Their head-to-head record is the first statistic people point toward when comparing Tom Brady to Peyton Manning. It’s quick and easy and one-sided. Brady is 10-4 against Manning, including a 2-1 advantage in the playoffs. Brady has won three Super Bowls while Manning has won only one.
Well, there you have it.
Are you happy, Sully?
Let’s hope for your sake that my fellow columnist and – cheap plug alert! – television partner has more ammunition to state his case than head-to-head matchups. I’m guessing Mr. Negative spent Saturday afternoon combing through his arsenal so he could shred Manning as a means of propping up Brady.
I’m not getting dragged into a nasty argument. I’m a big Brady fan. He’s a class act, a terrific quarterback and sure Hall of Famer. People who dislike him are the same people who resent greatness of any opponent. He’s pretty and smart and he wins. I’d even say he’s the second-best quarterback in NFL history, ahead of Joe Montana.
And behind Peyton Manning.
Rather than act as if Brady’s record against Manning doesn’t exist, let’s put things into proper perspective. Win-loss records matter over the course of a season, or a career, but the quarterback doesn’t always determine whether a team wins or loses a particular game. Head-to-head matchups in team sports are a meaningless measure of individual talent.
You can’t make comparisons based on Super Bowls, either. Eli Manning won two Super Bowls, but he doesn’t belong in the same sentence with his brother and Brady when talking about the best.
In truth, Brady should have a heavy advantage over Manning in head-to-head matchups and Super Bowls because the Patriots had better teams than the Colts and Broncos.
Since Brady became a starter in 2001, the Pats’ defense was ranked 10th on average in points allowed while Manning’s teams were 17th, or in the bottom half. Over that span, New England allowed 583 fewer points than Manning’s teams. It’s almost a field goal per game, a huge difference in a league tighter than skinny jeans.
New England historically had better running attacks than Manning’s teams, too. It also helps explain Manning’s 10-11 playoff record, including eight first-round knockouts in which his teams allowed 27.5 points per game. In the 2006 season, when the Colts won the Super Bowl, they allowed only 16.3 points per game in the playoffs.
Brady was the quarterback when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl. He led them on their final drive before Adam Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard field goal for the win. Brady threw for a grand total of 92 yards and a touchdown before their last possession.
Give him credit for marching his team down the field, certainly, but the story of Super Bowl XXXVI was the Patriots containing Marshall Faulk, Ty Law returning an interception 47 yards for a touchdown and Vinatieri making the kick.
I’m not trying to discredit Brady. I’m looking past the numbers and putting things in the right context. The quarterback is the most important player on the field, but he doesn’t always determine the outcome. Manning was asked to do more than Brady, so he had more opportunities for, and a higher probability of, making mistakes.
Several of their head-to-head matchups came down to a few plays, as they often do in the NFL. Was it Manning’s fault, for example, that he was drilled on the final drive of a 24-20 loss in 2007, forcing an interception? Or that Edgerrin James failed on three rushing attempts inside the 2-yard line in the final 40 seconds of a 38-34 loss in 2003?
Or that Pierre Garcon didn’t make a play when James Sanders picked off Manning at the 6-yard line on the Colts’ final possession of a 31-28 defeat in 2010? Was Manning to blame when Wes Welker, of all people, botched a punt this year that contributed to the Patriots’ comeback victory?
Four plays in 14 games. If all four plays go the other way, which was very possible, Manning would have an 8-6 record over Brady in head-to-head matchups.
Brady’s teams won the first six games against Manning’s teams. Since 2005, they’re 4-4 against one another.
In conference championship games, Manning has five touchdowns, five interceptions and a 76.7 passer rating. That’s awful, right? Brady has seven touchdown passes and nine picks and a 74.7 rating in his championship games. But he has won two of three over Manning in the playoffs. Somehow that makes him better?
Manning is looking to become the first quarterback in history to win the Super Bowl with two different teams. Brady’s supporters argue he also has an opportunity to win with two different teams, too. After all, he’s the only player from the Patriots’ first Super Bowl winner who is still on the roster.
The other constant is Bill Belichick, the Patriots’ genius coach and the wild card in this debate. The Patriots were 10-5 with Matt Cassel at quarterback in 2008, when Brady was sidelined for the year. Sully doesn’t like that point, but facts are facts.
Brady has had a great career, but imagine the two quarterbacks if their positions were reversed, if Brady ended up in Indianapolis before landing in Denver. For the sake of argument, imagine Manning working with Belichick over the same stretch.
Manning would have fared better because he is better.