Why Peyton Manning's 2004 Was Better Than Tom Brady's 2007: Roundtable Exclusive
Cody Swartz did an excellent job of addressing the issue in his piece that won Article of the Day titled An Unbiased Fan’s Opinion: Peyton Manning in 2004 or Tom Brady in 2007?
Although I felt that his article did a tremendous job in analyzing the various aspects of each quarterback’s season, I respectfully disagreed with his eventual opinion being that Tom Brady had the better season in 2007.
As a result, Eric and I have once again gotten together to create the Indianapolis Colts’ third round-table article dedicated to covering different aspects of this comparison in an effort to reach a more accurate conclusion.
That conclusion being that it was actually Peyton Manning in 2004 who had a more impressive season than Tom Brady did in 2007.
These are the statistics produced by both quarterbacks during their best seasons...
Peyton Manning (2004): 336 of 497 for 4,557 yards, 49 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Quarterback Rating: 121.1
Tom Brady (2007): 398 of 578 for 4,806 yards, 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Quarterback Rating: 117.2.
To begin our analysis, we are going to take a look at the various aspects of team support that both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady received in each of their respective MVP seasons.
This is what Eric had to say about Peyton Manning’s protection in 2004…
“I don't think Manning is given enough credit for taking significantly fewer sacks than Brady. Manning did not play with a single offensive lineman selected the Pro Bowl in 2004 (Tarik Glenn was an alternate) where Tom Brady played with three offensive linemen who were selected to the Pro Bowl in 2007 on the first ballot.
I won't complain about Manning's protection in 2004, but Brady's was almost disgusting in how much time he had to throw. Manning is the least sacked quarterback most seasons because of how good he is at getting rid of the ball.
When adjusting for down, distance, and pass rush, Manning even came out as the least sacked quarterback in terms of adjusted sack rate in 2008 despite starting the season with three and even four starting offensive linemen out injured, and center Jeff Saturday missing games in two different stretches of the season.
You have to give him credit for that. Meanwhile, I saw three of Brady's four lost fumbles in 2007 and all three of those were situations where he simply held onto the ball way too long.”
I feel that Eric made a very valid point. No one is trying to say that Peyton Manning had poor protection in 2004, but it appears quite obvious that Tom Brady was getting substantially better protection in 2007.
It’s only logical to look at the statistics produced by both players under these circumstances. Obviously, Manning would have put up even bigger numbers had he played with the protection that Brady had in 2007.
Another issue Eric and I both had is the manner in which many have judged what each quarterback had done with their receiving talent. Eric went into further detail…
“Why is Tom Brady given more credit for the development of Randy Moss and Wes Welker in 2007 than Manning is given for the development of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Brandon Stokley in 2004?
Wes Welker should be easy enough to explain just by looking at his almost identical numbers in 2008 with 7th round draft selection Matt Cassel who hadn't started a single game since high school.
While Randy Moss never caught 23 touchdowns before, he did have more receiving yards and more receptions in other seasons with other quarterbacks.
In fact, Moss has already been on the highest scoring offense of all time (in 1998 with Randal Cunningham) and was already part of the single season passing touchdown record chase (in 2004 with Daunte Culpepper).
What did Brandon Stokley or Marvin Harrison accomplish in their careers before playing with Peyton Manning? How has Peyton Manning performed without, and in spite of, Marvin Harrison in 2007 and 2008?
The answer being that he has been almost just as productive where Tom Brady had been less productive with the absence of Randy Moss in prior seasons.
If who made the most of their weapons is intended to mean who raised the level of play in their weapons the most, as opposed to who had weapons that played the best, I think that answer is obviously Peyton Manning.
Randy Moss had a very impressive season in 2007, but that still begs the question of whether it was Tom Brady who helped Moss look incredible or the other way around?
Moss had more yards and more receptions in 2003 with Dante Culpepper as well as a pretty impressive 17 touchdowns. He even had 17 touchdowns as a rookie in 1998 with an over the hill Randall Cunningham who didn't even start every game that year.
Brady has never produced anything remotely close to what he did during his 2007 season.
I also have to wonder how much of a difference it would have made if Randy Moss was not allowed to get away with pushing off in the end zone left and right before Bill Polian's complaint forced the refs to pay closer attention to the issue midway through the season.
Brady only threw for five or more touchdowns once after that point, and that was against the Bills in a game where Randy Moss once again got away with pushing off.
It's pretty clear to me that Randy Moss created the 2007 Tom Brady more than the other way around. Certainly, Tom Brady didn't make Randy Moss 6'4", make him leap like a frog, or make him play the ball so insanely well in the air.
So while I agree that Moss had a tremendous 2007 season, I don't think it is fair to be giving Brady more credit for it when the reality is he should be receiving less credit because of it.
It's not like it was the first time a quarterback has had a career season because of Randy Moss. If you want to assign credit for a tandem's success, you have to look for the guy who remains consistent with others and the guy who suddenly got better when the tandem formed.
Between Moss and Brady, Moss is the consistent one.
Between Manning and Harrison, Manning is the consistent one. It's just a matter of looking at their career numbers. Harrison was less productive without Manning and Manning has remained virtually just as productive without Harrison.
It's not about whose weapons did better, it's about who deserves more of the credit for what their weapons did. Imagine Manning's 2004 season with Randy Moss plucking balls out of the sky?”
I agree with Eric on this point as well.
People are all too quick to try to credit Brady with Moss’ development and I find that assumption to be absurd. I’m not saying that Randy Moss didn't benefit from playing with such a good quarterback, but the fact is that he has played exceptionally well with virtually every quarterback prior to his arrival in New England.
I often hear people use Moss’ performance in Oakland as some sort of explanation to indicate that Tom Brady resurrected his career. It’s funny how people love to put such faith in that belief but refuse to take a closer look at the details.
Randy Moss played with the Oakland Raiders in 2005 and 2006. Both seasons, he was injured for a great percentage of the time. NFL.com indicates that Moss started 15 out of the 16 games in 2005, but fails to mention that he was used mostly as a decoy for the majority of those games.
Before Moss injured his hamstring, he was on pace to gain over 1,800 receiving yards.
If you look back to the specific statistics from the majority of those games, you’ll see that Moss had one, two, and three-reception games, not because he lost the same talent that enabled him to average over 100 yards per game in prior weeks, but because he was playing hurt with an injured hamstring.
Despite being injured for that long, he still managed to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark and did so with Kerry Collins at quarterback.
In 2006, Moss spent most of the season the bench again due to injury. People questioned Moss’ desire to play and they may have been right in doing so. Still, Randy Moss has never had an issue when playing with a team that gives him a chance to win games.
Naturally, he was a perfect fit in New England. Yet people fail to recognize that Randy Moss had been one of the most dominating players for many years prior to his arrival in New England.
Tom Brady had not been a dominating statistical force prior to playing with Randy Moss.
Moss’ 23 touchdown receptions were a career-high, but only because the Patriots were forcing him the ball. He would have been able to score just as many touchdowns in 1998 and 2003 had his quarterback made it a personal goal to feed him the ball in order to put up more touchdown passes.
Tom Brady spent extra time playing in games during the 2007 season, something that Peyton Manning did not do in 2004.
Eric went into even more detail regarding the amount of playing time each quarterback had during their respective seasons…
“All it takes is one touchdown to make the difference in the record.
You can't take away the fact that it took Brady an extra game and about two and a half games worth of extra pass attempts to break the record by just one touchdown pass. If Manning was gunning for the record back in 2004, he would have obliterated it.
Manning didn't even start his spree until after it became clear to him that it was the only way the Colts were going to win football games.
He still holds the record for consecutive four or more touchdown games with five straight games in the middle of the year. After that, Manning clearly slowed down the touchdown spree despite still throwing very well during that stretch.
Peyton even went on record as saying he'd probably rather tie the record than break it out of respect for his hero Dan Marino, and he didn't break it until doing so was necessary to comeback and beat the Chargers in Week 16.
Late in the season, against the Ravens, Manning had the chance to tie the record against the Ravens. He had the ball on the Ravens four yard line with a minute to go. He didn't throw a single pass though and just knelt to run out the clock.
Compare that to how Tom Brady played against the Dolphins in Week 16 of the 2007 season. He was throwing bombs left and right to Moss in double and triple coverage even though Laurence Maroney was tearing a hole through the league's worst rated run defense.
In fact, when the Patriots got close to the goal line (first and goal from the one) on a drive built by a Maroney 51-yard run, Brady didn't even give Maroney a single crack at the goal line.
Brady wound up with three second half turnovers in what should have been a blowout but actually became somewhat of a competitive game, with Randy Moss having to commit offensive pass interference twice to prevent even more Brady-turnovers.”
Again, Eric makes a very valid point.
Tom Brady was clearly trying to break the record from day one in 2007.
Many people criticize what the Patriots did in 2007 by running up the score. The fact is that this is the National Football League, and if a team has the ability to do something like that, then it is their right.
In retrospect, going for it on fourth down when your already ahead by more then 40 points (like Brady did against Washington) is completely useless, unless, of course, you desire to send some sort of message and inflate your statistics in the process.
I’m not saying that Tom Brady didn’t have the right to try to throw those extra touchdown passes, but you have to understand that he was playing with a completely different attitude than Peyton Manning was in 2004.
As Eric illustrated, Manning had the kind of attitude to kneel the ball when in goal-range at the end of the fourth quarter against Baltimore because he realized there was nothing more to play for, his team had won the game.
That is a very different attitude from what Brady did by trying to force Randy Moss the football against a win-less Dolphins team when the game was already well at hand. My point being, Peyton Manning could have easily thrown many more touchdown passes had he played with the same kind of attitude that Brady did.
Manning’s restraint does not symbolize any lack of ability, it represents being humble to your opponents and only having the desire to break the record if it comes by playing the game of football in a natural state.
Manning’s record-breaking touchdown pass to Brandon Stokely came during the course of a 15-point comeback that helped secure the Colts 2004 playoff position.
Tom Brady’s record-breaking touchdown pass came in a meaningless game, the second game in which he decided to play despite the fact that the Patriots had already secured home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Now, we must also consider the support each quarterback had in terms of defensive backing.
The 2004 Indianapolis Colts ranked 19th in the NFL by allowing 21.9 points per game. The 2007 New England Patriots ranked fourth in the NFL by allowing 17.1 points per game. The differential in defensive support most certainly played a vital factor in the production of each quarterback.
If you want to get into even more detail, the Colts' defense ranked 29th in terms of total yards allowed, 26th on third down, and their special teams gave the Colts' offense the 18th best position in the league that year.
The Patriots defense in 2007 was ranked fourth in terms of yards allowed, fourth on third down, and their special teams gave the Patriots the seventh best field-position in the league.
It’s common sense; the more support your quarterback has on defense, the less pressure he plays under. The 2004 Indianapolis Colts were a team that often needed Peyton Manning to put up astronomical numbers for them to have any chance of winning.
The 2007 New England Patriots blew teams out of the water and had so much defensive support that they would have won many of their games even if their offense was only half as productive.
A perfect example of the Colts' reliance on Manning’s productivity came during the seventh week of the season when despite Manning going 27 of 39 for 368 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, the Colts still lost by the score of 27-24 to Jacksonville.
Then the following week against the Kansas City Chiefs, Manning was 25 of 44 for 472 yards, five touchdowns and one interception (that only interception came from Manning having to bomb the ball out to gain a much-needed touchdown when being down by two scores with under two minutes left in the game), yet the Colts still lost 45-35.
My point being that Manning had such poor support at times that his Colts lost games that he performed brilliantly in.
It is ridiculous that people feel Tom Brady had a better year in 2007 simply because the Patriots went 16-0 compared to the Colts going 12-4 in 2004.
As illustrated above, Peyton had no control over some of the games he lost.
You cannot expect him to have gone undefeated when playing with a defense that was ranked 19th in the NFL. You can not expect Manning to have gone undefeated when throwing for almost 500 yards and five touchdown passes in a single game still means that your team loses by 10 points.
Again, Tom Brady had much better support from the rest of his entire team. To ignore this is to become very ignorant in your analysis of the two quarterback’s respective seasons.
Another aspect that I feel is often overlooked is the quarterback rating that each player produced within their MVP seasons.
Many people also fail to realize that Peyton Manning still holds the record for highest quarterback rating in a single season. Manning’s 121.1 quarterback rating in 2004 bests Tom Brady’s 117.2 in 2007.
Manning was more effective by producing 9.2 yards-per-attempt where as Brady only produced 8.3 yards-per-attempt.
This should serve as an illustration of both quarterback’s productivity. Tom Brady threw 81 more passes in 2007 than Manning threw in 2004. That’s almost three game’s worth of passing attempts to only break the record by one touchdown.
This also helps illustrate my point about Brady making it a goal to break the touchdown pass record. He played in two games that were completely meaningless and did everything he could to throw as many possible touchdown passes during that span.
There can be no question that Tom Brady was very productive in 2007, he was just not as productive as Manning was in 2004. Both quarterbacks seasonal quarterback rating helps represent that.
Eric went into further detail in terms of looking at how each player played in different instances according to the quarterback rating…
“Brady posted a quarterback rating of 120.8 when ahead, 110.8 when tied, and 112.6 when behind. Manning posted a quarterback rating of 111.6 when ahead, 135.5 when tied, and 123.5 when behind.
It's pretty obvious who saved their best for when it mattered the most and who played their best when it mattered the least.
When it was late and close, Brady's rating was 108.9 and Manning's was 112.0. Overall, Manning had a rating of 112.3 in close games and Brady had a rating of 94.7 in close games. You can also compare how each played with two minutes left in the half/game: 101.6 for Brady and 111.7 for Manning.”
I feel that Eric did an excellent job of analyzing the circumstantial quarterback ratings of both players. While we are on the subject of statistics, the one thing that it seems to come down to for most people is the single-season touchdown pass record.
As stated before, Tom Brady threw 81 more passes in 2007 than Peyton Manning did in 2004.
Although it might seem impossible to put Peyton Manning in a time machine and see what would have happened had he had the opportunity to throw 81 extra passes, there is one major instance that is often overlooked.
Peyton Manning threw his 49th touchdown in Week 16 of the 2004 season. That was the game where the Colts had secured their playoff position. When they faced the Denver Broncos in the final week, there was nothing to play for.
Instead of trying to inflate his statistics and add to the record that he had broken, Peyton Manning spent almost the entire game on the bench. He played during the opening drive, completing one of two passes for six yards. After that, he was done playing during the 2004 regular season.
Then, backup quarterback Jim Sorgi stepped in for the Colts and threw two touchdown passes which means that the Colts as a team threw for 51 touchdown passes in 2004 compared to the Patriots who threw 50 as a team in 2007.
In a dramatic twist of irony, the Indianapolis Colts ended up facing that exact same Denver Broncos team the following week during the Wild Card round of the playoffs. The only difference being that the Broncos might have had some extra momentum after beating the Manning-less Colts the week prior.
Since Peyton Manning threw the ball 81 fewer times in 2004 than Brady did in 2007, why not just count Manning’s Wild Card game performance in place of the Week 17 game that he spent on the bench?
If we were to do so, the numbers would look like this…
Peyton Manning (vs. Denver): 27 of 33 for 457 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
Now add those statistics to his regular season numbers and you have…
Peyton Manning (2004): 363 of 530 for 5,014 yards, 53 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Quarterback Rating: 123.2.
If those were the numbers we look at, it would end the debate about who had the more impressive season statistically. Yes, Manning would have thrown three more interceptions, but Tom Brady lost three more fumbles than Manning, which would put them equal in terms of turnovers produced during their respective seasons.
Furthermore, Peyton Manning would have thrown for 208 more yards and three more touchdowns while actually throwing the ball 48 fewer times (almost two games' worth).
The bottom line is, Peyton Manning was more impressive in 2004 than Tom Brady was in 2007. It is often when people do not know about the circumstances surrounding both two players that they come to the conclusion that Tom Brady had the better season.
At the end of the day, everyone is going to have their own opinions. What is important is to understand the various aspects surrounding the performance of both players in an effort to reach a more accurate conclusion.
As always, I’d like to personally thank Eric for all of his fantastic contributions to yet another Colts roundtable article. Expect to be reading more collaborative articles from us in the future.
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