Today's matchup between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots marks the latest installment of the Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady rivalry. They are the two quarterbacks who for many, have defined a generation at their position.
History will remember both kindly, but the question of who will be regarded as the best is a tough one to answer. It rests on three key arguments.
When considering Brady and Manning, it's easy to think of the analogy of an athlete with flawless technique who just beats out a determined novice. It is always said that if he is taught the right technique, the determined novice will go on to beat the athlete every time.
It's easy to determine that Manning is the flawless athlete and his rivalry with Brady is defined by the clash between physical gifts and mental strength. In terms of physical skill set, Manning knows no equal, neither in this generation, nor possibly even any other.
Other than Dan Marino, it's a struggle to recall a quarterback who has combined Manning's speed of thought with his level of arm strength, accuracy and quick release. Manning has always been able to make all the throws the pro game demands.
His intuitive way of reading the game has redefined expectations for quarterbacks as game managers and play callers. So where then does Brady hold the edge against so accomplished a foe?
While Manning established a new standard for the physical skills of his position, Brady has always served as a reminder of the importance of a winning mentality. Every top player has this to some degree, but Brady's always seems to go deeper than most.
It is characterized by the willingness to adapt to whatever is needed in order to win. This might be the clearest difference between Brady and his great rival.
Brady's career production can be defined by the knack for simply taking what a defense gives him. It is a terrific quality in a quarterback and has consistently made Brady a winner.
In this way, Brady stands for those attributes which made Joe Montana arguably the greatest ever, despite not fulfilling the ideal prototype requirements for the pro level.
If only a four-yard completion is available, then Brady will take it. He is prepared to nudge his way steadily down the field, if the situation or the opponent demands that type of drive.
While Brady is set apart from the field by his patience, Manning is the ultimate quick-draw artist. During his prime years with the Indianapolis Colts, teams soon learned that controlling the clock wasn't always relevant against a quarterback who would only take three or four plays to score.
While it's always been exciting, Manning's almost anxious desire to snatch scores quickly, has often been to his detriment in the biggest games. Perhaps the prime example is from the Indianapolis Colts defeat to the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl 44.
The Saints defense used a lot of three-man fronts to get extra defensive backs on the field to counter Manning's arm. This left the run as a viable option and Joseph Addai accordingly ran very well when given the opportunity.
However, Manning couldn't restrain himself for too long. His need to win a game on the strength of his arm eventually undid the Colts and led to Tracy Porter's title-clinching interception return.
Manning, like Marino before him, has always given the impression that he wants yards and points in chunks, no matter what the situation might dictate. His autocratic control of the offense reveals a passer intent on winning the game his way.
Indeed, that's why many of Brady's victories over Manning, have actually been inspired by the New England Patriots' defense. Bill Belichick has always trusted that if his unit plays smart, eventually Manning will lose patience and force a throw into tight coverage, looking for the big play.
That is a foible Brady has rarely been guilty of and one reason why despite the disparity in physical talent, Brady outshines Manning as a clutch quarterback. Excelling in crunch situations is an often difficult quality to describe, but fans and pundits know it when they see it.
Brady has established a niche as the ultimate clinical finisher of his generation. It is a reputation forever defined by game-winning drives in two Super Bowls.
His innate ability to manufacture a play when it counts the most will likely be Brady's legacy. Many a fan over the years has no doubt smiled at seeing their team's defense get the Patriots to 3rd-and-11, seemingly certain to make a stop.
Seconds later, that same fan has likely been cursing aloud as Brady methodically completes the 12-yarder over the middle.
That's a microcosm of Brady at his best and why no matter how much the Patriots are being outplayed, you never really feel safe writing them off. Brady has that kind of aura about surrounding the efficient precision he has used to frustrate every defense in the league.
It's what separates Brady from Manning and explains why he has won three Super Bowls and Manning has only collected one. Detractors of Brady will say that he won with more well-rounded teams, while Manning toiled without the aid of strong defenses and a consistent running game.
However, in the last five years, Brady has taken the Patriots to two Super Bowls, while facing those very same issues.
Manning should have won three during his time with the Colts, but too many times he couldn't lead his team out of the mire when things broke down. Once the smooth running of his offense was interrupted, Manning could not always find alternative ways to stay on course.
That's why Manning will likely mostly be remembered for moments of individual brilliance and those statistic-heavy performances that thrilled fans and pundits. Brady, meanwhile, will simply be remembered as an efficient winner.
The cold realities of sports means history will probably regard that as the ultimate proof that Brady is the best quarterback of his generation.
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