The Brady-Manning Main Event: A Comprehensive Breakdown of a Season’s Worth of Showdowns

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Sunday brings us Brady-Manning XVI. That will be 16 competitive games between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in the books, a full season of matchups between the two best quarterbacks of their generation. After winning each of the first six encounters between the two, Brady remains comfortably in the lead with a 10-5 record in games against his archrival. Manning has won the last two times he has met Brady in the playoffs, bringing their postseason scoreboard to an even 2-2. It’s a rivalry that’s spanned three teams, five stadiums, 14 seasons, and 174,463 sports radio debates that split down the exact same lines each and every time.

To put where Brady and Manning are in context, though, you have to go back to where they’ve come from. You probably remember the truly classic batch of Brady-Manning games, but what about the stinkers? How many of those games really came down to the efforts of the quarterbacks, and how many of them were decided by factors outside of their control? Let’s run through the 15 Brady-Manning games, evaluate them according to the circumstances under which they were played, and try to properly place them in the big picture.

And while we already know that Brady won 10 of the 15 games, since we’re trying to evaluate the Brady-Manning battle, I’ll be scoring which quarterback “won” the game-within-the-game between the two using the 10-point must system from boxing. If that seems like a silly construct to you, well, welcome to Grantland.

Indianapolis Colts Vs. New England PatriotsJim Davis/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Brady-Manning I: The Debut

Date: September 30, 2001
Location: Foxboro Stadium
Line: Colts -11.5
Weather: 55 degrees
Patriots Record: 0-2 (finished 11-5)
Colts Record: 2-0 (finished 6-10)
Brady Line: 13-of-23, 168 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions
Manning Line: 20-of-34, 196 yards, 1 touchdown, 3 interceptions, 1 touchdown run
Final Score: Patriots 44, Colts 13

It seems poetic that Brady’s career as an NFL quarterback really began against Manning. Brady threw three passes in mop-up duty as a rookie in 2000 and then came on the field in Week 2 of the 2001 season for one possession against the Jets after Mo Lewis’s now-famous shearing of Drew Bledsoe’s blood vessel.

Brady’s first NFL start came in Week 3 against these Colts, who were rightly massive favorites; the Patriots were 0-2, coming off a 5-11 season, and down to a sixth-round pick as their starting quarterback. Indianapolis had Peyton freaking Manning, who was already destroying worlds. His Colts had gone 13-3 and 10-6 in making playoff runs in each of the previous two seasons, and Indianapolis had scored 87 points over their first two games.

In reality, Manning delivered one of his worst performances from this entire series. He threw a pick-six in each half and Indianapolis didn’t score on its first nine drives. He was eventually replaced in the fourth quarter by Mark Rypien, who would use the opportunity to throw the final nine passes of his NFL career.

Charlie Weis’s initial game plans were very protective of Brady and attempted to avoid placing him in difficult situations, but Brady was relatively effective when the Patriots needed him to make a play. He was 7-of-11 for 89 yards on third and fourth down, with each of those completions marking a conversion. Given that the Patriots ran 39 times and had Brady throw just 23 passes, it’s hard to really argue that he drove this victory. I’m marking this one down as Brady 10, Manning 9.

PATTENJohn Harrell/AP

Brady-Manning II: The Patten Game

Date: October 20, 2001
Location: RCA Dome
Line: Colts -10.5
Weather: Dome
Patriots Record: 2-3 (finished 11-5)
Colts Record: 2-2 (finished 6-10)
Brady Line: 16-of-20, 202 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions
Manning Line: 22-of-34, 335 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions
Final Score: Patriots 38, Colts 17

This was the final year the Colts and Patriots played together in the AFC East, so just three weeks after their previous engagement, Brady and Manning met up again, this time in Indianapolis. The Colts were again installed as heavy favorites and again were blown out by the Patriots. What happened?

David Patten happened. While Patten is surely proud of carving out an 11-year career as an undrafted undersize receiver out of Western Carolina, this was his peak. Patten played the game of his life against the Colts. After Manning drove the Colts into field goal range, the Patriots blocked Mike Vanderjagt’s kick (one of two attempts they would block in the first quarter alone) and returned it to the Colts’ 29-yard line. Patten scored on an end around on New England’s subsequent play from scrimmage.

After a Colts punt pinned the Patriots on their own 9-yard line in the second quarter, Brady changed the called play at the line of scrimmage and had Patten run a streak past Colts cornerback David Macklin, who had no safety help. The result was a 91-yard touchdown, the longest pass Brady would throw until he hit Wes Welker1 with a 99-yarder a full decade later. After the Colts went three-and-out, Patten came back on the field and threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Troy Brown to put the Patriots up 21-3. And when Macklin committed a long pass interference penalty in the fourth quarter to set up first-and-goal, Brady hit Patten for the latter’s fourth touchdown of the day.

Manning had a relatively innocuous 335-yard day, and Patten was the real star, but Brady’s efficiency won out for a second consecutive game. Brady 10, Manning 9

Colts vs PatriotsAndy Lyons/Getty Images

Brady-Manning III: The McGinest Stop

Date: November 30, 2003
Location: RCA Dome
Line: Colts -3.5
Weather: Dome
Patriots Record: 9-2 (finished 14-2)
Colts Record: 9-2 (finished 12-4)
Brady Line: 26-of-35, 236 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions
Manning Line: 29-of-48, 278 yards, 4 touchdowns, 1 interception
Final Score: Patriots 38, Colts 34

This was the first hotly anticipated Brady-Manning game. The Patriots followed those two wins over the Colts in 2001 by beating the Rams in the Super Bowl, and despite a disappointing 9-7 season from New England in 2002, both the Patriots and Colts were 9-2 in 2003 and part of a four-team race with Kansas City and Tennessee for the top spot in the AFC.

This was also the first true classic in the series, a game filled with unexpected twists and turns. A Manning strip-sack gave the Patriots a short field and led to one of their three early scores, as New England got out to a 17-0 lead. The Colts responded with a field goal, and when Manning threw a touchdown pass to Marcus Pollard with 19 seconds left in the first half to make it 17-10, it appeared that the Colts had pushed their way back into the game. They had forgotten about Bethel Johnson. The Texas A&M product took a subpar kickoff from Vanderjagt and returned it 92 yards for a touchdown, with the Canadian kicker throwing in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for good measure. It left the Patriots up 24-10 at the break, and when Mike Cloud scored from one yard out to make it 31-10 after halftime, it looked like another Patriots blowout.

This time, Brady collapsed. After Manning was intercepted on his own side of the field, it took Brady just two plays to throw an interception to Colts defensive back Donald Strickland. The ensuing Colts drive went into the red zone, and on fourth-and-9, Manning hit Reggie Wayne for a touchdown. Brady responded by throwing another pick, this time to Nick Harper, and Manning took advantage of the short field by throwing another touchdown. A third score on as many possessions tied the game at 31. Brady had let the Colts back into the game, and Manning had dropped them there.

Again, Indianapolis’s special teams fell down on the job. Johnson returned the kickoff after the game-tying score 67 yards, with Brady punching in a touchdown pass to Deion Branch. When the Patriots got the ball back with 4:36 to go, they could have sealed the game, but Kevin Faulk fumbled on his own 11-yard line. The Colts recovered and kicked a field goal to get within four, and the Patriots promptly took just 16 seconds off the clock in five plays, even with Indianapolis down to just one timeout.

The Colts finally got a break when Ken Walter’s punt went just 18 yards, giving them prime field position on the New England 48-yard line. They drove 46 yards to set up first-and-goal from the 2-yard line with 40 seconds left … when disaster struck. Two Edgerrin James runs mustered only one yard, and when a Manning pass fell incomplete on third down, the game came down to a fourth-and-inches conversion. That’s when Willie McGinest made one of the biggest plays of his life, shooting into the backfield at the snap to knock down James for a game-sealing loss. The Patriots won, but it might be fair to say that happened despite the play of their star quarterback. Manning 10, Brady 9

MANNINGWinslow Townson/AP

Brady-Manning IV: The Competition Committee

Date: January 18, 2004
Location: Gillette Stadium
Line: Patriots -3.5
Weather: 32 degrees
Patriots Record: 14-2
Colts Record: 12-4
Brady Line: 22-of-37, 237 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception
Manning Line: 23-of-47, 237 yards, 1 touchdown, 4 interceptions
Final Score: Patriots 24, Colts 14

The Colts blew out the Broncos at home in the wild-card round and pulled out a 38-31 shootout win in Kansas City to get their rematch in Foxborough with New England. There, an ugly day from Manning made it too easy for Brady and the Patriots, even if they left the door open for a comeback. This was the game that infamously led then-Colts president Bill Polian to petition the league’s competition committee to reevaluate the league’s rules on contact by defensive backs, which has helped drive a decadelong increase in scoring and passing.

Manning’s nightmarish day started with a Rodney Harrison interception in the New England end zone to end the opening drive, which was followed by a Ty Law pick on Indianapolis’s very next play from scrimmage. The Patriots, already up 7-0 after their 13-play opening drive ended with a Brady touchdown pass to David Givens, turned both of those takeaways into field goals. When a Colts punt attempt produced a safety, New England was up 15-0.

It just wasn’t Indy’s day. Marvin Harrison fumbled inside the red zone just before halftime. Indianapolis’s defense limited the Patriots to three more short Adam Vinatieri field goals in the second half, but even when they picked Brady off on third-and-goal in the fourth quarter, Manning’s subsequent 14-play drive ended in Law’s third interception of the day. A Colts touchdown with 2:30 left brought them within one score at 21-14, and a pair of incomplete passes from Brady handed them the ball back after just 18 seconds came off the clock, but Manning threw four incomplete passes from his own 20-yard line to end the game. Brady wasn’t much better than mediocre, but that was still better than Manning’s reputation-sealing day. Brady 10, Manning 9

DILLONStephan Savoia/AP

Brady-Manning V: The Idiot Kicker

Date: September 9, 2004
Location: Gillette Stadium
Line: Patriots -3
Weather: 71 degrees
Patriots Record: 0-0 (finished 14-2)
Colts Record: 0-0 (finished 12-4)
Brady Line: 26-of-38, 335 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception
Manning Line: 16-of-29, 256 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception
Final Score: Patriots 27, Colts 24

This was the game that made it OK to wonder whether Manning was simply cursed against Bill Belichick. The Colts opened the season in New England, and while Manning didn’t dominate, his supporting cast failed him in a narrow defeat.

For the second game in a row, Manning started his day with a long drive that ended with an interception deep in Patriots territory, this time by Tedy Bruschi on the 1-yard line. The Colts defense held their ground, and after a Vanderjagt field goal and a nine-play, 66-yard drive consisting entirely of running plays, Manning finally had something new to work with: a lead — his first after 17-plus quarters against Brady. The teams then traded touchdowns, with Manning scoring just before the half to make it 17-10. Again, the Patriots defied what was then convention and tried to score on a short drive, taking over with 36 seconds and one timeout and managing to get in range for a 43-yarder from Vinatieri. Those points would matter later.

In the second half, Indianapolis burned. Down 20-17, Manning drove the Colts toward the red zone, only for James to fumble on the 18-yard line. The teams traded touchdowns, at which point Brady made a mistake, throwing an interception to Harper on Indianapolis’s side of the field. Manning drove his team down to the 1-yard line, setting up a lead-taking score with 3:51 to go, only for James to fumble within inches of the goal line, losing the ball to Vince Wilfork.

Brady was strip-sacked by Raheem Brock on the ensuing possession, but the Patriots recovered and punted. With no timeouts and 1:43 left, Manning marched the Colts into field goal range via a 45-yard pass to Brandon Stokley. There, he made a mistake, taking a 12-yard sack from McGinest on third down that turned a would-be game-tying 36-yard field goal into a 48-yarder. That wasn’t supposed to be a problem for Vanderjagt, who had been a perfect 37-of-37 on field goals the previous season, but kickers aren’t consistent from year to year, and Vanderjagt missed his kick. Brady 10, Manning 9

2004 AFC Divisional Playoff Game - Indianapolis Colts vs New England Patriots - January 16, 2005Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Brady-Manning VI: It’s Cold

Date: January 16, 2005
Location: Gillette Stadium
Line: Patriots -1
Weather: 27 degrees, 15-degree wind chill
Patriots Record: 14-2
Colts Record: 12-4
Brady Line: 18-of-27, 144 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions, 1 touchdown run
Manning Line: 27-of-42, 238 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception
Final Score: Patriots 20, Colts 3

This was the lowest ebb of the Brady-Manning rivalry for the Indianapolis side. Manning fell to 0-7 in Foxborough while Brady took his playoff record to 7-0. It wouldn’t be right to say people thought the Patriots were unbeatable — they were one-point favorites at home, which suggests the broader betting market thought the Colts were about two points better on a neutral field — but this felt almost routine.

It really wasn’t a very exciting contest, either. The first half saw the teams punt on seven of their 11 possessions, with Dominic Rhodes fumbling away a checkdown in Patriots territory. The Patriots led 6-3 at halftime, and after the teams traded punts again to start the second half, Brady led consecutive drives of 15 and 14 plays to pay dirt, putting the Patriots up 20-3. A Wayne fumble ended the game as a contest, with Manning throwing a meaningless interception to Harrison with 12 seconds to go. If this rivalry had been a fight, the ref might have stopped the bout by now. Brady 10, Manning 9

MANNING GREEN COLVINWinslow Townson/AP

Brady-Manning VII: Respect Is Due

Date: November 7, 2005
Location: Gillette Stadium
Line: Colts -3
Weather: 56 degrees
Patriots Record: 4-3 (finished 10-6)
Colts Record: 7-0 (finished 14-2)
Brady Line: 22-of-33, 265 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions
Manning Line: 28-of-37, 321 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception
Final Score: Colts 40, Patriots 21

And then, suddenly, everything changed. The Patriots were defending back-to-back Super Bowl champions, but they had started 4-3 and looked out of sorts on both sides of the football, with Bruschi returning from his offseason stroke only the previous week. The Colts, meanwhile, had looked dominant all season, winning their first seven games by an average of 16 points. They were even coming off their bye week. They were installed as three-point favorites, making the Patriots underdogs at home for the first time since 2002. It wouldn’t happen again for a while.

The Patriots ended up needing a lot more than three points on their side. They got absolutely blitzed by the Indianapolis offense, which scored five touchdowns and two field goals across nine possessions, with a Manning interception and a meaningless fourth-quarter punt the only blemishes on their record. The Patriots kept up with an early touchdown, but after Corey Dillon fumbled on the edge of the red zone, they weren’t really ever in the game. Most of Brady’s yardage and two of his touchdowns came while his team was down multiple scores in the second half, and he was even pulled late for Doug Flutie. Manning’s first win over Brady was comfortable from start to finish. Manning 10, Brady 9

Tom Brady, Peyton ManningWinslow Townson/AP

Brady-Manning VIII: The Double Agent

Date: November 5, 2006
Location: Gillette Stadium
Line: Patriots -2.5
Weather: 40 degrees
Patriots Record: 6-1 (finished 12-4)
Colts Record: 7-0 (finished 12-4)
Brady Line: 20-of-35, 201 yards, 0 touchdowns, 4 interceptions
Manning Line: 20-of-36, 326 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception
Final Score: Colts 27, Patriots 20

Almost exactly one year later, Brady delivered his worst performance of the rivalry. His four interceptions cost the Patriots the game, including a pick in the end zone on the opening drive and a Bob Sanders interception on the 3-yard line just before halftime. When Manning made one of his few mistakes and threw an interception to Chad Scott deep in Patriots territory, Brady responded with a third pick of his own two plays later.

Then, after now-Colts kicker Vinatieri missed his second field goal, Brady was handed a chance to redeem himself, taking over down seven with 1:55 to go. After two plays, he threw his fourth pick to Cato June, sealing New England’s fate. Manning led two touchdown drives and had two other red zone drives end with Vinatieri misses. This was back when there were some Boston sports radio callers who genuinely got sad and angry at the idea that Vinatieri had left for Indianapolis and wondered whether he was an agent sent by Belichick to destroy the Colts from within. Now, incredibly, he’s played nearly as long for the Colts (nine seasons) as he had with the Patriots (10 seasons).

This was the biggest gap I can find between how these two quarterbacks played in a given matchup. Manning 10, Brady 8

Peyton ManningAmy Sancetta/AP

Brady-Manning IX: The Miracle

Date: January 21, 2007
Location: RCA Dome
Line: Colts -3
Weather: Dome
Patriots Record: 12-4
Colts Record: 12-4
Brady Line: 21-of-34, 232 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception
Manning Line: 27-of-47, 349 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 1 touchdown run
Final Score: Colts 38, Patriots 34

Sure, Manning beat Brady a couple of times. In the playoffs, though, was where Brady — then an incredible 12-1 in the postseason — was really supposed to have his edge.

That story line got the told-you-so treatment when the Patriots went up 21-3, with Manning delivering a pick-six to Asante Samuel early in the second quarter. A 15-play drive just before halftime could only deliver a Vinatieri field goal, but consecutive touchdown drives after the break and a two-point conversion tied the game at 21. Indianapolis’s special teams let Manning down again, with Ellis Hobbs returning the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to set up a Brady touchdown, only for Jeff Saturday to recover a Rhodes fumble in the end zone, becoming the second offensive lineman of the day to score that way, joining Logan Mankins.

A pair of Stephen Gostkowski field goals sandwiching a Vinatieri field goal left the Patriots up 34-31, and when Manning went three-and-out, the Patriots could have sealed the game with a couple of first downs. Instead, Brady threw an incomplete pass on third-and-4 from his own 46-yard line with 2:30 left, forcing a punt. With 2:17 left to go and one timeout, Manning delivered the 80-yard drive every Patriots fan insisted he couldn’t, with a roughing-the-passer call on Tully Banta-Cain helping move things forward. Joseph Addai ran in from three yards out, giving the Colts the lead.

With one final shot, Brady couldn’t pull the comeback. The Patriots got into Colts territory, but Brady threw an interception to Marlin Jackson to seal it, giving Manning his first trip to the Super Bowl in narrative-destroying fashion. Manning 10, Brady 9

Tom BradyJeff Roberson/AP

Brady-Manning X: The Game of the Century

Date: November 4, 2007
Location: RCA Dome
Line: Patriots -5
Weather: Dome
Patriots Record: 8-0 (finished 16-0)
Colts Record: 7-0 (finished 13-3)
Brady Line: 21-of-32, 255 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions
Manning Line: 16-of-27, 225 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 1 touchdown run
Final Score: Patriots 24, Colts 20

Everybody remembers the 2007 Patriots, who had blown out their first eight opponents by an average of 25.5 points, led by a spread attack that saw Brady put up passing numbers that put Manning’s annual league-leading totals to shame. What people forget now is that this was also probably the best Colts team of the Manning era. They were also undefeated, had won their first seven games by an average of 17.4 points, and had a healthy Sanders for what would be the last time in his professional career. They finished second in offensive and defensive DVOA that year, losing in the playoffs to a Chargers team that had the breaks go its way.

The Colts nearly broke up the Patriots’ undefeated streak, too. People remember that Ravens game as the closest the Patriots came to losing their undefeated regular season, but Indianapolis led this game at halftime and actually held a 10-point lead with 9:50 to go after a Manning sneak. New England’s comeback was swift. A 55-yard defensive pass interference call on Antoine Bethea moved things along quickly, and after a Manning strip-sack was recovered by the Colts, a big punt return from Wes Welker put the Patriots at midfield. Down three, Brady scored in three plays. Manning was left with 3:10 on the clock, but he moved the ball only to midfield before being strip-sacked by Jarvis Green to end the game. Brady 10, Manning 9

Bill BelichickElise Amendola/AP

Brady-Manning XI: Fourth-and-2

Date: November 15, 2009
Location: Lucas Oil Stadium
Line: Colts -1.5
Weather: Dome
Patriots Record: 6-2 (finished 10-6)
Colts Record: 8-0 (finished 14-2)
Brady Line: 29-of-42, 375 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception
Manning Line: 28-of-44, 327 yards, 4 touchdowns, 2 interceptions
Final Score: Colts 35, Patriots 34

In Brady’s first matchup against Manning in more than two years, after missing virtually the entire 2008 season with a torn ACL, a late comeback delivered a classic finish. The Colts went up 7-0 early, only for the Patriots to score the next 24 points on four consecutive possessions. Manning responded with a touchdown before halftime, but the Patriots still led by 10 at the break.

They could have put it away and didn’t. Brady was picked in the red zone by Bethea. Manning had a deep throw intercepted by Leigh Bodden, and Brady drove the Patriots all the way down to the 2-yard line, but Laurence Maroney fumbled on the goal line. Even that felt like it might be a turning point, but the Colts punted, Welker returned the punt 69 yards, and Brady hit Randy Moss for a five-yard touchdown two plays later to go up 31-14 with about 14 minutes left. The Colts scored a quick touchdown, but even after Jonathan Wilhite intercepted Manning on the first play of Indy’s next drive, the Patriots could only get a field goal to go up 34-21. That wasn’t enough. Addai scampered in with 2:27 left to make it 34-28, with big help from a Darius Butler pass interference call.

All of that didn’t matter — the Patriots just needed a first down to virtually end the game. After an incomplete pass on third-and-2, Belichick famously decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 28-yard line, with a quick out to Kevin Faulk that came up a yard short. Manning scored four plays later, winning the game with 16 seconds left. I would have brought back TYFNC for this. Manning 10, Brady 9

Peyton Manning, Tom BradyWinslow Townson/AP

Brady-Manning XII: The Last Dance

Date: November 21, 2010
Location: Gillette Stadium
Line: Patriots -4.5
Weather: 37 degrees
Patriots Record: 7-2 (finished 14-2)
Colts Record: 6-3 (finished 10-6)
Brady Line: 19-of-25, 186 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions
Manning Line: 38-of-52, 396 yards, 4 touchdowns, 3 interceptions
Final Score: Patriots 31, Colts 28

Nobody could have known this at the time, but this was the last time Manning would play Brady as a member of the Colts. He didn’t deliver much of a showing until late in the contest, but he did nearly enough to snatch a victory.

Yet again, Manning began the game with a turnover on the opening drive — this time, an interception by Brandon Meriweather at midfield. Brady quickly drove his team down and hit Welker for a 22-yard touchdown. The teams traded scores, and it took a 12-play drive from Manning in the two-minute drill to keep the Colts within a touchdown at 21-14.

A 36-yard Danny Woodhead touchdown in the third quarter was followed by another Manning interception, and while the Patriots could get only a field goal for their troubles, they led 31-14 with 10:27 to go. With a little help from Donald Brown, who had a 36-yard run of his own, Manning put the Colts on his back. He led two consecutive 73-yard scoring drives, each of which culminated in touchdown passes to Blair White, leaving the Colts down 31-28 with 4:51 to go. The Patriots tried to eat up the clock, but another late failed third-down conversion by Brady (to Welker) forced the Patriots to punt under a stopped clock at 2:32.

Manning got to work, driving his team 58 yards to the New England 24-yard line with 37 seconds left. Even though he had two timeouts and was well inside the range of a game-tying field goal, Manning went for the win and threw to the end zone for Pierre Garcon, only for James Sanders to nab the pick and seal a narrow Patriots win. Brady 10, Manning 9

Shane VereenElise Amendola/AP

Brady-Manning XIII: Bronco Busted

Date: October 7, 2012
Location: Gillette Stadium
Line: Patriots -6
Weather: 54 degrees
Patriots Record: 2-2 (finished 12-4)
Broncos Record: 2-2 (finished 13-3)
Brady Line: 23-of-31, 223 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions, 1 touchdown run
Manning Line: 31-of-44, 337 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions
Final Score: Patriots 31, Broncos 21

I won’t recap the Broncos-Patriots games in too much length since they should be far more familiar. This was, obviously, Manning’s first game against New England as a Bronco and his first matchup against Brady in nearly two years after neck surgery.

It also came at a point when we weren’t really sure what to make of Manning and the Broncos. They started that 2012 season looking like a team with major issues. They needed a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Steelers in Week 1, went down 20-0 at one point during a loss to the Falcons in Week 2 amid a three-interception game from Manning, and followed that with a loss to the Texans before blowing out the lowly Raiders. Of course, since losing this game to the Patriots to start the Manning era 2-3, Denver has gone 30-4 in the regular season.

This game was a bigger blowout than the final score suggests. That wasn’t necessarily Manning’s fault, as Demaryius Thomas ended the first drive by fumbling away a likely touchdown inside the 5-yard line. The Broncos would fail to recover four of the five fumbles available in this game. A 16-play drive in the third quarter (which doesn’t include four accepted penalties, making it more like a 20-play drive) gave the Patriots a 24-7 lead, and when Manning was strip-sacked by Rob Ninkovich on Denver’s next play, the Patriots inherited a short field and put the game out of reach at 31-7. Manning tacked on a couple late scores to bump up his numbers, but he was not in Brady’s league this night. Brady 10, Manning 9

Nate Ebner, Wes WelkerElise Amendola/AP

Brady-Manning XIV: Belichick Takes the Wind

Date: November 24, 2013
Location: Gillette Stadium
Line: Broncos -2.5
Weather: 22 degrees, 6 degree wind chill
Patriots Record: 7-3 (finished 12-4)
Broncos Record: 9-1 (finished 13-3)
Brady Line: 34-of-50, 344 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions
Manning Line: 19-of-36, 150 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception
Final Score: Patriots 34, Broncos 31

This was a classic back-and-forth battle, recapped at length in this space last November. Remember how I mentioned that the Patriots were home underdogs in 2005 against Manning? This game, eight years later, was the next time the Patriots would be a home underdog against an opponent. (It’s since happened again, when the Patriots were 2.5-point underdogs against the Bengals after the Chiefs fiasco earlier this year.)

The Patriots won this game, of course, in a situation when they were basically resigned to a tie as their best-case scenario. They were punting to Manning with 3:11 left in overtime, in a spot when the Broncos would likely either get a decent opportunity to score or take enough time off the clock that it would be impossible for the Patriots to score. Instead, Welker, now with Denver, was too slow to signal for a fair catch on a punt return, the ball bounced off Tony Carter’s leg, and the Patriots recovered before kicking a game-winning field goal. The end wasn’t Manning’s fault, but Brady outplayed him until that point. Brady 10, Manning 9.

Patriots Broncos FootballJoe Mahoney/AP

Brady-Manning XV: The Anticlimax

Date: January 19, 2014
Location: Sports Authority Field at Mile High
Line: Broncos -5
Weather: 63 degrees
Patriots Record: 12-4
Broncos Record: 13-3
Brady Line: 24-of-38, 277 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions, 1 touchdown run
Manning Line: 32-of-43, 400 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interception
Final Score: Broncos 26, Patriots 16

Perhaps the most boring of the 15 Brady-Manning matchups, the Patriots were never really in this contest. Denver got up 10-0 early and the Patriots were always struggling to catch up. By the time it was 20-3, the game was over. Manning 10, Brady 9

By my count, Brady’s up on the judge’s scoreboard, 143-141. The passing numbers also have it for Brady:

The good news is that Sunday will bring a 16th chapter of the Brady-Manning story. And if history is a good judge, the only thing we’ll be able to predict is that the game will be unpredictable.

Filed Under: NFL, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos

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Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ billbarnwell