Peyton Manning has thrown for at least 3,000 yards and completed at least 25 touchdown passes every season since he entered the NFL, and he's the only player in NFL history to do so. He's led the Colts to a 7-0 start for the second season in a row, though he's never won a Super Bowl.
"Peyton's a great quarterback and I'm not going to allow anyone to take that away from him, whether he's won a Super Bowl or not," said Patriots safety Rodney Harrison on Thursday. "I mean he's still fairly young. He could play another 10 years in the league, so he has a lot of time. But that's what he's gunning for. They're 7-0 right now and he's the man right now."
Tom Brady, on the other hand, is the only NFL quarterback in history to start in and win three Super Bowls before his 28th birthday, let alone being one of only four quarterbacks in history to lead his team to three Super Bowl wins. He was twice named the Super Bowl MVP.
"Everyone says Tom doesn't have a strong arm, but he's throwing 50, 60-yard bombs," said Harrison. "And they're very, very precise.
"Those are the two top guys in the league. It's just a matter of opinion. If you want to peg one as number 1 or the other one as number 2, it doesn't matter."
Each of these two quarterbacks already has a history of success that could (and has) fill volumes. There are hundreds of anecdotes and millions of fans to attest to their greatness. But none of that has anything to do with the future. It won't matter on Sunday, when the Colts come to town to take on the Patriots. There won't be any trophies handed out. Confetti won't fall from the sky. And no matter who wins, each of these ultra-focused quarterbacks will be looking toward the next game, because this isn't a playoff game.
Brady said Wednesday that he and Manning have been friends since Brady entered the league, but indicated that they don't talk trash to each other about football games.
"We don't talk about the games too much," said Brady. "We talk a lot of generic football talk. We're both big football fans. It's hard when you get together not to talk about it. We've been together quite a bit the last few years. He's a good guy and a fun guy to hang around with and he's obviously a great player. We hang out quite a bit."
So, it seems that bragging rights won't even play into the game much. These two quarterbacks are just too classy. Nope. This is just another regular season game for the players, no matter how much hype it gets.
But for the fans, this looks to be a memorable matchup between two similarly great quarterbacks.
"[Manning] is a guy that is a lot like Tom Brady, who works hard in the offseason, studies lots of film, tries to get the edge in whatever way he can," said former Patriot turned Colt Adam Vinatieri in a conference call on Wednesday. "Both those two quarterbacks are very similar in the way they lead the team. You can't be wrong by having either of those two guys on your team. That is for sure."
Manning played perhaps his best game ever last Sunday against the Broncos, scoring 28 points in the second half. That's 28 points and a flawless, game-winning final drive that brought the Colts into field goal range against a Denver defense that had only allowed 26 points in their last five games combined.
"The way [Manning]'s executing when the game is on the line, he could start on the negative one yard-line and he'd just drive the ball down [the field] making play after play and helping his team win the game. He's just playing at his peak right now," said Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel on Thursday.
The next day, on Monday, Brady quieted naysayers by attacking Minnesota's Achilles heel with 372 yards and four touchdowns worth of passing mastery, which he made look as easy as a game of 'Sunday Pass.'
In the wake of those games, both quarterbacks are in the running for FedEx Express NFL Player of the Week honors.
"They're both students of the game. Their comfortable doing what they do best, which is read the defense, throw the ball. You're not going to throw too much at them that they've never seen before. That's one of the biggest problems. Trying to get them uncomfortable is basically trying to get them on the ground. Other than that, you're not going to give them a different look that they haven't seen," said Patriots linebacker Junior Seau on Thursday.
Luckily for the Patriots, Seau has seen it all too, though he hasn't faced Manning much. "I've seen Dan Marino, John Elway and the rest of the boys I did play against. They're right up there too. It's football. [Manning] has one football and we've just got to follow the ball. That's the way it goes," he said.
Harrison, also, was quick to point out that one player alone can't win a game. "When he goes out and he plays well, it's not Peyton Manning winning a football game. It's all the guys winning. Just as well as when they loose. If he throws two or three interceptions, it's not him losing a game. Guys could have made blocks. Guys could have not missed tackles or could have made certain catches. One person doesn't win or lose a football game in my opinion. It's a combination of things," said Harrison.
The injury-riddled Patriots lost to the Colts at Gillette Stadium last season, 21-40. Including that game, Manning is 3-10 against the Pats and 87-44 against everyone else. The Pats had been Peyton-poison until that game. Manning is 1-7 at Gillette Stadium, so last season was his only career-win in New England.
There's no telling what will happen on Sunday night, when these two greats bring their division-leading teams to the newly-sodded turf in Foxborough to square off. And even though it's not for a ring or a trophy or even quarterback bragging rights, it's sure to be worth watching.
Banta-Cain's best day ever
Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain called last Monday "The best day of my life." He had a career-high 2.5 sacks against Minnesota. Sure, it was a big game for him – he only had 3.0 sacks in the last three seasons combined – but that was just the icing on the cake for Banta-Cain.
His first son, Tavian Banta-Cain, was born about 30 minutes before kickoff. Banta-Cain said he'd been calling his girlfriend, Brigette all day after finding out she was going into the hospital on Monday morning. He was hoping Tavian would wait until Halloween to be born so he could be there.
"It was kind of unfortunate [that I couldn't be there], but I didn't let it distract me too much. I was like, 'You know what? My son will probably have wanted me to play and have a good game and he can tell all his friends when he grows up,'" said Banta-Cain on Thursday. He missed practice to bring the baby home on Wednesday.
"Nobody called me I was checking my phone and saw 'text message, picture' and I opened it up and bam, there he was," said Banta-Cain, explaining how he found out the eight-pound, seven-ounce baby boy had been born.
"Before the game I looked at his picture," offered Banta-Cain as an explanation for his explosive play in the game. "I kept telling myself, 'Every time I'm on the field I'm going to do something for him.' At halftime I went and looked at his picture again before we went out."
After the game, Banta-Cain got to ride home on Patriots owner and CEO Robert Kraft's personal airplane.
"Mr. Kraft was generous enough to let me fly back with him," Banta-Cain said. "That was definitely a generous thing by him. The whole day was a great day for me. Yeah. The best day of my life."
The Patriots held practice outside on the game field today, which Belichick said was to familiarize the players with the new surface. The sod was replaced last week. The players wore shorts/sweats, helmets and shells. Receiver Kelvin Kight and linebacker Mike Vrabel wore black jerseys, indicating that they were the practice players of the week prior to the Vikings game. The media was only allowed on the field during stretching, and every player was accounted for during that time. Thursday’s injury report includes 20 players, with 18 of them listed as questionable.