Two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history meet for the 17th time this Sunday. The New England Patriots travel to face the Denver Broncos in a Conference Championship match-up.
It is at the point where it is so difficult to decide between the two that it feels rude putting Tom Brady’s name first in the title. My defence is the fact Brady’s Patriots travel to Denver.
The pair come face to face this weekend as both look to make it to yet another Super Bowl. There remains to be more questions than answers right now, though.
Peyton Manning’s form and physical state remains to be something of an enigma at this stage of the postseason. Having missed out through injury during a large period of the regular season, it was a shock to many when Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak recalled him against the Pittsburgh Steelers over Brock Osweiler- who featured in Denver’s 30-24 win against New England in week 12.
The Broncos were somewhat fortunate to win last weekend’s divisional round matchup game when Pittsburgh running back Fitzgerald Toussaint’s fumble eventually led to C.J Anderson’s one yard touchdown, before Demaryius Thomas caught for the two point conversion and Chris Boswell kicked a late field goal.
Something was not clicking between Manning and his wide receivers in their 23-16 win over the Steelers. Manning would have finished with better than 222 passing yards had his receivers not dropped seven passes. Both were at fault. Peyton wasn’t releasing the ball from his hand as smoothly and as accurately as many would have expected him to, while the receivers struggled with the timing of their movement and simply keeping hold of the football. All contributed to disjointed periods of play, made up for by a strong performance by the Broncos defense.
After Manning made zero touchdown passes, the pressure will be on for both him and his offense to link up against a New England side that have the players to punish them. Despite this, the Broncos quarterback did drive his side to its only yet crucial touchdown- making it his 55th game winning drive in the 4th quarter or overtime.
As for Tom Brady, the situation looks clearer for him. He has his main offensive weapons back.
Brady passed for 302 yards in New England’s 27-20 divisional round win over the Kansas City Chiefs, making it the first time he has passed for at least 300 yards since week 13 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
He found his main receiving target Rob Gronkowski for two touchdown passes – one of which came after a pin point accurate pass arrived perfectly in the path of the tight end after his pump fake run. Despite his injury concerns, Gronkowski’s presence is still crucial to Tom Brady.
The same can be said for wide receiver Julian Edelman, who returned from an injury that kept him out for a lot of the regular season to make 10 catches for 100 yards. He proved just how important he was, reeling in some difficult catches that will give Brady the confidence to know he can continue making the difficult passes.
Brady’s ability to manage without Gronkowski and Edelman at times this season poses the question as to how the Broncos will stop him. It promises to be an interesting matchup between the Patriots offense and the likes of Broncos linebackers Demarcus Ware, Von Miller and Brandon Marshall.
The NFL has been blessed with two quarterbacks that are the very best at making the biggest decisions under pressure and in quick time, two quarterbacks with the ability to carry their teammates on their shoulders and two quarterbacks with the passion and experience that can inspire those around them to play well and fight for their team.
If this is the final time we see the two come face to face, let’s hope it’s one to remember.