In Foxboro on Sunday afternoon, we were treated to the thirteenth meeting of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, a game that played out as a sort of State of the Union of this generation’s two great quarterbacks. Manning, though people haven’t seemed to realize this, is largely the same player that he has always been. He is insightful and dangerous, and the lifeblood and brain center of his offense. Any and all success it has is due to his calculated maneuvers. The difference in 2012 is that his relationship with his new team is still developing, as was evident on Sunday: Manning’s manipulation of the offense was less smooth and controlled than we used to see in Indianapolis. He was reading the defense and making play calls, but the offense was never of one mind with him; he had to work hard to stage-manage his teammates into formation.
There are some physical differences, too, though they are relatively minor. Manning’s throws are occasionally off-target, and his targets in general are shorter than they used to be (especially against the blitz). And he seems to have developed a new wrinkle to his game: Manning scrambled ten yards for a key first down in the first quarter, and showed strength and agility on the final drive as he shook himself free of a sack before completing a nine-yard pass.
In general, though, Manning is still Manning. Down 24 points in the third quarter, he engineered a no-huddle touchdown drive of 90 yards in under four minutes, and he was able to bring Denver to within ten with just under seven minutes to play in the fourth. (A subsequent drive into New England territory was thwarted by a Willis McGahee fumble with 3:42 remaining, and the Broncos didn’t see the ball again.) Manning finished with a Total QBR of 91.3 (topping Brady, who scored an 82.1).
Brady, meanwhile, was as smooth and precise as ever, and the New England offense was efficient and methodical. The first four Patriots scoring drives were of 12, 14, 16, and 16 plays, and all of 80 yards or more. New England ran 89 offensive plays in the game, at an average of 5.0 yards per play (the efficiency of pass and run plays was remarkably similar, the former averaging 5.5 yards per attempt, and the latter, 4.6). And the running game, atypically, was dominant, accounting for 251 yards—more than half of New England’s net total of 444.
So this is where Manning and Brady are. The former, while still the brilliant strategist, is in recovery, both from neck surgery and from a dramatic shift in environment. The latter continues to play his beautiful game, the picture of efficiency in charge of an ever-mutating supporting cast. Sunday was possibly their final meeting, and if so, we were fortunate to see for one last time two outstanding performances by two of the greatest quarterbacks ever, even if the circumstances were quite unlike those to which we have become accustomed.
Box of the Week
San Francisco 49ers 45, Buffalo Bills 3
The 49ers broke the stat machine for the second straight week. This time, instead of putting up absurd turnover numbers, they had a Big 12 day on offense:
Alex Smith, QB: 18-24 passing, 303 yds., 3 TD, 0 INT, 99.2 Total QBR; 3 rushes, 49 yds.
Frank Gore, RB: 14 car., 106 yds., 1 TD.
Kendall Hunter, RB: 11 car., 81 yds.
Michael Crabtree, WR: 6 rec., 113 yds., 1 TD.
Vernon Davis, TE: 5 rec., 106 yds.
Kyle Williams, WR: 2 rec., 50 yds., 1 TD.
The total San Francisco offense for the day: 621 yds. (9.9 per play)—310 passing (12.4 per pass), 311 rushing (8.2 per rush). 10 drives, 29 first downs., 7 for 11 on third down. 0 sacks, 0 INT’s, 1 fumble lost.
Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson is the rare ex-player who says that he wouldn’t have played if he’d known then about head injuries what he knows now.
Speaking of rarities, James Harrison says that he’s changing the way he plays to avoid getting fined.
Eric Winston, thankfully, let Chiefs fans have it for applauding Matt Cassel’s injury on Sunday.
Terrell Owens wants to come to New York, which would bring some much-needed attention to the Jets.
Brandon Marshall experienced firsthand on Sunday the angst of fantasy football.
Ray Lewis is Neo.
Aaron Rodgers wants to dress like a pirate: “It would have been sweet to go back in the game with an eye patch and lead us to victory.”
Opponents are blocking Jared Allen the same old way.
Not every player is a fan of the new Nike jersey design: “It makes me look like I have big old love handles.”
Greg Blume writes here and rambles there.