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No debate, Brady is better than Manning

November 12, 2007 - Chris Masse
For reasons I have never been able to understand, many NFL fans have long debated one question: who is better, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.

Personally, I’ve never understood why. I thought long ago that Brady proved repeatedly why he was better than Manning, specifically when he led the New England Patriots to three super bowls in his first four years as a starting quarterback. But we’ll get back to that later.

And let me preface everything that I am about to say that I think Manning is an outstanding quarterback and one of the top 15 to ever play. But....

If any were still undecided about who was better this season and specifically the last two weeks have driven the point home. There is no more debate: Brady is simply better than Manning.

First off, the most important statistic is who wins. Right away, it’s advantage Brady. Not only does Brady lead Manning, 3-1 in super bowl wins, he also blows him away in over winning percentage, .769-.624. Brady has almost as many wins as Manning and Manning had a three-year head start. And while, Manning inherited a bad team that was 3-13 the previous year during his rookie year, Brady also inherited a bad team. The Patriots were 5-11 in 2000 and started 0-2 in 2001 before Brady took over. All he did that year was lead the Patriots to an 11-3 record down the stretch and one of the biggest upsets in super bowl history against the heavily favored Rams. When looking at great quarterbacks it also is important to look at who plays their best football in the biggest moments. Look at the data and you see Brady elevates his play in the playoffs while Manning plays worse. A testament to the truly great ones is how they perform under pressure and Brady is 12-2 in the playoffs while Manning is 7-6.

Yes, Manning won a super bowl last year but one could say the Colts won in spite of him. Take away the second half of the AFC championship against the Patriots when Manning was truly great and he struggled throughout the postseason. He threw nine interceptions in 16 regular-season games but seven in the playoffs, including five in the first two rounds when the defense bailed him out and held the Chiefs and Ravens to 14 combined points. He also had the Colts two lone turnovers in the super bowl but still somehow won MVP honors despite handing the Bears their only offensive touchdown in a 29-17 win.

Manning coming up short in the playoffs has happened throughout his career. While his regular-season numbers are outstanding, he has thrown almost as many interceptions as touchdowns in 13 playoff games. He also struggled in a 2005 playoff loss to the Steelers when the Colts were expected to romp their way to the super bowl. The Colts lost that game 21-18 but it should have never been that close as Troy Polamalu’s interception was overturned with a few minutes to go, a mistake the NFL apologized about a day later. Take that reversal away and the Colts lose 21-10. Brady on the other hand has been brilliant in the postseason, playing his best football when it matters most. He started his postseason career 10-0 and has more than twice as many touchdowns (20) as interceptions in the playoffs. He has two super bowl MVPs and six super bowl touchdown passes against just one interception.

Then there is how Brady has led his team to victory in the postseason. Twice he has led game-winning drives in the final minute of the super bowl. He also brought his team from behind in Super Bowl 39 against the Panthers in the fourth quarter. And four times in his playoff career, Brady has helped the Patriots upset the team with the NFL’s best record, including three times on the road.

When the pressure is highest, Brady is at his coolest. In a game billed as Super Bowl 41 ½ two weeks ago at Indianapolis, the Patriots trailed 20-10 with less than nine minutes remaining. Brady calmly led two straight touchdown drives, fired two touchdown passes and gave the Patriots the lead. Then he clinched the game by completing a third-down pass that allowed the Patriots to run out the clock. During this same time, Manning had the ball twice. He fumbled on third down both times, leading to a punt and leading to a Patriots recovery that helped bring about the Colts demise.

Now Manning’s supporters have always tried to say that the reason the Colts didn’t win and Brady’s teams did was because of defense. To make that statement, though, infers that the Colts lost shootouts in the playoffs.

Not true. In each of Manning’s six playoff losses the Colts have been held to fewer than 20 points. With the exception of a 42-0 loss in 2002 in which everybody stunk from the Colts, the defense never allowed more than 24 points and that happened just once. In the other losses the defense allowed 19, 23 (just 17 in regulation), 24, 20 and 21 points. That means all Manning had to do was lead the Colts to an average offensive game each of those times and they would have won. But again, Manning is almost always below average in the playoffs.

Brady on the otherhand has won playoff games by scores of 32-29, 41-27. And if anybody should be using the defense as an excuse it should be Brady since the Patriots lost 38-34 in last year’s AFC championship. But Brady doesn’t make excuses or throw his teammates under the bus the way Manning did when after the 2005 playoff loss to the Steelers he said of his offensive line, one of the best in the league throughout the decade, “let’s just say we had some protection problems.” “Fine”, Manning’s backers have said over the years. “Look at the stats during the regular season.” And yes, Manning did have on average better numbers although Brady never came close to throwing 28 or 23 interceptions the way Manning did in 1998 or 2001. The most interceptions Brady has ever thrown in 14.

Manning did put up some eye-popping numbers, specifically in 2004 when he broke the single-season record for touchdown passes in a season with 49. However, only 14 of those touchdowns came against teams with winning records. Nonetheless, Manning’s regular-season statistics are remarkable.

Manning, though, has had a lot of help. He’s had future Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison by his side his entire career and almost always has had one of the top five running backs in the game in Edgerrin James or Joseph Addai. Throw in Reggie Wayne, an outstanding offensive line, Dallas Clark or Marcus Pollard and you have a plethora of weapons. Brady on the otherhand has had one 1,000-yard receiver to throw to his entire career and that was Troy Brown in 2001, hardly a future hall of famer. And with the exception of Corey Dillon in 2004, Brady didn’t have a great running game with his featured back usually being Antowain Smith, a player who had one 1,000-yard season as a Patriot and who never made the Pro Bowl. Yet, Brady still led the Patriots to more wins and more super bowls than Manning and also put up very good numbers. Since 2001, Brady has never thrown for fewer than 3,529 yards or 23 touchdowns in a season. Last year was truly remarkable as Brady led the Patriots to the cusp of the super bowl while throwing to the likes of Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney while also topping 3,500 yards and throwing 24 touchdowns.

That’s what the great ones do. They make those around them better, even if they are not very good.

Winning is the most important thing is what Brady supporters have said repeatedly over the years. They added, give Brady the kind of weapons Manning has and he can put up similar or better numbers. Conversely give Manning the kind of weapons Brady had before this year and we’ll see what happens.

And now we know. With Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth at his disposal Brady is playing better than any quarterback in NFL history. Through nine games he has 33 touchdowns, just four interceptions and 2,686 yards. He is on pace to shatter Manning’s touchdown pass record and also has a chance to become just the second quarterback in NFL history (Dan Marino is the other) to throw for 5,000 yards. And he is doing this without a consistent running game. Before you try to say it’s because of Moss or Welker, remember that Moss was terrible the last two years in Oakland and was so bad the Raiders took just a fourth-round pick for him. Also, how many people even knew who Wes Welker was before this season? But that’s what Brady does, he makes those around him better.

Manning, on the other hand, does not seem to have that quality. Watch Sunday’s night’s loss to the Chargers for evidence. Harrison is out with an injury and so is tight end Dallas Clark along with lineman Tony Ugoh. Never mind that Addai and Wayne, two of the best skill players in the game are still healthy. In other words, Manning is dealing with the same kind of thing Brady has dealt with his entire career before this season. So without all his weapons, Manning breaks a Colts record and throws six interceptions in a loss, the most a quarterback in the league has thrown in a game since 2004. Manning also struggled against the Patriots without Harrison by his side. So what we are learning is that Brady can win with whoever you give him, Manning is more of a product of the parts around him.

Just look at 2001 for more evidence. The same year Brady was leading an average team to its first super bowl, Manning folded after Edgerrin James tore his ACL in the team’s sixth game. The Colts were 4-2 at that point, but went 2-8 down the stretch and finished 6-10 in a year where many picked them to win the division championship.

Brady has dealt with injuries throughout his career and probably will have to this year. His best receiver from 2003-2005 was Deion Branch. Branch missed half the 2004 season, but Brady led the Patriots to a 14-2 record and extended the team’s NFL record winning streak to 21 games. 2004 also was the year the Patriots were so depleted on defense that they had to use Troy Brown as a cornerback...and yet they still beat Manning’s Colts 20-3 in the playoffs.

So basically every argument Manning supporters have tried to use against Brady in the past has come back to bit them. Brady wins more consistently than Manning and that hasn’t changed this season. The thing all Manning’s supporters clung too was the regular-season stats. But now give them equal talent and Brady blows him out of the water. Give Manning some adversity and take away some of his weapons and he seems to crumble.

Again, don’t get me wrong. Manning is a great quarterback and the second best quarterback this decade.

But the best quarterback this decade plays in New England and his name is Tom Brady.

Debate over.


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