all, to put the nail in the coffin.
The killer instinct.
However, a unique storyline has presented itself that would silence any “Manningites” once and for all, and declare Tom Brady the winner of the 14-year heavyweight battle between the two future Hall of Famers.
Manning’s loss on Sunday was much more than just another playoff defeat to add to his legacy; it represented a changing of the guard.
Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning’s successor in Indianapolis, successfully brought his team into Denver and dethroned Peyton Manning as the best quarterback in the AFC. Or did he?
No, he didn’t.
Andrew Luck will have to bring his team across the country, from Denver to Massachusetts, and take on the heavily favored New England Patriots. There, Tom Brady will reaffirm his position as the best quarterback in the AFC, something Manning failed to do.
Then, if Seattle were able to defeat Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game Tom Brady would, yet again, have a chance to complete something Manning could not. Brady would have a shot to decipher the dreaded Seattle defense that embarrassed Manning in last year’s Super Bowl, en route to a 4th Super Bowl victory.
The storyline is starting to fall into place for Tom Brady and his legacy, the question is, will he seize it?
He will take the first steps on Sunday.