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Tom Brady, Peyton Manning bring out best in each other

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Peyton Manning (left) and Tom Brady have faced off 16 times, with Brady and the Patriots winning 11.Getty Images/Getty

DENVER — Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have a season's worth of head-to-head matchups in their storied rivalry — 16 previous showdowns heading into Sunday's AFC Championship game between the Patriots and Broncos, providing fans of both players with a lifetime of memories.

They just might not have kept too many of those memories for themselves.

Not only are Brady and Manning two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, but also two of the most prepared. Both are legendary for arriving to the practice facility before sunrise and leaving after sundown, and their accomplishments were built more on preparation, film study, and an unquenchable desire for perfection than raw athleticism.


And when it comes time for a Brady-Manning showdown, the concentration levels rise, the sense of purpose sets in, and both quarterbacks are acutely aware of how good they have to play that week.

"Any time you face that caliber of player — and there are a lot of great quarterbacks in the NFL [and] Peyton has been one of the best to ever play — you've got to be at your best," Brady said last week. "You can't play anything less than your best and expect to win, because he's going to play well and he's going to have that team playing well."

There's no time to savor the experience, because there's too much work to be done to beat a Peyton Manning-led team, and vice versa. They're too busy studying and preparing to get lost in the hype of their legendary rivalry.

"Heightened concentration" is how former Colts coach Tony Dungy described Manning in a week leading up to a game against the Patriots. "You like to say as a coach that every week is the same, but you know when you've got to be on top of things. Just more energy, more concentration, higher level of practice, and higher concentration in the meetings. Everything would be a little more focused."


Like true rivals, Brady and Manning bring the best out of each other. The result might not work out in one player's favor — like when Manning and the Colts lost, 20-3, to the Patriots in the 2004 playoffs — but it's not for lack of trying.

"Even if it's regular season, it's just different with New England," said Clyde Christensen, Manning's offensive coordinator his last two years in Indianapolis and now the offensive coordinator in Miami. "The concentration and the sharpness goes up, because it just has to."

Brady has the edge, with an 11-5 record plus 4,013 passing yards, 32 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and a 97.1 passer rating in 16 games against Manning-led teams. Manning's stats reflect someone who had to face a Bill Belichick defense 16 times: 4,809 yards and 33 touchdowns, but also 22 interceptions and an 87.4 rating.

It's not as though either player spent more time in the film room or doing extra drills in practice, because they already max out in those areas. But the demands were higher on the practice field and the game plans had to be more intricate, because each player and each team knew the tough challenge that lay ahead.

Former Patriots offensive lineman Damien Woody said Brady tried to keep his emotions in check in the week leading up to a game against Manning.


"We all know when we see that 'Psycho Tom' stuff, but that wouldn't come out until game day," Woody said. "But during the week, everyone, including Tom, was just so focused on the game plan, the things we needed to do in order to beat the opponent.

"You didn't see anything out of the ordinary, like emotional outbursts or anything like that. It was just laser focus, man, just understanding what the game plan is, and you definitely had to be on your P's and Q's, because if you fall behind those Indianapolis Colts, it was going to be a hard, hard deal trying to come back from it.

"I guess you could say there was more emphasis knowing that you're playing against one of the best QBs in the league and a team that scores a lot of points, so you can't afford to slip up."

But then after bottling up his emotions during the week in practice, Brady would nearly explode on game days.

Watch: One last Brady-Manning showdown?

Dan Shaughnessy reflects on the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning rivalry, and what could be the final chapter. (Video by Taylor DeLench and Scott LaPierre)

"These are the money games," said former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. "These are why you play the game."

Brady, added Weis, "has always been a fired-up guy, as you know, those juices get flowing in bigger games, that's just the way life is."

"Tom would almost give you a concussion on game day with all those head butts," Woody added. "Usually quarterbacks are subdued, but I think Brady's like the exception. And when you see him really hyped like that, you just really feed into it."


On the other side, preparing to play the Patriots was never easy, Dungy said, mostly because of Belichick's legendary game-planning.

"I had to learn that what we saw from them was not what we were going to see in the upcoming game," Dungy said. "What they had done in the 2-3 weeks previous didn't really matter, and the things we did well, you're not going to abandon them, but you know you have to have secondary things.

"Our approach was always, 'Let's get through the first quarter, try to be even with them, then we'll have an idea of what they're doing and what we need to do to attack.' "

Dungy said he never heard Manning talk during the week of preparation about wanting to get the better of Brady. Manning had too many other things to worry about when facing the Patriots.

"Certainly there's that competitiveness with Tom, but trust me, [Manning] wasn't thinking about that," Dungy said. "Peyton knew he could go into other games and say, 'I can have a B-plus game and we're going to win.'

"With the Patriots, he knew he had to have a great game for us to win, knowing that Brady is not going to play a B game or a C game, so you've got to be on top of every detail, and you know you're playing against a great defense and a multiple defense, so that adds more to it."

The two are closer friends than you think. In "Brady vs. Manning," a book released last fall by New York Daily News writer Gary Myers, we learned that Manning spoke with Brady frequently when Brady missed the 2008 season with a knee injury, and Brady did the same when Manning missed the 2011 season with a neck injury. Tom Brady Sr. and Archie Manning have never met in person, but they text each other Monday after games.


"One isn't bigger without the other," said former Colts tight end Dallas Clark in the book. "Tom completes Peyton and Peyton completes Tom."

But they also want nothing more than to beat each other, because there's usually something big at stake — a No. 1 playoff seed, a trip to the Super Bowl.

"To play against the best just kind of lights him up," Christensen said of Manning. "It's not another game. You could just kind of tell that everything got awakened, really sharp."

Watch: Bill Belichick on Peyton Manning

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick says there’s no other non-Patriots player that he has “more respect for than Peyton Manning.”

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.