Not a lot of time today, so I’ll go down a well-traveled road: Brady vs. Manning.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Peyton Manning will finish his career with superior passing stats. He’s played in a pass-first offense his entire career, and he plays in a dome. I’m not making excuses for Brady here; I am, as always, just saying. Brady will probably finish with better winning stats, depending on how you define it. The three Super Bowls, the 16-0 season, the highest all-time winning percentage—they’re all his.
These guys entered the league around the same time and have matching career arcs, so they’re natural to compare more than, say, either one of them and Ben Roethlisberger (who came later), Donovan McNabb (who didn’t reach as high), Drew Brees (late bloomer) and the newer crop of Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and Matt Ryan (two of whom didn’t actually postdate Ben, but whose success did). Part of that contrast, for a while, were their styles: Manning ran the Blue Angels-like airshow, while Brady ran the crafty, surgical Patriots offense. Before Randy Moss arrived, the Patriots weren’t known as a team to blow out their opponents. They didn’t always win big, but they always won.
Then 2007 hit, and Brady was doing his Manning impression. He wiped Manning’s 49 touchdown record from the books in a game ya boy was at (and at which he was egged for wearing a Welker jersey), and led the Pats to within 90 seconds of the Super Bowl title. Then he got hurt eight minutes into the following season, left to watch his backup lead the Patriots’ spread offense to a respectable 11-5 record, two wins better than near Super Bowl Champions Arizona Cardinals.
Brady returned this year against the Buffalo Bills hoping to spread-offense them into submission, and the Pats won only because they got bailed out by a (typical?) Bills error (see number four here). Then they lost to the Jets, who blitzed dropback Brady into submission, and the Pats went back to the drawing board. The new Pats gameplan would look a lot like the one that won them three Super Bowls: more running, more play-action, a greater mandate to eat time away and set up big plays rather than go for them on every down. It’s something of a Classic Brady offense, even if it’s more Classic Belichick scheming: use what you’ve got. The Patriots are short on wide receivers, so this is the best plan for them.
At 6-2, the plan seems to be working. Now we’ll see how the contrast in styles with Manning’s Colts works this year. No longer do Brady and Manning look like the same quarterback, as they did in 2007. Brady’s back to being The Guy That Wins and Manning’s brought his aerial attack to another level. The contrast in styles is back, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s Pats/Colts, and it’s as big as ever.