FOXBOROUGH — The NFL is billing this Sunday’s matchup as Brady-Manning XVI, bestowing upon the meeting the Roman numerals it generally reserves for Super Bowls.
Seeing two of the greatest quarterbacks ever in the same game is undoubtedly appealing, and traditionally has produced high ratings for whichever network gets to broadcast it (in this case, CBS).
But historically, Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning hasn’t been much of a contest, at least not in the regular season: Brady owns an 8-3 record against Manning’s Colts and Broncos, a competition that dates to 2001 — in fact, Brady is the only quarterback to get his first-ever win with Manning as the opposing QB.
Some of the advantage for Brady likely is because he’s had one of the best defensive coaches in the game on his side in Bill Belichick. Manning has, however, been on the winning side when it matters most, as his team won the last two times it faced Brady’s Patriots in the playoffs.
The real problem for Brady Sunday at Gillette Stadium might not be Manning – after all, as he’d tell you, they aren’t on the field at the same time – but simply the Broncos.
In his career as a starter, while the Broncos have had three head coaches and five starting quarterbacks, Denver remains the one team Brady can’t consistently beat: he is 4-5 in the regular season against the Broncos and 1-2 in the postseason.
Tom Brady vs. Broncos: Regular season
|Oct. 28, 2001||A||38||25||203||2||4||L||31-20|
|Oct. 27, 2002||H||29||15||130||1||0||L||24-16|
|Nov. 3, 2003||A||35||20||350||3||1||W||30-26|
|Oct. 16, 2005||A||46||24||299||1||0||L||28-20|
|Sept. 24, 2006||H||55||31||320||1||0||L||17-7|
|Oct. 11, 2009||A||33||19||215||2||0||L||20-17 (OT)|
|Dec. 18, 2011||A||34||23||320||2||0||W||41-23|
|Oct. 7, 2012||H||31||23||223||1||0||W||31-21|
|Nov. 24, 2013||H||50||34||344||3||0||W||34-31 (OT)|
Denver handed the Brady/Belichick combo their first postseason loss, after the 2005 season, and with an entirely new regime, the Broncos won again last January in the AFC title game.
The Patriots have won their last three regular-season meetings against the Broncos, though it took the biggest comeback in franchise history to get that done last year.
With Denver coming to town with just one loss and looking like the best team in the NFL, it’s no sure thing that Brady will even his regular-season record vs. the Broncos this Sunday.
In the area that draws nearly all of Brady’s attention, the defense, Denver spent richly this offseason, adding cornerback Aqib Talib, hard-hitting safety T.J. Ward, and veteran pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware. Add in Von Miller, who missed a significant chunk of last season to suspension, and a healthy Chris Harris, who has played well despite tearing his ACL at the start of the postseason last year, and it’s a much-improved group.
“They’ve got quite a few new players on their defense from when we played them, even in the championship game,” Brady said. “There might be seven or eight new guys that are out there. We’ve played against [defensive coordinator Jack] Del Rio and his defenses for quite a while. I think he’s a great coach. He always has some type of game plan. He keeps it moving pretty good.
“There are a lot of things to be prepared for. We’ve had a lot of opportunities over the last few years. There are a lot of plays to evaluate. But once again, it’s a new team this year, so you’re trying to balance that with the things they’re doing this year. They’ve got a lot of strengths.”
Brady certainly has played well against Del Rio, the Broncos’ coordinator since 2012 and head coach in Jacksonville from 2003-11. In eight games, including three in the playoffs, he’s 7-1 against the coach, completing 71.4 percent of his passes for 2,051 yards, with 18 touchdowns. Brady never has thrown an interception against a Del Rio defense, though he’s been sacked at least once in every game but one.
Tom Brady vs. Broncos: Playoffs
|Jan. 14, 2006||A||36||20||341||1||2||L||27-13|
|Jan. 14, 2012||H||34||26||365||6||1||W||45-10|
|Jan. 19, 2014||A||38||24||277||1||0||L||26-16|
So maybe in a battle of wits, Brady gets the edge. But if we’re talking about talent, Denver has quite a bit this year, especially in Miller and Ware, who have combined for 16 sacks and 30 quarterback hits already.
“They’re pretty spectacular,” Brady said of that duo. “I think one’s got nine sacks [Miller] and one’s got seven [Ware]. They just tee off on the quarterback.
“They’ve got every move. They’ve got the speed, speed-to-power, they’ve got the spin moves, they run the lanes. It’s a big challenge for our offensive line. We’ve faced some good D-lines this year, so hopefully that’s prepared us a little bit. But this is a good group, and Von looks like he’s playing exceptional. He’s been one of the great players in the league since he’s been here.
“This week will be no different, so we’ve got to prepare for his best, and we’ve faced it, and we’re going to have to go out and execute really well against it.”
Brady-Manning is the marquee matchup, but Brady-Denver is the real competition.