By Steve Kallas
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Well, that was a game for the ages the other night.
Tom Brady and the Patriots, down 24 points at the half to visiting Peyton Manning and the Broncos, stormed back in the second half to take the lead and eventually win in overtime, 34-31.
Manning has had trouble in Foxboro, Mass., and in the cold his entire career. ESPN came up with this fascinating stat: since 2003, Brady is 23-5 in games played in freezing temperatures, while Manning is 1-6.
While there are many factors in addition to the play of a quarterback that decide NFL games, that is still a meaningful stat.
HERE’S THE PROBLEM FOR MANNING
While many consider Manning to be the greatest “regular season” quarterback of all-time, it really is, in part, a function of being a “dome” quarterback for much of his career. What Brady has done outdoors (especially in New England), to this writer, is simply more impressive than anything Manning has done, including winning four MVPs.
The reality is it is unfair to compare quarterbacks who play much of their career in domes (Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are the two that come immediately to mind) to those who don’t (Brady and, to a lesser degree, Eli Manning, come to mind). While modern day stat guys might think they can compare the two, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to really understand the impact freezing cold and a swirling wind, for example, can have in a particular game, in a particular quarter, on a particular play.
But what was obvious this past Sunday night is that, at least since his multiple neck injuries, Peyton Manning simply does not have the arm strength to throw the ball into the wind like Tom Brady does. You don’t have to be Ron Jaworski to see that some of Manning’s passes flutter and “just don’t get there,” Jaworski said.
Knowing that, try fast-forwarding to a Super Bowl outdoors at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey in February. Never mind the Farmer’s Almanac prediction of a snowstorm, it’s obvious that the Broncos, if they get there, will be at a disadvantage.
WHAT WE LEARNED SUNDAY ABOUT PATS, BRONCS
We know that, generally speaking, the Patriots are one of if not the most mentally tough teams in the NFL. While that didn’t help them beat the Giants in the last two Super Bowls they were in, it is something that has been established over the last decade or so. And it certainly was apparent Sunday night in Foxboro.
Manning’s numbers were pedestrian this past Sunday: 19-of-36 for 150 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Brady was 34-of-50 for 344 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Can Manning play well in the cold and wind? He can. Can he win in inclement weather? He can. But not as often and not as well as Brady. He simply has not played in those elements enough to compare with someone who does it routinely. It’s not his fault, but there is a clear difference between the two, especially post-neck injuries for Manning.
WHAT ABOUT THE BILL BELICHICK FACTOR?
That’s another advantage that Brady has over Manning. The question isn’t whether Bill Belichick made the right call Sunday night by deferring in an overtime to give Manning — as in Peyton Manning, the greatest regular season QB ever — the ball to start overtime. That was a brilliant move.
The questions are: 1.) How many NFL coaches would have even thought to do that? Answer: very few; and 2.) Of the few who would have thought of it, how many would have had the guts to actually do it? Answer: virtually none.
That’s one of those coaching decisions that, if you make it and you are wrong, you look like an idiot.
It’s also a decision that Belichick would not have made but for the relatively new overtime rule that says if you kick a field goal on your first possession, the other team gets the ball. This was a brilliant decision and is just another example of why Belichick is the best NFL coach today and one of the greatest coaches of all-time.
And make no mistake, the Patriots did not win because of that move by Belichick, although it did put them in a better position to win, which is the coach’s job. They won because Wes Welker, of all people, was taken out of the game by Belichick’s game-planning, and failed to run up two yards and field a catchable punt, which led to the disastrous conclusion for Denver.
SO, WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?
It says here that the AFC Super Bowl representative will come from either Denver or New England. One of the reasons that this writer picked New England to go to the Super Bowl is the potential Manning vs. Brady battle in the cold in the playoffs. I certainly didn’t think that Manning could beat Brady in Foxboro, where he is now 2-7 lifetime, but he almost did. I certainly do think that Brady can beat Manning in Denver.
With Kansas City probably still a year away, but in the mix nonetheless, home field becomes an even bigger issue as Arrowhead is a very tough place to play. But, while the saying goes that defense travels, the bigger saying should be that mental toughness travels.
And the Patriots have the edge in that department.
THE BIGGEST PROBLEM FOR THE PATRIOTS
Many thought it would be the offense without all those receivers. But for a number of years now Brady has done more with less than any other quarterback.
You knew that the Patriots’ offense would be fine when Rob Gronkowski came back and when Danny Amendola (always a question mark) got healthy and when Julian Edelman became the factor that he has become (along with Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson) and when they had some semblance of a running game.
However, the Patriots’ problem is on the defensive side of the ball. At full strength, they would have had their best defense in a number of years. But with nobody to really replace Vince Wilfork — the Broncos’s Knowshon Moreno went for 224 yards rushing Sunday night — and the also great loss of Jerod Mayo, who was their leading tackler, it says here that the Patriots won’t have enough to beat Seattle, which despite having the best record in the NFL has some issues of its own.
In a season of the Mediocre Football League,where the 0-6 Giants were still in the playoff hunt and a 5-6 team in the AFC has a playoff spot after 11 games, “if the playoffs started today,” the NFL has what it wants: almost every team has a chance to play in January.
While that is a sad thing, the league still has class at the top.
And it says here that at the top of the class is Seattle and New England.
We will see what happens.
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