FOXBORO, Mass. — The differences between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning even were evident in their postgame press conferences Sunday.
Giving what amounted to a victory speech in the bowels of Gillette Stadium, Brady donned a brown wool coat and smiled comfortably through his vanilla breakdown of the New England Patriots’ 43-21 win over the Denver Broncos. Manning, regally buttoned up in a blue suit and orange tie, said all the right things but felt ill at ease, as one would expect.
“I’ve got to play better, that’s pretty plain and simple,” Manning said through pursed lips. “Your quarterback stinks, usually you’re not going to win many games.”
As usual when the two greatest quarterbacks of their era face off, the story wasn’t about only one game. There are 16 head-to-head meetings to analyze now, 11 of which have ended in victory for Brady and the Patriots.
Manning insists he doesn’t pay attention to the narrative.
“This is 2014,” he said. “I kind of take it one year at a time, one game at a time.”
But when this one year, this one game, was one in which the Broncos were supposed to decisively own the upper hand, the narrative is reinforced.
One great quarterback looked poised and at ease, in the shotgun and at the podium. The other great quarterback looked tightly wound and under pressure, whether scrambling from the rush or deflecting questions about another loss to his nemesis.
“It’s hard to compare anybody, that’s how I always feel,” Brady said, smoothly. “He’s had an incredible career. Football has changed since I got in the league. He’s always set a really high bar for how to play. I’ve tried to do the same through my efforts with the team.”
Statistically, Manning wasn’t blown out, despite the lopsided score. Brady finished 33-of-53 passing for 333 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. Manning threw for 438 yards on 34-of-57 passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Yet that’s always sort of been the point. However well he plays individually in big games, Manning more often than not has come out on the wrong side of the stat that matters: the final score.
So, using Manning’s one-season, one-game criteria, within the confines of this season, now everything has changed. A month ago, the Patriots were a mess and a lot of people (who now will claim otherwise) were seriously discussing if it was time to trade Brady. A week ago, the Broncos were the class of the NFL and seemed to have it all figured out.
Now it’s fair to wonder whether the Patriots are the best team in the NFL, or at least the AFC. Now this one game, in this one season, has landed a decisive blow for Brady’s side in the who-is-better debate. There were no extenuating circumstances to explain away Manning’s struggles Sunday. Even the brutal weather conditions forecast failed to materialize. It was just a straight-up butt-whupping.
Manning knew it — “I stunk,” he said. His admission was jarring to those around the Broncos, who have become accustomed to the sweet smell of excellence over Manning’s three years in Denver.
“I was talking to (Broncos color announcer) Dave Logan, and he said, ‘I’ve never heard you say you stink before,’ ” Manning shrugged. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t usually stink.’ ”
Usually, he doesn’t, but against Brady and the Patriots, he often has. And with every ugly loss like Sunday’s, whatever it is that ties Manning in knots against Brady gets wound a little tighter, and the narrative gets a little harder to dispute.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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