The NFL is the most popular sport in the United States, but it’s the rivalries that truly stir the passions of the fans. Whether it’s the bi-annual divisional battles or an inter-conference game between neighbors for regional supremacy, games don’t get more exciting than when bragging rights are at stake.
Brady was his typical self, connecting on 76 percent of his passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns as he directed the Patriots offense to a 31-3 lead after three quarters. But without Manning to match Brady pass for pass, the intensity wasn’t there.
New England’s defense did their part and made Dan Orlovsky look like Manning, as Orlovsky led a furious three touchdown fourth quarter comeback that fell seven points short. But even with a career game by Orlovsky (81 percent completion percentage, 353 yards, two touchdowns), the Patriots-Colts game wasn’t the same.
Manning is quarterbacking a horse of a different color this year. After being released by the Colts, Manning signed with the Denver Broncos. And when Manning returned to Gillette Stadium with his new team, the rivalry was back and didn’t disappoint.
But where does that leave the Patriots-Colts?
New England again is gunning for a playoff spot. Indianapolis was supposed to be rebuilding after changing the coaching staff and selecting first overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. Instead the Colts come to Foxborough with an identical record to the Patriots and their eyes on making the playoffs as well.
Remarkably QB Andrew Luck has led Indianapolis to a 6-3 record as a rookie. He’s shown the poise, intelligence and confidence of an entrenched veteran and has confirmed the Colts’ belief that he can be their franchise quarterback.
Manning and the Colts were just 4-8 against Brady and the Patriots.
Though the results were one-sided, it’s the competition between two elite quarterbacks that was irresistible. For the Patriots vs. the Colts to remain relevant, it starts with the signal-callers.
Luck is far from being considered elite, but how he fares in his first head-to-head match-up with Brady is the first step towards refreshing the rivalry.
Getting blown out while throwing three interceptions to New England’s porous secondary would indicate that Luck isn’t quite ready for the intensity of an NFL rivalry. But if Luck plays Brady to a statistical draw in a close loss, it would be the first step towards keeping Patriots-Colts games must-see games.
The fact that Luck wears the same number that Brady made memorable in New England can be symbolic, as if Luck is the next Brady for the future of the NFL.
Brady certainly doesn’t want to hear that, but his football mortality is taken into consideration. Brady is 35 years old. Even if Brady plays into his 40s, Luck would be in his prime while Brady would be in the twilight of his illustrious career.
Who wins on Sunday?
In the future, Luck’s New England rival won’t be Brady but Brady’s successor. Maybe Ryan Mallett replaces Brady if he’s still with the Patriots that far down the road. Maybe someone else becomes Luck’s adversary in five years.
Someone must emerge for New England after the Brady era to compete with Luck and keep the rivalry relevant.
There’s no guarantee that the Patriots versus the Colts becomes a rivalry again. It will take time for these games to become marquee events again. But if Luck leads the Colts to an upset over the Patriots on Sunday, it won’t be long.
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