Tom Brady and Peyton Manning’s Five Most Memorable Games
Though Tom Brady has never spoken ill of Peyton Manning publicly, we know he measures himself against his longtime rival—just like everybody else.
Last August, Brady’s personal emails were released due to the NFL Players’ Association’s lawsuit against the league over the interminable Deflategate saga. Perhaps the most revealing message was Brady’s response to a childhood friend who sent over an article comparing Brady to Manning. Brady replied, “I’ve got another 7 or 8 years. He has 2. That’s the final chapter. Game on.”
Brady’s comments wound up being prophetic, given Manning’s current debilitated state. It’s clear Brady is the superior quarterback heading into Sunday’s AFC Championship.
But over the last 15 years, Brady and Manning have squared off in countless unforgettable tilts—many of which serve as benchmarks for their illustrious careers. Here are five of the most memorable:
2003 AFC Championship: Patriots 24, Colts 14
This was a dominant defensive effort from the Patriots, who intercepted Manning four times. Brady, meanwhile, engineered six different scoring drives to lead the Patriots to their second Super Bowl appearance in three years.
Brady’s numbers were far more modest than they typically are now; he only threw for 237 yards and posted a pedestrian 76.1 passer rating. But Adam Vinatieri’s five field goals and the Patriots’ suffocating defense catapulted New England to victory.
In the months following this game, the NFL instituted a new emphasis on the rule regarding illegal contact with receivers. Former Colts president Bill Polian reportedly lobbied for this adjustment in response to the way Patriots defensive backs manhandled Indianapolis wideouts and tight ends in the AFC Championship.
2004 AFC Divisional Round: Patriots 20, Colts 3
This was the game that cemented Manning’s status as a postseason choker, a label that he hasn’t been able to shake for the entirety of his career.
It was Manning’s second straight playoff defeat to Brady and his seventh loss in Foxborough in seven tries. At this point, Manning was 3-5 in the playoffs without a Super Bowl appearance while Brady was 7-0 with two rings (Brady went on to win his first 10 postseason games).
The Patriots’ offense came alive in the second half, scoring 14 unanswered points. Two long Patriots touchdown drives—a 15-play sequence and 14-play possession—sealed the victory.
2006 AFC Championship: Colts 38, Patriots 34
In many ways, this was the night the Brady—Manning rivalry was truly born. Up until this point, though Brady was an exceptional winner, Manning’s numbers blew his away. Through the first six years of Brady’s career, he averaged 3,600 yards and 24 touchdowns per season. Manning, conversely, topped the 4,000-yard mark five times in that span.
And yet, Manning faltered whenever he faced the Patriots in the playoffs. In their previous two postseason meetings, the Patriots intercepted the NFL’s most prolific passer five times and only allowed him to throw one touchdown pass.
Both of those narratives started to change following the 2006 AFC Championship. The Colts overcame a 15-point halftime deficit and Manning threw for over 300 yards to advance to his first Super Bowl. Brady fell short, perhaps because his receiving corps was composed of no-name journeymen such as Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney.
The next offseason, the Patriots decided to bring in some weapons and fully turned the offense over to Brady. They acquired Randy Moss and Wes Welker prior to the 2007 campaign, in which they went 16-0 and shattered every offensive record at the time.
Since then, Brady’s averaged 4,051 yards and 31 touchdown passes per season, and Manning also beat the Patriots in the 2013 AFC Championship. The rivalry became a lot more even.
Nov. 15, 2009: Colts 35, Patriots 34
This will forever be remembered as the infamous “Fourth-and-2” game. With a 34-28 lead late in the fourth quarter, Bill Belichick opted to go for it on fourth-and-two from his own 28-yard line. The Patriots failed to convert, and Manning connected with Reggie Wayne for the game-winning touchdown pass four plays later.
Belichick’s decision to keep his offense on the field showed a lack of faith in his defense, which struggled for the majority of the 2009 season. This was a transitional period for the Patriots, as they were in between championship cores. Over the ensuing four years, New England selected Rob Gronkowski, Devin McCourty, Nate Solder, Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, and Jamie Collins in the draft. The second wind of the Patriots dynasty was born.
Nov.24, 2013: Patriots 34, Broncos 31 (OT)
HUGE TURNOVER!. Patriots get ball inside the 20 yard line after punt deflects off Tony Carter.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 25, 2013
This time, an unorthodox coaching decision by Belichick wound up winning the Patriots the game. After winning the coin toss in overtime, Belichick elected to defer and take the wind, hoping it would keep the Broncos out of the end zone and set up the Patriots with strong field position. As it turned out, he was right.
Denver and New England traded possessions before Broncos cornerback Tony Carter muffed a punt return. The Patriots took over the ball at the Broncos’ 13-yard line with the wind at their back, and Stephen Gostkowski booted a game-winning field goal.
This game also featured a classic comeback from Brady, who led the Patriots back from a 24-0 halftime deficit. Brady threw for 344 yards with three touchdowns and a 107.4 passer rating in what might be his greatest performance ever against Manning.