FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Before we dissect how, yet again, Tom Brady has proven to be from the planet Krypton, beating his rival and maybe the best team in football with astounding ease, we need to go back in time.
To September, and the aftermath of the Patriots losing by 27 points to Kansas City. There was sheer panic around the team. Not in the team. Around the team. People were saying Tom Brady was done. Finished. A pretty boy in decline.
WEEI posted Brady's stat line next to Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith's:
Meanwhile Peyton Manning was doing what Manning always does. He was winning big in the regular season and would go on to wreck Brett Favre's career touchdown record. Not so for Brady. The Chiefs loss would be one of the lowest of his career. Then came an amazing moment at a press conference not long after that ugly game. Bill Belichick was asked if the quarterback position should be evaluated. If the quarterback position should be evaluated.
Belichick rolled his eyes. He didn't even respond. It was like asking if the sun needed to be evaluated for its ability to produce heat.
The Brady-Manning spectacle is often seen as complicated, an intricate dance between two greats, an amalgam of legends, smarts and winning. But the truth is, it's not complicated. What Brady-Manning comes down to is something amazingly simple. Not a puzzle but a paragraph:
Brady is better than Manning.
He is. He simply is. It's what this matchup proves more than anything else. Brady is better. That fact, with each of these battles, becomes more clear.
It was particularly true this afternoon at Gillette Stadium as Manning, especially in the first half, looked as inaccurate as he ever has. Manning would play better, but it was too late; Brady had already taken flight.
We can get into the statistical aspect of this. Brady often beats Manning in these head-to-head games. He's now 11-5 against him. That's dominant, but it's more than that. It was the throws Brady was making. On one of them, to Julian Edelman, he threw the football to a spot where the tightly covered Edelman simply had to turn and thwoop—the ball hit him in the chest.
It was a trademark Brady throw. Edelman was covered. The play was completed because of Brady, not the receiver.
There were a good half-dozen plays like that by Brady. He has a receiving group that is fairly talented but besides Rob Gronkowski isn't overly so. Certainly not to the level of Manning's group.
And this is the difference between the two men and why Brady is better: He's malleable. He adjusts. He can play in any weather, with any offensive group, and beat you.
For Manning, the conditions have to be perfect for him to prosper. He's a front-runner, which is why he has so much statistical greatness and not Super Bowl moments. The Super Bowl is the ultimate setting where insanity is the norm, and Brady has played well in all of his Super Bowls because he prospers under adversity. Manning doesn't.
Manning had over 400 yards passing and yet was still blown out. Think about that—400 yards—and it wasn't close.
"We're not playing fantasy football here," Belichick said, "we're trying to win."
This was Brady's 200th game started. He's won 155 of them, the most for any quarterback with that number of starts. This was actually the first game in NFL history to feature two opposing starting quarterbacks with at least 150 career regular-season wins each. This was also Brady's 42nd straight regular-season home win against an AFC opponent.
A SportsCenter tweet about impressive Brady stats generated positive fan reaction:
It's impossible to say if the Patriots earned home-field advantage with this win. Their next few games are brutal: They are at the Colts, home against Detroit, at Green Bay, at San Diego and home against a surging Miami team.
No, the Patriots are far from wrapping up home field, but this loss was crushing for Denver because it seemed as though last season Manning had destroyed how Brady got into his head. Now, Brady is back.
The only chance Manning has of beating Brady is getting Brady in Denver. That might not happen now.
What has helped make Brady dangerous again is Gronkowski. Over the past two weeks, when throwing to Gronkowski, Brady is 18-of-19 for 254 yards and four touchdowns. During New England's five-game win streak, the Patriots are averaging 40 points a contest.
Brady and Manning—in fact both teams—downplayed their facing each other. This is what they do.
"It was a great team win," Brady said. "We got a lot of help from our defense."
About Manning he said, "He's always set a really high bar with how he plays. I've tried to do the same with my team."
Blah, blah, blah.
Not that we expected Brady to step up to the microphone and shimmy.
"If the quarterback stinks," Manning said, "usually you're not gonna win many games.
"I don't usually stink, but I stunk today."
He didn't stink. He just isn't Brady.
Brady and Manning watch each other from afar, plotting, eyeing, seeing what the other is doing. They are great competitors, but one is starting to clearly show that he's better than the other.
I don't want to turn this into an ode to Brady. This isn't Beowulf. Yet, we are seeing something incredible. As much as we have all slobbered over their battles, in many ways, this has turned into a rout.
At one point in the game, fans started chanting "Bra-dy! Bra-dy! Bra-dy!"
Later, the crowd got a little nastier: "Bra-dy's bettah!"
They were right.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.