FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have six MVP awards between them in the regular season. They have three more in the Super Bowl.
On Sunday night, two of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks will meet for the 14th time. But there’s a new twist.
One of them is mired in the middle of the league’s passer ratings instead of being near the top.
Brady and his rebuilt receiving corps have suffered through growing pains while Manning’s deep group of pass catchers helped the Denver Broncos (9-1) become the NFL’s best offense going into the prime-time game against the New England Patriots (7-3).
So Brady must find a way to outscore a team averaging 39.8 points per game.
“Our offense right now is very different than it’s ever been,” he said. “Everything that we do has a different feel to it. We’ve had so many new players.”
Manning threw seven touchdown passes in the season opener and is the league’s second-highest rated passer. Brady didn’t reach that total until his fourth game and was tied for 18th in the rankings after Monday night’s 24-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
But those numbers don’t fool the Broncos.
“He’s definitely one of the best,” Denver safety Mike Adams said. “You can never count him out, whether they’re leading, whether they’re down. He’s one of the comeback kids.
“He always comes back in the fourth quarter.”
He didn’t have to do that in the first matchup of his career with Manning. In Brady’s second start as a pro, the Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts 44-13 in the third game of 2001.
Now, 12 years later, Brady is 9-4 against Manning with 23 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Manning has thrown for 27 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in those games.
And he lost his first matchup with Brady after joining the Broncos, 31-21 in Week 5 last year. Both completed more than 70 percent of their passes in that game.
“That was early in the season for kind of a new team, certainly a new offense,” Manning said.
Since then, he’s led the Broncos to a 20-1 regular-season record.
Now he’s headed to a familiar place.
“It seems like I sure do go there a lot, out there to Foxborough,” Manning said. “I think it’s pretty well documented my respect for Tom as a quarterback, the way he prepares.”
The feeling, of course, is mutual.
“He’s a great player, a great motivator and a great leader,” Brady said of Manning.”
Manning’s only defeat this season came in his return to Indianapolis, a 39-33 loss in the seventh game. He threw an interception, lost a fumble, was sacked four times and had passes sail on him.