With 122,949 passing yards, 922 touchdowns, four Super Bowls, and seven MVPs, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have ruled the quarterback position for well over a decade. They have both trancended what it means to be an effective NFL quarterback, and will both have their own plaque in Canton soon enough. But the question has lingered over the rivalry since the start: which quarterback is better?
Just a few weeks ago, the stage was perfectly set for the 38 year old Peyton Manning to square off in Foxboro against the 37 year old Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game to settle this longstanding rivalry once and for all. As we know, Andrew Luck and the Colts “deflated” those chances with their resounding victory against Manning and the Broncos. While Manning is not expected to retire, per se, this very well might have been the last chance to see Brady and Manning settle the story on the field in the playoffs. So, as we head into Super Bowl week with Brady in search of his fourth ring to add to the collection, who has had a better career to this point?
The Case for Brady
Glance at Tom Brady’s well-decorated fingers (hence the plural) and you will quickly get a sense for Brady’s case. The guy has won his entire career. Not only has he owned Manning head-to-head (11-5), had a much more dominant playoff career, and won three (maybe four) rings, but Brady has always done it with fewer weapons around him. Manning has long enjoyed physically dominating receivers in his arsenal – the likes of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Demariyus Thomas, etc. – while Brady has done it with… Julian Edelman? Brandon LaFell? Rache Caldwell?
Brady has long epitomized everything that Peyton is not. Peyton’s 11-13 record reiterates the increasingly strong narrative that Peyton simply underperforms come playoff time. On the flip side, Brady’s 20 career postseason wins are the most in NFL history. Manning can hold claim to “best regular season quarterback ever,” because Brady rises above him when it matters most. Brady doesn’t necessarily pile up the stats in meaningless regular season games, but in need of that playoff touchdown drive in the cold weather in January, the choice is Brady over Manning. No question.
Take this year’s divisional playoff round for instance. While it’s hard to fault Manning for his struggles while playing with his injury, Brady earned his reputation as a winner. Down by four and needing a touchdown to triumph over Baltimore, Brady went to work. Having rushed ZERO times in the entire second half and possessing no threat of rushing, the Baltimore pass rush was after him heavily. Yet Brady did what Brady does and, frankly, what we have expected him to do. He led a methodical drive down the field, capped off by an absolute dime to Brandon LaFell for the winning touchdown – to absolutely nobody’s surprise. A great quarterback lifts his team in an important spot when they need him most – and that is exactly what happened that weekend.
The Case for Manning
The question is “who is the best quarterback ever,” not whose team has won the most Super Bowls.
Peyton has the most career touchdowns (530) in NFL history, and with one more season he will likely pass Brett Favre for most career wins as a quarterback and most passing yards. Winning Super Bowls – especially more than one – is quite a random occurrence. For 19 games, everything has to go right, and even then luck may not be on your side. While Brady has three rings, he hasn’t won one in the past 10 years and won all three with top caliber defenses to lift him up when he needed it.
Peyton Manning has more touchdowns, more passing yards, fewer interceptions, a better touchdown/interception ratio, a better completion percentage, and a better quarterback rating, but we discount him because his teams just so happened to not win a few more games in January? Anointing Brady over Manning solely based on rings would be like saying Robert Horry is an all-time great NBA player because of his seven rings.
Brady’s football IQ, though great, cannot hold a candle to that of Manning. For his entire career, Manning has essentially been a second coach on the field for his teams and thus been even more valuable. Often Manning will diagnose the defense, and change the play to create an advantage for his teams. Manning has the most freedom of any quarterback to do as he pleases at the line.
Brady might not put up the gaudy stats that Manning has throughout his career, but winning will always champion over the records. Give me Brady seven days a week and twice on Sundays.
Featured images via rebelref.wordpress.com (Manning) and Damian Strohmeyer/SI (Brady)