When Denver kicker Jason Elam booted a field goal to tie the game with 1:47 left in the 4th quarter, my roommate Kris and I looked at each other and said "Too much time." The cameras then panned to the sideline showing Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning standing with offensive coordinator Tom Moore. And honestly? They could have been two guys standing beside a grill in the tailgate lot or by the water cooler, or at their kids' baseball game. They were calm and cool and confident as could be. They were faced with one of the most difficult things to do in sports- the 2 minute drill- and they had no doubts they would get it done. None. It wasn't a question of WOULD they be able to get into field goal range, it was more deciding which way to do it this time? Something different to spice it up maybe? I could have sworn I saw Manning say "too much time!"
Giving Manning 1:47 to set up a game-winning field goal with all 3 timeouts? It just wasn't fair, and anybody watching knew it. SHouldn't there be a new rule (for regular season games only, of course) that Manning should only be given under a minute and 1 timeout, just to make it interesting? But the NFL allowed him to keep all that time and all those timeouts and Manning surgically ripped the heart out of the Broncos in one of the toughest venues to win in sports: Mile High at night. A dump pass here, and handoff there (a handoff!! See now that's just getting cocky), and then a couple of passes to Reggie Wayne (he of the 3 TD day who abused poor Bronch CB Derrant Williams all game) and they were in range. IT was bad enough that you knew Manning would get them in position, but to have the greatest clutch kicker in history jogging off the sidelines to seal it? And of course he did. Colts win again, and remain undefeated.
Manning looked like the best QB who ever lived in that game, and yet last night proved for me yet again that Tom Brady is still the best. BRady did what he's rarely allowed to do in the Patriots team-first system, which was go out of the shotgun and pick teams apart. Last night it was a good Vikings D he carved up (at another time we'll delve into why Belichek IS the best coach in the game. With 2 good running backs he could have tried to pound the ball against a good run D. Instead? He airs it out all game long. Even up 24-7 in the 3rd, he continued to let Brady go shotgun, and Brady continued to complete passes. Anyway, another story for another time but just wanted to mention it). We're so quick these days to want to name everything the best or worst ever, to name instant greatness when one of the hallmarks of greatness is of course longevity and consistency, two measures that can't be judged or granted instantly. But we continue to make the ridiculous comparisons, like one of the guys in NBC's Sunday Night Broadcast saying with a straight face that new Cowboys QB Tony Romo reminded him so much of BRett Favre. And Joe Montana. Really? Why leave out Roger Staubach, Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas? Ridiculous.
But for all the overhype we have to endure, the Brady/Manning rivalry is every bit as good as Montana/Marino was. Manning with the gawdy stats and the playoff failures, and Brady with the 3 Super Bowl rings. These 2 teams play Sunday Night on NBC (thank god it's not on E!SPN) and you're going to get these 2 guys shoved down your throat for the next 5 days, but no matter how much they overhype it, these two are the real deal: and nobody else is even close. That more than anything is what I took away from their two impressive performances, that as bad and mediocre as NFL quarterbacks are these days, Brady and Manning are head and shoulders better than anybody else (sit down Mr. Favre. Sit down). I would still take Brady over Manning 7 days a week and twice on Sundays. I still need to see Manning get to the Super Bowl to put him ahead of Brady. I think Manning will take Marino's place as the greatest statistical quarterback in history, but like Marino I don't think he wins a Super Bowl. I'd like to be proven wrong because it would only enhance the rivalry, and let's be honest, after last year's gawd-awful Steelers/Seahawks Super Bowl, we NEED somebody like the Colts in there to give it some juice.
Manning does have more talent around him than Marino ever did (just the fact alone that he's had a running game around him), and I wonder if Manning's slowly learning from what happened to Marino and Montana, and now Brady. After his incredible record-setting 2004 season when his Colts still fell flat in the playoffs, I think the light went on for Peyton. Marino tried all those years to win it by himself and it never happened. But I think he looks at Montana and BRady, who are great when they need to be, but don't have to put up the gawdy stats, and is starting to take a page from them. Will he throw more than Brady will or Montana did? Absolutely, and with that arsenal of receivers, he should. But Manning's proved the last couple years that he's willing to put his ego and big passing numbers aside to win ugly if that's what it takes, because a win's a win no matter how you get it- especially in the playoffs. I think Manning's taking what the defenses give him more than ever, and like Brady, can turn it on and take over when need be. If he had Vinatieri kicking for him last year against the Steelers instead of "The Drunk Kicker" we be talking about him as a Super Bowl champ instead of doing another A-Rod impression. Look no further than the Broncos game for an example. He was 14-17 for just 132 yards and no TD's in the first half. The game was close and Manning was taking what he was given. IN the 2nd half he decided to make Derant Williams his personal biatch, throwing again and again to Reggie Wayne. It resulted in the Colts victory.
Am I openly cheering for Goliath, for Peyton, for the guy that's being shoved down our throats as the new Face of the NFL? I am. For the sake of good and watchable football in an age of inconsistency and mediocrity, I'm dying for a juggernaut and a dynasty and a rivalry. The folks at E!SPN and other outlets are doing everything possible to make us believe in contrived rivalries and "great" players, but there's nothing forced about the Pats and Colts. Contrasting styles meeting twice a year (hopefully anyways) to battle for football supremacy. Can Peyton shake the "A-Rod of football" tag? Can Brady continue to be the best quarterback on the planet? We'll get a glimpse of it this Sunday night, and I know I'll be watching, because in today's NFL, it's Brady, Manning...and everbody else.
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