|Brady-Manning is headline attraction in league's hottest rivalry|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 01 November 2007 12:04|
The feature attraction in this week's showdown pits Brady, on pace to shatter the league's single-season records for touchdown passes and passer rating, versus Manning, the man he's chasing.
It's the personal duel of the season.
``As a quarterback, you're always trying to get into that rhythm, that zone, whatever you want to call it,'' Manning said. ``You are throwing passes before they're coming out of their breaks, you anticipate where they're going to be. Every play that is called, you kind of feel it's going to work, it's going to be a touchdown.''
Few rivalries have so much intensity and even fewer conjure up such strongly debated headliners.
Manning and Brady both have Super Bowl wins, Super Bowl MVP awards and have become playoff fixtures. They've been to the Pro Bowl together and grown accustomed to these personal battles that always seem to come twice a year. They pride themselves on preparation and execution.
While past arguments tended to focus on the glaring omissions from their resumes - Manning had the impressive numbers and awards but no championships, while Brady had the titles but numbers that paled in comparison - the league's top two quarterbacks now seem content in reversed roles.
Manning's more-balanced offense leads the league in touchdowns rushing (12) this season, while Brady has relied more on his new receiving corps to catch short passes and break off long runs.
Brady, the three-time Super Bowl winner, is throwing touchdowns with as much regularity as a pitcher throwing fastballs. Through eight games, he has 30 TD passes, 19 short of Manning's record, and a 136.2 passer rating, well ahead of Manning's best of 121.1.
Manning won his first Super Bowl title in February, two weeks after masterfully leading Indianapolis back from a 15-point halftime deficit to beat Brady's Patriots.
Yet it's these games some believe will define their careers.
Brady enters Sunday holding a 6-3 edge over Manning, although Manning has won the last three, and this year's battle includes the right to remain undefeated. Manning's Colts are 7-0, Brady's Patriots 8-0, with the winner taking the inside track for home-field advantage in the playoffs.
A victory against his old nemesis would also give Manning his 100th career victory.
But as heated as this rivalry has become, Manning and Brady won't trade barbs.
``What's not to be impressed by?'' Brady said. ``He (Manning) does everything well. He throws the short stuff, he throws the deep stuff, he's a leader. I mean, once again, he's a clutch performer. He's always in command of the team and the offense. Um ... he's a great actor. He can do it all.''
Usually, seeing the league's two best quarterbacks on the same field is a rarity.
In the case of Manning and Brady, this marks the eighth time they've faced each other since 2003. Strangely, the two quarterbacks who seem so perfect against every other have been defined more by mistakes in this series.
In the 2003 AFC title game, Manning's four interceptions were the difference in a 24-14 New England victory. The next year, in a divisional round game, Manning finished with his second-lowest passer rating of the season, 69.3, in a 20-3 loss.
Last year, Brady's four interceptions did in the Patriots in a 27-20 defeat at Foxborough, Mass., a loss that eventually gave Indianapolis home-field advantage in the playoffs and set up one of the most memorable moments of Manning's career: the greatest comeback in conference championship game history.
Brady's only interception of the game sealed Indy's victory.
But forcing miscues is the most difficult challenge these defenses have.
``I think Peyton does a good job of getting the ball out of there and getting it to the guy that's open,'' Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel said. ``He understands, I think, every time he takes a snap where the rush is coming from and how much time he has and where he needs to go with the football. He'd rather take 5 yards than a sack.''
The Colts see the same traits in Brady.
``I think Brady does a great job of knowing where to go and how to get away from the rush,'' Indy defensive end Dwight Freeney said. ``They have a great scheme where he likes to get rid of the ball quick, especially against us.''
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, one of two players in Sunday's game who has been teammates of both quarterbacks - along with Colts DT Dan Klecko - describes the similarities a different way. He thinks it's more about leadership and study habits.
``I think you're very, very lucky to have either one on your team,'' said Vinatieri, the Pats' former Super Bowl hero. ``What both bring are leadership and preparation values. They're both so particular about preparation and not just with them, but every one around them.''
How those intangibles will affect Sunday's game may never be known to those outside the locker room. Either way, Brady vs. Manning is still the league's marquee matchup.
``I think you are seeing two very professional guys at the top of their game and that are in great systems that take advantage of what they can do,'' Colts coach Tony Dungy said. ``I think the country gets to see the best of both guys.''