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INDIANAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 15: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts greets Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots after the game at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 15, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Colts won the game 35-34. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

January 2005: the prophetic ‘Brady is the best’ story that shocked the football world

Tom Brady retired this week after a truly exceptional 22-year career dominating the NFL record books in every imaginable way while reshaping our concept of excellence in North American sports. 

The pigskin public now recognizes Tom Brady as the GOAT – the Greatest of All Time. In fact, the acronym GOAT is now widely recognized in sports as a nickname for Brady.

“I saw the GOAT play in Super Bowl LI,” one might say. The public recognizes the meaning: you watched Tom Brady. 

Naturally, the praise for Brady is pouring in from all corners of the sports and pop culture universe. 

But it wasn’t always this way. There was a time when only a few daring pigskin pioneers dare point out that the former sixth-round draft pick was destined for greatness.

The first such call came in January 2005 – 17 years before Brady’s retirement – a pugnacious little football site called Cold, Hard Football had the giant fucking nutsack it took to declare Tom Brady better than Peyton Manning

The gonads, in other words, to declare Brady the best quarterback in football – better even than Peyton Manning, arguably now the second best QB of all time. 

You gotta understand the context of the time. Fresh off the 2004 regular season, entering the playoffs, Brady was still seen as an overachieving “system” quarterback. Manning was seen as the Chosen Son of the Football Gods. 

Manning had just led the Colts to 522 points of offense, still easily a franchise record and among the most all time. And he had thrown an astonishing 49 touchdown passes, a single-season record at the time.

The “pundits” gushed relentlessly about Manning’s greatness. They couldn’t wash Manning’s balls enough. EVERYBODY said Manning was the best QB in the game. They savaged anybody who dared defy this Cult of Manning – let alone an upstart little sports site such as the Mighty Cold, Hard Football Facts, just four months old at the time.

Only this upstart outlet had the temerity and, more importantly, had the overwhelming arsenal of data it took to defy conventional wisdom and see two decades into the future.

Below is the Complete & Unabridged Guide to Why Tom Brady is Better Than Peyton Manning – originally published Jan. 13, 2005, as Brady’s Patriots were ready to play Manning’s Colts in the 2004 postseason. 

Brady naturally outplayed Manning, to the shock of the pigskin “pundits” and the Patriots won, 20-3, on their way to the AFC title game and a second straight Super Bowl victory. 

This story, later updated with stats through the end of the 2004-05 postseason, shocked the football establishment with its brazen balls – but also with its accuracy. 

This story went viral, put Cold, Hard Football Facts on the map and literally changed my life – once again ahead of the trends.

Tom Brady is better than Peyton Manning. Everyone now agrees. But it wasn’t always this way. Not in January 2005.



January 13, 2005

Peyton Manning is a great player – a certain Hall of Famer – who puts up some nifty numbers. We have never disputed his greatness. What we have disputed are his merits relative to Tom Brady’s. Manning fans insist that his gaudy stats of the past two seasons are a sign of his superiority.

But there is far more to quarterbacking than surrounding yourself with hall-of-fame talent and tossing a record number of touchdown passes.

Every time we look at Tom Brady, meanwhile, we find ourselves discussing his accomplishments in the most remarkable historic terms: youngest QB to win one, two or three Super Bowls, engineer of the longest win streak in NFL history, leader of the only walk-off scoring drive in Super Bowl history, owner of the best winning percentage by a QB in modern NFL history and best overtime record in NFL history, and one of just four players to boast multiple Super Bowl MVP awards.

And for those “pundits” and Manning fans who are sticklers for pure stats, well, you’re in for quite a surprise when you see what Brady has done. Brady boasts the seventh best passer rating in NFL history, better than Marino, Favre, McNabb and many of the other modern-era QBs mentioned among the all-time greats. He’s done it all without a single offensive player by his side who’s been voted to the Pro Bowl. No quarterback in NFL history has posted stats that compare to Brady’s without a bevy of Pro Bowlers and Hall of Famers surrounding them.

Wipe away the dusty layer of incredulity that seems to mar Brady’s career in certain circles, especially among the “pundits,” and you’re left staring at a sparkling diamond of unmatched brilliance. You’re left staring, in other words, at the best quarterback in football today. Here’s why Brady’s better than every “pundit’s” choice for the honors, Peyton Manning.

Brady’s superiority over Manning is built upon the stony, unyielding foundation of each player’s postseason performances. Quite simply, Manning, as we have long noted, is the Picasso of Choke Artists. 

Brady, meanwhile, has already proven to be one of the great clutch players in postseason history, a truly transcendent performer who reserves his greatest games for the biggest moments. He has the Super Bowl rings, Super Bowl records and Super Bowl MVP awards to prove it.

For all of Manning’s brilliant regular-season fireworks in recent years, he has simply failed to live up to expectations in the postseason – every single year that he’s been there. That’s right. Every year. Don’t believe us? Come, take a drive down Manning’s postseason memory lane. But roll up the windows and lock the doors. It’s an ugly neighborhood.

1999 – In Manning’s second year in the league he led the Colts to a 13-3 record and an AFC East title while averaging 26.4 PPG in the regular season. In Indy’s first playoff game the Colts hosted wildcard-game winner Tennessee. 

The Indy defense played well, surrendering just 19 points to a solid offense that averaged 24.5 points per game. But Manning, at home in the dome, put just 16 points on the board, the team’s third lowest output of the season, while completing just 19 of 43 passes for 227 yards and zero touchdowns. Manning’s 60.9 passer rating was his lowest of the entire season. Result: Manning chokes. Colts lose, 19-16.

2000 – The Colts went 10-6 behind Manning’s 33 touchdown passes and an offense that averaged 26.8 PPG in the regular season. Indy went to Miami in the wildcard round and its defense played very well, intercepting Jay Fiedler three times and surrendering just 23 points in a game decided in overtime. 

But Manning struggled against the Dolphins and, in a game that lasted more than 70 minutes, was a non-factor. He completed barely 50 percent of his passes (17 for 32) for just 194 yards and a touchdown. The Colts generated 11 points off Fiedler’s interceptions but put a total of just 17 on the board, 10 points fewer than their regular-season average. It was Indy’s second lowest scoring output of the season. Result: Manning chokes. Colts lose, 23-17, in overtime.

2002 – The Colts went 10-6 and drew a gimme in the wildcard round: a 9-7 Jets team with a paper-thin defense that surrendered 336 points that year (Indy boasted the better D, surrendering 313 points). Manning played the single worst statistical game of his entire career (14 for 31, 137 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs and a career-low 31.2 passer rating) and failed to put a single point on the board. Result: Manning chokes. Colts lose, 41-0.

2003 – The Colts went 12-4 in the regular season and scored 27.9 PPG. Manning kept it going in Indy’s first two playoff games and was spectacular leading 41-10 and 38-31 victories over Denver and Kansas City. But Manning, facing foul weather and a good defense, returned to his historic postseason form in the AFC title game against New England. Indy’s D again played well under postseason pressure, stifling the Patriots in the red zone and forcing them to settle for five field goals. But Manning tossed four interceptions and posted the third lowest passer rating of his entire career (35.5). Result: Manning chokes. Colts lose, 24-14.

2004 – The Colts again went 12-4 in the regular season, this time scoring 522 points (32.6 PPG) and entering the playoffs a seemingly unstoppable offensive juggernaut with the fifth-highest scoring offense in NFL history. Manning, of course, set numerous regular season records. Most notably, he tossed 49 touchdown passes while shattering the single-season passer rating record, with a mark of 121.1. It all took a familiar turn for the worse in the playoffs. In a divisional game at New England, the Colts mustered just 3 points – their lowest offensive output since the 2002 playoff loss to the Jets. Once again, Manning played his very worst game of the season in the playoffs, completing 27 of 42 passes for 238 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT and a passer rating of 69.3, his lowest of the year. Result: Manning chokes. Colts lose, 20-3.

You’ll notice a remarkable difference when you look at Brady’s postseason performances. Let’s take a stroll down a much more attractive memory lane. Roll down the windows and caress yourself in the fresh, breezy air of victory.

2001 – In Brady’s first playoff game, and just his 15th NFL start, he crafted one of the great postseason performances by a quarterback in NFL history. Facing a 13-3 fourth-quarter deficit and a blizzard of legendary proportions, Brady was virtually flawless in the fourth quarter and overtime, ran for one touchdown, led a game-tying drive near the end of regulation and went 8 for 8 on New England’s game-winning overtime drive. In some of the most severe conditions in franchise history, Brady completed 32 of 52 passes for 312 yards (with one first-half interception). 

Did we mention the blizzard? Brady critics are quick to decry the controversial “tuck rule” that overturned a potential late-game fumble by Brady. The call certainly gave New England hope, but it was not a decisive one. The Patriots still needed two scores to win and Brady was virtually flawless when the game counted most. We submit this as the greatest postseason debut by a quarterback in NFL history. Result: Brady gets it done in crunch time. Patriots win, 16-13.

Two weeks later, in just his 17th NFL start, Brady led the only walk-off scoring drive in Super Bowl history. After St. Louis forged a 17-17 tie, New England took over on its own 17 with 81 seconds to play and no timeouts. 

The football establishment expected New England’s inexperienced QB to take a knee and play for overtime. Instead, Brady completed 5 of 8 passes (one incompletion was an intentional spike) to put New England in range for a decisive field goal. It was the first walk-off, game-winning scoring drive in an NFL championship game since Johnny Unitas led the Baltimore Colts to an overtime victory in 1958. Brady became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl and was named the game’s MVP. Result: Brady gets it done in crunch time. Patriots win, 20-17.

2003 – Brady led the New England offense to 11 points in the final three minutes of Super Bowl XXXVIII – throwing one touchdown to linebacker Mike Vrabel – and lifting the Patriots to another Super Bowl title. New England trailed, 22-21, midway through the fourth quarter. With the NFL title on the line, Brady completed 10 of 13 passes for 103 yards on New England’s final two drives. He ended the game passing for 354 yards and three scores and set a Super Bowl record with 32 completions. In just his fourth year in football, Brady became the youngest quarterback to win two Super Bowls and joined Hall of Famers Starr, Bradshaw and Montana as the only players in NFL history to win multiple Super Bowl MVP awards. Result: Brady gets it done in crunch time. Patriots win, 32-29.

2004  In a game that should define Brady’s career, the Patriots entered the AFC title game on the road in a hostile arena against a 16-1 Steelers team that boasted the No. 1 scoring defense and No. 1 total defense in all of football, on a frigid night in which the temperatures reached single digits. It was the second-coldest game in Pittsburgh history.

 Despite the obstacles, Brady calmly picked apart the league’s top defensive unit, completing 14 of 21 passes for 207 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs and a passer rating of 130.5 – his highest of the season. The 41 points he helped engineer were the most scored against the Steelers since Week Two of the 2003 season. Later, we found out Brady was bed-ridden in his hotel room the night before the game, with a temperature of 103 and with IV needles stuck in his arm. Result: Brady gets it done in crunch time. Patriots win, 41-27.

Brady picked up where he left off two weeks later in Super Bowl XXXIX. Facing a 15-3 Philly team that boasted the No. 2 scoring defense in football, Brady was again flawless and again reserved one of his best performances of the year for the season’s biggest games and toughest opponents. He completed 23 of 33 passes for 236 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs and a 110.2 passer rating – the second highest rating allowed by the Eagles defense all season. Result: Brady gets it done in crunch time. Patriots win, 24-21.

The chasm of Cold, Hard Football Facts separating each player’s postseason performances could not be more dramatic. Manning has appeared in five NFL postseasons, compiled a 3-5 record despite leading one of the most prolific offenses in football each season, choked at least once each postseason and posted a cumulative passer rating of 55.4 in his five playoff losses (100 for 195, 1,033 yards, 2 TDs, 7 INTs). Four times in five seasons in which he’s made the playoffs, Manning recorded his single worst statistical game of the year in the postseason (1999, 2002, 2003, 2004). Two of the three worst statistical games of his career (31.2 and 35.5 passer ratings) came in the playoffs.

In five playoff losses during the Manning era, the Colts have scored just 10.0 PPG. It’s got even worse in recent years. In the past three seasons, the Colts offense went down in a whimpering heap of postseason futility, scoring a woeful and inexcusable 5.7 PPG in its last three playoff losses – that’s a net difference of negative 21.8 PPG when compared with Indy’s scoring average over those same three regular seasons. Think the problem in Indy is a Swiss-cheese defense? Think again. In the playoffs, the problem is a pathetic offense and pathetic play at quarterback.

Brady’s postseason career includes a record nine postseason victories in nine postseason starts, and four game-tying or game-winning drives at the end of regulation or overtime. Half his postseason games were played in conditions hardly conducive to great quarterbacking: Two were played in snow, another in a blizzard; one was the coldest game in New England franchise history and another was the second-coldest game in Pittsburgh franchise history. He was nearly flawless in a series of postseason games in which a single mistake would have cost his team victory. He has thrown just three INTs in 304 postseason pass attempt – an NFL postseason record of just one INT every 101.3 pass attempts.

Bottom line: Manning has been veritably woeful in the postseason. Brady has been virtually flawless.

The Indianapolis franchise has certainly improved with Manning at the helm. In fact, it’s improved quite remarkably. The Colts are now a consistent playoff team and routinely boast one of the best offenses in football. But no quarterback in the history of football has had a more immediate and profound impact on his team’s fortunes than Brady. And even the Brady cynics who choose not to give the QB credit must admit: there’s a remarkable coincidence between Brady’s ascendancy to the helm of the offense and the reversal of New England’s franchise fortunes.

The Colts — In 1997, the year before Manning arrived, the Colts went 3-13 with an offense that scored 313 points. Manning was drafted the following spring and was handed control of the Indy offense. Even with Manning at the helm, and future Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk in the backfield, the Indy offense generated just 310 points (19.4 PPG) and, once again, went 3-13. In 1999, Manning’s second season, Indy’s fortunes took a dramatic turn. The Colts finished third in the league with 423 points and posted a 13-3 record. They were, of course, bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Since the 1999 season, the Colts

  • have failed to win more than 12 games or earn a first-round bye in any season
  • have gone just 3-4 in the playoffs in have advanced beyond the divisional round just once.

It appears, in other words, that the Indy franchise has reached a plateau. So, too, has the coaching career of Tony Dungy. As the head man in Tampa, Dungy led the Buccaneers to the playoffs four times in six years, even making the NFC title game in 1999 with an offense led by Shaun King and Trent Dilfer. On a team led by Manning, Dungy has reached the postseason three times in three years. But, as was the case in Tampa Bay, has yet to advance beyond the conference title game.

The Patriots — Brady was drafted in 2000 and served as a back-up that season. When he took over as starter for an injured Drew Bledsoe in the third game of 2001, it was for a franchise caught in a downward spiral. The Patriots won 11 games and appeared in the Super Bowl in 1996. They won 10 games and a single playoff game in 1997; nine games in 1998; and eight games in 1999. In 2000, New England posted a 5-11 record and scored a measly 276 points.

The New England offense continued to sputter in 2001. The Patriots scored just 20 points and began the season 0-2. Brady made his first professional start the following game against, of all possible opponents, Manning and the Colts. New England won 44-13 in its most prolific offensive output in five years. An offense that averaged 16.4 points while winning just five of its previous 18 games averaged 25.1 points per game over the rest of the 2001 season with Brady at the helm. The Patriots tied a franchise record with 11 victories. The season concluded, of course, with Brady leading the only walk-off scoring drive in Super Bowl history.

Since then the Patriots have won two more Super Bowls, posted back-to-back 14-win seasons, ripped off an NFL record 21-game win streak, set an NFL record with 34 victories (regular season and playoffs) over two seasons and, in 2004, scored 437 points, four shy of the franchise record.

Brady’s appearance in New England also appears to have had a positive effect on the career of Bill Belichick. The near unanimous choice today as the best coach in football, Belichick had a coaching record of just 42-58 (1-1 in the playoffs) fielding quarterbacks other than Brady. With Brady at the helm, Belichick has posted a coaching record of 57-14 (9-0 in the postseason) and now boasts an NFL record with a 10-1 mark in the postseason.

Has Brady changed the franchise fortunes alone? Of course not. The Patriots are a first-rate organization with superior coaching and a great supporting cast. But there is a direct and irrefutable correlation between the franchise’s ascension to NFL preeminence and Brady’s control of the offense. And there is no doubt that the New England franchise has reaped far greater fortunes with Brady at the helm than Indy has with Manning at the helm.

There’s a telling scene in the 2004 “3 Games to Glory” DVD that chronicles New England’s rise to triumph in Super Bowl XXXVIII, the second of its three championships. The video is punctuated by sound bites of radio commentary. In the second quarter of the 2003-04 AFC title game against Indy, the Patriots opted to go for it on 4th down and 8, a rare and risky proposition any time of year, let alone early in a conference title game.

Brady eluded a defender and fired a first-down strike to Troy Brown to keep alive a scoring drive. Indianapolis radio broadcaster Mark Homann was suitably impressed. “Everybody in New England thought their quarterback was the better player and today that looks to be the case,” said Homann.

Of course, one play does not a make an ample case for one player’s superiority over another. But the announcer’s reaction sums up rather well the findings of the chief justice of pigskin, the Cold, Hard Football Facts, and the conclusions drawn by anyone who has seen the two players go head to head.

Manning and Brady have faced each other six times. New England has won each game, outscoring Indy by an average score of 31.8-17.5 – nearly a 2-to-1 margin. Brady has clearly outshined the two-time regular-season MVP. In fact, it’s not even close. Here’s how their numbers stack up in those six contests:

* Brady: 121 for 180 (67.2%), 1,322 yards, 10 TDs, 4 INTs, 98.0 passer rating

* Manning: 137 for 234 (58.5%), 1,542 yards, 9 TDs, 10 INTs, 73.3 passer rating

These numbers include Brady’s very first NFL start in 2001. The Patriots were 0-2. Manning was in his fourth season and the Colts were 2-0. New England won, 44-13.

Sure, Manning has faced a stingier defense than Brady in those games. But, as you will soon see, he’s had a far greater array of weapons at his disposal than Brady. Citing New England’s superior defense when the Colts boast superior offensive talent is inadmissable evidence as far as the Cold, Hard Football Facts are concerned. The bottom line is that each time Brady and Manning step on the same field the Patriots win and Brady plays the better game.

We turned to the professor of footballogy, the Cold, Hard Football Facts, and found that the Manning-Brady dies were cast back in their college days.

Manning was, by any measure, a remarkably productive college quarterback, one of the most prolific in football history. Tennessee fans were so enamored with Manning’s glitzy five-touchdown performances against the likes of Kentucky, Texas Tech and Northwestern that they named their children after him.

But Manning was haunted by the specter that he couldn’t win the big game: namely, that he couldn’t beat SEC rival Florida. In Manning’s junior season, he cost his team an SEC title and a shot at a national championship when he tossed four interceptions in a 35-29 loss to Florida. In Manning’s senior season, 1997, he took an undefeated Tennessee team into Florida for a shot at the SEC title, the national title and the Heisman Trophy. Manning threw two interceptions as Florida won, 33-20.

The grand Manning-fan tradition of whining after losses officially began in 1997 and made its way to the highest office in Tennessee. Despite Manning’s failure in a nationally televised game against Florida, the governor publicly defended the state’s so-called honor by declaring that Manning had been snubbed for the Heisman (it went to two-way sensation Charles Woodson of Michigan).

Any remaining dignity among Tennessee fans was wiped away in the January 1998 Orange Bowl. Tennessee entered the game 11-1 and No. 3 in the country but was hammered, 42-17, by Nebraska. Manning completed 21 of 31 passes for 134 yards and 1 INT. He ended the game on the bench and was replaced by quarterback Tee Martin, who drove Tennessee to its final touchdown. The following season, with Manning in the NFL, Martin led Tennessee to a 13-0 record and the undisputed national title.

Brady did not generate the fawning praise Manning did in college. In fact, much of the Michigan faithful lobbied for Brady to be benched for Drew Henson, who entered the school with more hype and a glitzier resume.

But Brady proved a remarkably effective quarterback, setting the school’s single-season record with 214 completions (which he did twice) and leading Michigan to a 20-5 record (a winning percentage of .800). Brady’s winning percentage in NFL, not so coincidentally, is .803.

While Manning’s college career came to an inglorious end in the 1998 Orange bowl, Brady’s college career ended in record-setting fashion in the 2000 Orange Bowl.

Brady concluded his college career by leading Michigan to a 35-34 overtime victory against Alabama. Brady threw four touchdowns and set Orange Bowl records with 34 completions (on 46 attempts) and 369 passing yards (Matt Leinart passed for 332 yards in the 2005 Orange Bowl). The 34 completions is also a Michigan single-game record. Brady, not so coincidentally, holds the record for completions in a Super Bowl with 32. The Orange Bowl marked the first overtime football game in Michigan history. Brady, not so coincidentally, has racked up an NFL record 7-0 overtime mark as a professional.

In fact, dating back to their respective years as a starting quarterback in college, Manning has lost his final game of the season seven times over the last 11 seasons (and seven times in eight seasons after concluding his first three years in college with victories). Brady has won his final game of the season six times in six seasons – a string that includes two college bowl victories and three Super Bowl victories.

Manning fans cry “look at Brady’s defense” every time someone mentions New England’s superior teams and Super Bowl championships in recent years. The heartless Cold, Hard Football Facts are here to extract a few more tears.

Brady certainly has the support of a better defense than Manning. But they have hardly been suffocating defenses like those that have carried certain other teams to Super Bowl championships. In fact, New England’s 2001 defensive unit ranked just 24th in total defense, making it the lowest rated defense ever to win a Super Bowl. The 2001 unit did rank sixth in scoring defense, surrendering 17.0 points per game. But 31 of the 39 teams to win a Super Bowl had a better scoring defense that the one Brady played with in 2001.

New England’s 2003 defense was markedly better. It ranked sixth in total defense and No. 1 in scoring defense, surrendering 14.9 points per game. That puts New England’s 2003 unit smack-dab in the middle of the championship pack: 18 Super Bowl winners boasted a better scoring defense than the 2003 Patriots.

“Even Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl with a great defense” say the teary-eyed Brady critics. Of course, the Baltimore defense that Dilfer played with was one of the best in NFL history, surrendering just 10.3 points per game – more than 40 percent fewer per game than New England’s best defense. Last time the Cold, Hard Football Fact perused the Super Bowl scoring books, we found that the Ravens beat the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, 34-7, thanks to a punishing defensive performance (four sacks, four interceptions). Needless to say, Dilfer was never called upon to bail out his team with a last-second drive. That was good news for Baltimore: Dilfer completed just 12 of 25 passes for 153 yards and 1 touchdown.

Additionally, Brady has been the undisputed top player on a team that’s now won three of four Super Bowls. Dilfer was a part-time role player on a team who’s historically powerful defense led it to Super Bowl victory. In fact, Dilfer wasn’t even the primary starter for Baltimore in 2000. Tony Banks was. In nine appearances that season, Dilfer completed 133 of 225 passes (59.1%) for 1,502 yards, 12 TDs and 11 INTs and a 76.6 passer rating — nearly 11 points lower than Brady’s career passer rating and almost 10 points lower than the number Brady posted in his worst season.

The comparison between Dilfer and Brady, in other words, is laughable.

Meanwhile, Indy has had at least one Super Bowl caliber defense during the Manning era. In 2002, the Colts fielded a defensive unit that ranked 7th in scoring and 8th in total defense. It was, in other words, a unit that was statistically superior to New England’s 2001 Super Bowl winning defense, which ranked 6th in scoring and 24th in total defense – which, as we mentioned, was the lowest rated defense ever to win a Super Bowl.

Indianapolis might have a better shot at winning a Super Bowl should it put more emphasis on defense. But the organization has made a strategic decision to sacrifice defense in an effort to surround Manning with the greatest talent possible and to sell tickets to a fan base that desires high-scoring games. In fact, according to salary-cap gurus such as Peter King of Sports Illustrated, no team in the NFL has a greater imbalance between the money spent on offense and the money spent on defense. This imbalance was only furthered in recent years, as Manning was signed to a preposterous $98 million deal and wide receiver Marvin Harrison inked a $67 million contract extension. In the salary-cap era, every dollar given to one player on offense is one dollar taken out of the pocket of a player on defense.

It’s a strategy that seems to have Manning’s full support. In fact, in the 2001 draft, Manning lobbied the team to select wide receiver Reggie Wayne of Miami in the first round despite the fact that the Indy offense already featured a future Hall of Fame receiving talent in Harrison and despite the fact that the porous Indy defense surrendered 20.4 PPG in 2000. (The Indy offense averaged 26.8 PPG in 2000.)

Manning, himself a No. 1 draft pick, was surrounded by top-pick talent in 2004 at

* wide receiver (Wayne, Harrison)
* tight end (Dallas Clark)
* running back (Edgerrin James) and
* offensive tackle (Tarik Glenn).

That’s six of 11 offensive starters who are No. 1 draft picks. At least one, Harrison, is a lock for the Hall of Fame. James is a potential Hall of Famer. Manning had the luxury his first year in the league of handing the ball to future Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, one of the most prolific offensive players in NFL history. Manning has also enjoyed the luxury of offensive Pro Bowlers ever year that he’s been in the league: Faulk (1998); James (1999, 2000, 2004); and Harrison (1999-2004).

In other words, the Colts have purposely built a team that gives its quarterback a chance to pad the stat book.

Brady has built his prolific career with a much different set of tools. Consider that he’s New England’s only offensive player to be named to the Pro Bowl since 2001 (New England running back Corey Dillon appeared in the 2004 Pro Bowl, but only as an injury replacement). Brady’s top receiver has been Troy Brown, an NFL journeyman who was drafted in the 8th round (198th pick) out of Marshall. Meanwhile, consider the pedigree of the players on the receiving end of Brady’s six Super Bowl touchdown passes:

* Deion Branch (a second-round draft pick from Louisville)
* David Givens (a seventh-round pick from Notre Dame)
* David Patten (an undrafted free agent from Western Carolina) and
* Mike Vrabel (a journeyman NFL linebacker).

New England’s offensive line in 2004 featured a second-round draft pick (Matt Light), two fifth rounders (Dan Koppen and Russ Hochstein), a seventh-round pick (Brandon Gorin) and three undrafted free agents (Stephen Neal, Joe Andruzzi and Tom Ashworth). In 2005, New England’s offensive line will finally future a first-round draft pick, guard Logan Mankins, who’s likely to fill the starting spot left by Andruzzi.

Most successful quarterbacks, meanwhile, depend upon a punishing ground game to open up the passing lanes for them. But

* the 2001 Patriots won the Super Bowl with the league’s 13th ranked ground attack.

* the 2003 Patriots had the 27th ranked ground attack, the lowest ranked rushing attack of any Super Bowl champion.

* the 2003 Patriots averaged just 3.4 yards per rushing attempt. Among all Super Bowl champions, only the 1970 Colts (3.3 yards per carry) had a more ineffective ground game.

Some people are awestruck by Manning’s amazing regular-season statistics. In fact, some people insist that eye-popping regular-season statistics are all that mattter.

The gossip pages of pigskin, The Cold, Hard Football Facts, are here to let you in on a dirty little secret, one that will send Manning fans into an apoplectic identity crisis. Here it is:

The glaring disparity between supporting offensive talent has not stopped Brady from putting up highly comparable, and in many instance outright better, statistics than one Peyton Manning. In fact, at this point in his career, Brady has posted a better passer rating than Manning did at the same point in his career.

Manning: 1,739 for 2817 (61.7%), 20,618 yards, 138 TDs, 100 INTs; 85.6

Brady: 1,243 for 2018 (61.6%), 13,925 yards, 97 TDs, 52 INTs, 87.5

After five years in the league, the only great difference in their raw statistics comes from the number of opportunities Manning was given to throw the ball.

Brady, meanwhile, throwing to castoffs like David Patten and Dedric Ward, has averaged one touchdown pass for every 20.8 pass atttempts. In Manning’s first five years in the league, playing with Hall of Famers Marshall Faulk , Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James, tossed one touchdown pass every 20.4 pass attempts. Manning threw an interception every 28.2 pass attempts. Brady has thrown interceptions just once every 38.8 pass attempts. (At the end of the 2004 season we posted the surprising results of our comparison between Brady, Manning and all the great quarterbacks of the Super Bowl era.)

Of course, over the last two years, Manning has played the best football of his career — highlighted by this year’s record 49 touchdown passes — while throwing the ball to a star-studded offensive cast. Still, his career passer rating is a mere 4.8 points higher than Brady’s is today:

Manning: 2,464 for 3,880 (63.5%), 29,942 yards, 216 TDs, 120 INTs, 92.3 INT

Brady: 1,243 for 2018 (61.6%), 13,925 yards, 97 TDs, 52 INTs, 87.5

Manning’s 92.3 passer rating is fourth best in history. Brady’s is seventh. “Pundits” insist that Manning is a statistical wunderkind who puts up unfathomable numbers and that Brady is a “system” quarterback who “manages” his team well. The Cold, Hard Football Facts have bitch-slapped these beliefs up and down the side of the skull: The truth is that the statistical margin between the two quarterbacks is a lot smaller than most in the football world realize (or are willing to admit). If you insist that stats are all that matters, you better be prepared to give Brady his due. He, like Manning, is one of the most statistically dominant quarterbacks in NFL history – and Brady equals or exceeds many of Manning’s numbers at the same point in their careers.

The bottom line for Manning fans is this: their belief that Manning is superior because he routinely puts up greater stats than Brady is simply not true (though it was true in 2004). The truth is that those who believe Manning is a better QB are basing their argument on a tiny margin of better regular-season statistics and utterly ignoring Brady’s clear and overwhelming postseason superiority. Quite frankly, anyone who states that Manning is a better QB is making a argument that is literally illogical and indefensible because they’re building their defense upon a belief (“Manning posts much greater statistics”) that is simply not true.

Of course, one can’t help but wonder: What would Brady’s stat line look like if the Patriots invested in offense the way Indy has? Of course, there’s no need for New England to do so. Brady’s proven that he can put up historic passing numbers, and win championships in heroic fashion, surrounded by a mediocre running game and workmanlike offensive crew. Manning has proven he can put up historic regular-season passing numbers surrounded by an all-star cast. He’s yet to prove he can consistently put up historic passing numbers in the postseason. In fact, quite the opposite, he’s played his very worst ball when his team has needed him most.

The bottom line is this: No quarterback in modern football history has crafted a career that includes a more impressive combination of stunning postseason performances, team accomplishments and eye-popping stats than Brady. Certainly not Peyton Manning.

Tom Brady, in other words, is the better quarterback. Case closed.

Of course, we welcome any stat-filled counter-arguments. Just don’t bother us with puffball opinions. They won’t hold any weight under the jackhammer of Cold, Hard Football Facts we just used to rip up the public’s perception of the superiority of Manning.