FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quarterbacks will probably always hate the kinds of comparisons that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning had to listen to over the last seven days. These guys, after all, aren't pitchers. There are plenty of things that happen within the context of a football game that they can't control.
But during his drive home from the New England Patriots' facility on Friday afternoon, with the week of practice done, Brady did concede that, in a certain way, playing against Manning does have an effect on him.
"There is something inside of you, with what you're trying to accomplish against a very good defense, you realize there's a very good offense on the other side, and you can't get away with playing just 30 minutes of good football," Brady said over the phone. "You gotta play 60 minutes at your absolute best."
On Sunday, Brady threw for fewer yards and fewer touchdowns than Manning, and posted a lower quarterback rating, as well.
And there was absolutely, positively no question as to who the better quarterback was on that rainy day.
Brady outplayed Manning and the other 90 players in uniform, completely controlling, for 60 minutes, the pace and tenor of the 13th edition of this rivalry between the all-time greats. Forget the raw numbers, because -- as is often the case in football -- so many of them were absolutely irrelevant in the Patriots' 31-21 win over the Denver Broncos.
"It was happening so fast, man," linebacker Joe Mays said. "Either he has two plays called, or he has a chance to call whatever play he wanted to. I'm pretty sure, the type of quarterback he is, he has the freedom to call whatever he wants. He's proven himself. He definitely has the offense rolling."
Brady first took the game over in the second quarter, after Manning and the Broncos had tied things up at 7-7.
With Brady swiftly moving the offense to the line and robbing the defense of any chance to adjust, the Patriots went on a 14-play, 80-yard scoring drive, pushing their lead to 14-7. The run/pass split was 7-to-7, and New England faced just two third downs.
"They'd have two plays called, so they knew what they were gonna do on the next rep," cornerback Tracy Porter said. "And we'd only have one play called, so we'd wait to get the other play from the sideline, and they're already lined up. We adjusted and we started going dual calls in the huddle, let us keep up with the pace of the game. But in the beginning, it did catch us off-guard."
When the Patriots got the ball back, they were on their own 2-yard line, having been pinned there by a punt after the Denver offense flipped field position. But with 5:03 left in the half, Brady did it again, going 93 yards in 16 plays to set up a field goal that pushed the score to 17-7. On that possession, New England ran the ball 10 times.
Brady added another 16-play scoring drive in the third quarter, and his ability to control the pace of the game by moving the chains started to take its toll on Manning's group, if indirectly. Through a span of 24:23, beginning in the second quarter and stretching more than 10 minutes into the third, Brady took 49 snaps while Manning took 12 (excluding a kneel down).
So let's summarize what Brady did.
He established a blistering pace early in the game, leaving Denver's defense looking for answers, while he simultaneously controlled the clock, ensuring the Patriots had the ball for more than 11 of the final 14 minutes of the first half. That kept the Broncos' offense cold off the field, which partially accounted for Denver's inability to heat up until late in the game. And when the Patriots needed the dagger, Brady teamed with Rob Ninkovich, who forced the McGahee fumble, to deliver it.
The term "game manager" is often used in a derogatory way with regard to quarterbacks. On Sunday, Brady showed why it never should be. Managing the game is an enormous part of the quarterback's job. Though Brady threw for "just" 223 yards, he was an incredibly effective manager against Denver.
That performance took me back to something else Brady said on Friday during our conversation, when he was explaining how he and Manning compare notes when they talk football.
"He never snaps the ball into a bad defense," Brady said. "That's how we play, too. We won't snap the ball without having a real high percentage of success."
All afternoon, that concept was acted out by No. 12, and it resulted in 35 first downs and 251 yards rushing for the Patriots. Brady had lived in, as he earlier said he must, the full context of the 60-minute game.
And that's why, in the end, New England got what was most important: a win.