The National Football League has been blessed with some of the best player vs. player rivalries in the history of professional sport.
Starr vs. Unitas. Bradshaw vs. Staubach. Marino vs. Montana. Young vs. Aikman.
The list goes on and on. It spans different eras. These head-to-head rivalries will never be forgotten (and will always be heavily debated), and there are countless rivalries that have yet to be born.
These days, though, there is one head-to-head rivalry that rises above the rest: Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning.
Their rivalry is second to none, and the storylines surrounding each battle between the two future Hall of Famers often take up 90% of the coverage on television. Whether it's a regular season duel or a playoff showdown, Manning and Brady never fails to disappoint.
While Brady has had a few big statistical seasons of his own, Manning has always been perceived as the king of the regular season stats. This is best justified by his recent dismantling of Drew Brees' single-season yardage record, Brady's single-season touchdown record, and Brett Favre's all-time touchdown record. The argument that is always brought up against Manning, of course, is his habit of disappointing in the playoffs and his lack of Super Bowl bling. With one ring and a mediocre playoff record (11-12), Manning is only eligible for the regular season crown - for now.
Brady, meanwhile, is the poster boy for overachieving (not in a bad way). A sixth round pick out of Michigan in 1999, Brady went from afterthought to superstar in a matter of years. Some argue that he's been lucky to win three Super Bowls, but there's no denying his impact on the Patriots success, and there's even less arguing with his 18-8 playoff record. Brady has established himself as one of the best postseason quarterbacks in the history of the sport (although the Broncos did manage to take down the Pats in last year's AFC Championship game).
Any way you slice it, football fans have been blessed by the Brady vs. Manning battles over the past decade. After Brady added another W to his overall record against Manning last weekend (improving it to 11-5 all-time), let's take a trip down memory lane and look at the top duels between the two legends.
10 January 16th, 2005—AFC Divisional Playoff: Patriots 20, Colts 3
9 October 7th, 2012: Patriots 31, Denver 21
8 November 4th, 2007: Patriots 24, Colts 20
7 January 19th, 2014—AFC Championship: Broncos 26, Patriots 16
6 September 9th, 2004: Patriots 27, Colts 24
5 November 21st, 2010: Patriots 31, Colts 28
4 November 30th, 2003: Patriots 38, Colts 34
3 November 15th, 2009: Colts 35, Patriots 34
The Colts finally won one? How? Was Brady injured?
No, Brady played - well, too, throwing for 375 yards and 3 TD's - but it was Manning and the Colts who managed to prevail. Manning threw for 327 yards and four scores, but it was a play made by the Colts defense that will stick in the minds of football fans for years to come.
2 November 24th, 2013: Patriots 34, Broncos 31
It was a comeback for the ages, simply put.
The Broncos went into the locker room at half-time with a 24-0 lead. Knowshon Moreno was running through, around, over and under the Patriots defense (he finished with 224 yards rushing). Manning could have played the first half throwing from an armchair while sipping a Long Island iced-tea and eating a Papa John's pizza. This one was a done deal, right?
Brady completed 81% of his passes in the second half and finished with 344 yards and three touchdown passes. The Pats pulled ahead, 31-24, until Manning hit Demaryius Thomas for the tying score with minutes to spare. The game went to overtime, and all hell broke loose...in the punting game.
1 January 21st, 2007—AFC Championship: Colts 38, Patriots 34
Another playoff matchup. Another shootout. Another big comeback.
This was a big one for Manning and the Colts, who finally shook the "chokers" label and won a big game, against Brady and the Patriots no less. It didn't look good early, as the Patriots exploded out of the gates to a 21-6 halftime lead.
Something must have happened to Manning during that halftime, because the Colts were a different team in the second stanza. He finished this all-time matchup with 349 yards and one TD, while Brady threw for 232 yards and one score of his own. The Colts rallied and took their first lead with a minute left. Manning admitted afterwards that he prayed on the sideline as Brady led the Pats final drive. His prayers were seemingly answered, as Brady was picked by Marlin Jackson, who dropped to the field immediately and raised his arms in celebration. Manning killed the rest of the clock, and the celebration was on in Indy. The Colts went on to beat the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl, Manning's first and only championship thus far.
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