FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There are passing clinics and then there is what Tom Brady did on a drizzly Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. Brady's passing day was a doctoral thesis, the tape of which should go to every NFL team, college team, high school team, Pop Warner group and, just for kicks and giggles, every beer-drinking frat boy playing flag football in the park.
This particular passing clinic -- made all the more devastating by a lethal Patriots running game -- was against Peyton Manning. And make no mistake: this was Manning vs. Brady. Everyone else on the field were chess pieces and auxiliary parts. They were supporting actors to De Niro and Denzel.
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The two quarterbacks themselves tried to downplay their battle both during the week and after the game, won by the Patriots, 31-21. But we all know the deal. It was Brady against Manning and Manning lost again. Brady is now 9-4 against him.
The examples of Brady's skills were woven throughout almost every moment of this contest. Brady didn't post gaudy numbers. He threw for 223 yards and a score with no interceptions. It was the caliber of throws that was impressive. Then again, this is what Brady does. This is what he always does and that is how he beat Manning. Again.
The examples of Brady's accuracy and command were everywhere. In the first quarter, Wes Welker ran an out pattern, and the football was thrown so perfectly, the tip of the ball hit Welker in the numbers almost a millisecond after Welker turned his head back to Brady.
Later in that first quarter, Brady again went to Welker, and Welker's tiny little legs, moving like he was a character from a Road Runner cartoon, did not break stride when a Brady pass whistled into his chest. Brady ended that first quarter missing just one of eight passes and had a quarterback rating of 136.5.
Perhaps the best Brady pass came in the second quarter. He put the football in a spot only Brandon Lloyd's outstretched arms could reach. The ball went right between two Denver defenders who both surely thought they had the deflection. The Patriots scored to take a 14-7 lead and on that drive Brady was 6 of 7 for 59 yards.
Brady has made these types of throws look so routine it is easy to forget just how good he is. It is in moments like these, when he goes against another Hall of Famer that we are slapped in the face at how he can take over a game.
Maybe we see Manning and Brady again in the playoffs this season or maybe next year. Or maybe never again. But each time they are on the field, it's a treat. This was the first time two starting quarterbacks entered an NFL game with at least 300 touchdown passes each. It was also only the second time in NFL history two starting quarterbacks each had at least 125 wins (the first was Dan Marino against John Elway in 1998).
"Two great players, obviously," said coach Bill Belichick. "Two great, great players." That type of praise from Belichick is his equivalent of hiring a marching band.
Brady and Manning can both say all they wanted was a win and that neither cared about beating the other. Sure fellas. Whatever. They were in competition during the week, during the game and during much of their entire careers.
"It's Patriots-Broncos," said Brady when asked about how he's dominated Manning. "It was a team win."
Manning was good and he also had some nice throws. While Manning is almost a walking miracle -- how many men could have multiple neck surgeries and still play professional football -- for this game he wasn't in the same class as Brady.
This game was also a stark reminder that Manning's arm strength is still questionable. There were just several Manning deep throws the entire game and a good chunk of Manning's passes were in the 10 to 15 yard range. The lack of deep passes wasn't a product of New England's coverage, either.
Manning's arm strength isn't back to normal so in a way it's almost unfair to compare him to a healthy Brady. Yet there was Manning fighting at the end when it seemed the contest was out of hand. An almost flawless six-play, 43-yard drive that ended with a Brandon Stokley touchdown made it 31-21 with 6:43 remaining.
If Willis McGahee didn't fumble deep inside New England territory with about four minutes to go, we might be speaking of this game a lot differently.
It is true that Brady had much more help than Manning. The Patriots had another 200-yard rushing day, the first time they've had consecutive 200-yard rushing days since 1978 and Manning -- yet again -- couldn't quite solve a Belichick defense. One of the more pivotal errors in the game came when Manning fumbled, the Patriots recovered, and New England converted the turnover into a 31-7 lead.
After the game, as Manning walked off the field, he was surrounded by at least 30 to 40 cameras and photographers. He made a slow trek toward Brady and was intercepted by Belichick. The two exchanged a quick hug. Then Manning moved on to find Brady and when the quarterbacks met, they also hugged.
Manning had his 66th 300-yard game. He was good.
Brady was better. As usual.