INDIANAPOLIS -- Has the debate ended before it even began?
Has Peyton Manning removed even the tiniest doubt that anyone might have that he is the very best quarterback in the NFL?
After watching him throw for 288 yards and three touchdowns in his first game of the season, I'm inclined to think so.
|Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images|
|Peyton Manning went 18-of-30 for 288 yards and three touchdowns in the season-opener.|
Tom Brady, who is the only other quarterback worthy of being in the discussion, is still awaiting his turn to show off the 2007 edition of his throwing arm in a revamped passing attack.
Before the Sept. 6 season-opener at the RCA Dome, Brady was my favorite to become the league's offensive MVP. I'm beginning to have second thoughts.
The leaves are still green, yet Manning and the rest of the Indianapolis Colts' offense are well into midseason form. Sure, that was the Saints' defense they obliterated for 452 yards and 34 of their 41 points. Allowing too many big plays was a problem for New Orleans in 2006, and nothing has changed on that count.
Still, what Manning did against the New Orleans Saints was almost beyond comprehension.
After shaking off a little bit of rust he accumulated during an incredibly busy post-Super Bowl-championship offseason, he completed passes practically at will. Manning made his two touchdown throws to Reggie Wayne and one to Marvin Harrison look effortless. Ditto for the way he found Dallas Clark down the seam.
And he did it in typical Manning fashion. He stepped up to the line, correctly read the defense's intentions, and almost always selected the right play to exploit it. When he saw the Saints were playing two-deep zone coverage, he simply handed off to Joseph Addai, who sliced his way to a 118-yard, 5.1-yards-per-carry night. When Addai's running forced the Saints to do more blitzing and use a single safety in coverage while crowding the line of scrimmage, Manning simply looked for the open receiver.
Manning, his receivers, and Addai look as if they're playing many levels above everyone else. That includes the Saints’ Drew Brees, who threw for a league-best 4,418 yards in 2006. He couldn’t break 200 yards against the Colts’ defense, was intercepted twice (with one returned for a touchdown), and lost a fumble.
On Sept. 9, Brady and his receivers -- especially newcomers Donte' Stallworth, Wes Welker, and Randy Moss (if he's healthy enough to play) -- get their chance to show what they can do against the New York Jets. Brady certainly could match or even top Manning's numbers. But with former Patriots defensive coordinator Eric Mangini coaching the Jets, Brady is always in for a challenge when matching football wits with someone who knows him and his scheme as well as anyone outside of the New England dressing room.
Brady is exceptionally talented and every bit as cerebral as Manning. Yes, Brady has three Super Bowl rings to Manning's one. But this argument is about which is the superior player at the game's most important position.
Although they are even in most quarterbacking categories, Manning creates separation as a pure passer. Manning also has had multiple years to develop his virtually perfect synchronization with his best receivers. On the other hand, Brady has had an offseason and preseason to get familiar with Stallworth, Welker, and (to some extent) Moss.
Here's something else that should frighten every remaining opposing defense on the Colts' schedule: Harrison, Wayne, and Clark look better than ever. And rookie Anthony Gonzalez, who did not catch a pass against New Orleans, will eventually make his presence felt this season as a slot receiver.
"Marvin, I'm telling you, is as fast now, going into his 12th year, as he was when I first got here, going into his third year," Manning said. "Reggie has gotten even better than last year, which is saying a lot. Dallas is extremely explosive.
"These guys have worked real hard to develop the timing and the efficiency that we have. Hopefully, we can just keep that going."
If they do, it will be extremely difficult for Brady, or any quarterback in the league, to catch up.
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