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Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady: Top five meetings

Face it: The NFL wasn't the same last season without the annual showdown between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

New England Patriots versus Indianapolis Colts was the matchup of the aughts, must-see TV that almost always lived up to the hype.

The script is tweaked in 2012, with Manning trading in the blue and white for ghastly orange. With the Denver Broncos heading to Foxborough on Sunday, here's a list of the five greatest Tom-Peyton showdowns.

This was the game where the Patriots-Colts mystique first started to take shape. The Patriots built up a 31-10 lead early in the third quarter, but -- as we came to learn in subsequent meetings -- no lead is safe in this rivalry. Late in the fourth quarter, the Colts trailed 38-34 with the ball at the Patriots' goal line. On fourth down, Willie McGinest -- who injured his knee earlier in the drive (this is debatable) -- darted through the line to bury Edgerrin James, saving the Patriots in the process.

In a matchup of undefeated teams, the Patriots wiped out a 10-point deficit with less than 10 minutes to play to exact revenge, following a bitter loss in the AFC title game earlier that year. The Patriots moved to 9-0, then won nine more before that game.

This is the game that always will be remembered for Bill Belichick's fateful decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 33. The Patriots couldn't convert (this also is debatable), Manning took over and scored in four plays to move the Colts to 9-0. A Sunday night classic.

The nadir of Manning's career (that doesn't involve multiple neck surgeries). A four-interception meltdown that swung public opinion in the "Brady or Manning?" debate. After the loss, then-Colts president Bill Polian -- upset with the Patriots' hyper-physical secondary play -- pleaded with the NFL's Competition Committee to better enforce defensive holding and illegal contact. The league agreed with Polian, a decision that continues to have huge ramifications on the sport.

Manning saved his legacy with this one. The Colts trailed 21-3 late in the second quarter but came all the way back in route to Manning's first -- and still only -- Super Bowl title. It was the first in a string of bitter playoff defeats to come for Brady.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @danhanzus.

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