Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as part of a between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson ( ), but as anyone who's ever followed football should know, it won't be the first time the legendary quarterbacks have gone head to head. Widely considered the two greatest signal-callers of their time, if not NFL history, Brady and Manning played each other 17 different times throughout their respective careers.
Newly relocated to Tampa, Brady may just be kicking off another chapter of his NFL career at age 42, but his 15-year tussle with Manning is already entrenched in league history. With their next competitive clash around the corner, there's no better time to revisit the Brady-Manning rivalry in a rough timeline of their battles.
Brady's introduction to the world
The first head-to-head showdown between Brady and Manning came in the first start of Brady's career. (How poetic.) Selected 199th overall in the sixth round of the 2000 draft, two years after Manning went No. 1 overall to the Indianapolis Colts, Brady spent his entire rookie season on the bench, throwing just three passes in relief of former Pro Bowler Drew Bledsoe during a 5-11 season. The following year, Brady was called into duty to make his first career start against Manning's Colts during a Week 3 matchup after Bledsoe, whose signature was practically still drying on a 10-year, $103 million deal, suffered potentially life-threatening injuries the week before.
Up against a 2-0 Colts team headlined by Manning, who led the NFL in both passing yards and touchdowns in 2000, Brady posted pedestrian numbers (13 of 23 for 168 yards) but, most importantly, didn't turn the ball over while his Patriots completely upended Indy, scoring 23 unanswered points to start the game and then dropping 21 in the fourth quarter alone for a 44-13 victory, New England's first of the season. Brady wasn't nearly as sturdy in his second career start, throwing just 86 yards in a 30-10 drubbing at the hands of the Dolphins in Miami, but the stage had already been set on his rivalry with Manning, and he -- somehow -- had the upper hand.
Brady continues early dominance
If Brady's first win against Manning could be written off to happenstance, naysayers needed only look at the next five matchups between the then-young QBs. First up: The Patriots traveled to Indy in October 2001, less than a month after Brady's Week 3 upset, and Brady not only completed 80 percent of his passes but fired three TDs to win big, 38-17, and send Manning's Colts below .500. Four months later, it was Brady -- not Manning, the former No. 1 pick -- hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, with No. 12 himself crowned Super Bowl MVP after upsetting the heavily-favored Rams.
Brady and Manning would meet four more times over the next three seasons -- twice in 2003, twice in 2004. Brady was victorious in all of them. His numbers were so-so at times (two TDs, two INTs in 2003, when the Pats snuck past the Colts, 38-34), but there was no longer any doubt who owned the rivalry, let alone whether Brady and the Patriots were as formidable as Manning and the Colts in terms of title contenders. Brady bested Manning in the 2003 AFC Championship to advance to Super Bowl XXXVIII, where the Pats would beat the Panthers and give Brady his second ring, and then beat him again to kick off the 2004 season. Come January 2005, in a rematch against Manning and the Colts in the '04 AFC divisional round, Brady was responsible for two TDs in a 20-3 snowstorm beatdown of Indy -- a win that helped propel New England to Super Bowl XXXIX, where Brady edged the Eagles for his third title in four seasons as a starter.
Peyton finally breaks through
It wasn't until November 2005, four years into the Brady-Manning rivalry, that Peyton began balancing the scales. But he did it with gusto. Amid a 13-game win streak to finish 14-2 and establish Indy as a true NFL powerhouse, Manning dropped 321 yards, three TDs and a 117.1 QB rating on New England in a 40-21 rout. Almost exactly a year later, Manning thoroughly outperformed Brady in a 27-20 win, during which TB12 threw four interceptions, then came back with a bigger gut punch in January, throwing 349 yards in a 38-34 AFC Championship win to keep New England from the Super Bowl -- and then win it (and Super Bowl MVP) himself.
Brady rallied to win two of the pair's final three head-to-head meetings while Manning was still in Indianapolis, but all three games were nail-biters that could have swung either way. The first came during the Patriots' 16-0 season in 2007, when the Colts owned a 20-10 lead halfway through the fourth quarter before Brady rallied the troops to a 24-20 win. Manning repaid the favor in 2009, throwing a touchdown to Reggie Wayne with just 13 seconds left to tie the game before Matt Stover gave Indy the win. One year later, the Patriots were able to fend off a late Colts rally and earn a 31-28 win, giving Brady an 8-4 record in the head-to-head battle between the two rivals.
Brady rules regular season, comes up short in January
Brady added a couple more notches to his belt in his first two meetings against Manning's Broncos, including one that went to overtime in 2013 in Foxborough. But a rematch was in the cards for January, where Manning went 32 of 43 for 400 yards as the Broncos defeated the Patriots in Denver to advance to Super Bowl XLVIII. Manning's 55-TD MVP season wasn't enough to solve the Seahawks, however, as the Broncos' season ended with a whimper thanks to a 43-8 beatdown by Seattle.
Brady and Manning squared off again in 2014, with the Patriots winning 43-21. It was the biggest margin of victory in the head-to-head series since Brady's first career start all the way back in 2001. Manning, however, was able to get his revenge one season later.
Peyton gets the last laugh
The pair of legendary quarterbacks had one more meeting in the cards on the biggest AFC stage possible, as the Broncos and Patriots squared off in January 2016 with a trip to Super Bowl 50 on the line. A first-quarter missed extra point left the Patriots playing catch-up the entire day, as Manning threw two early touchdowns and had the Broncos in position to earn the "W" if they could hold off a Brady rally with two minutes left in the game. While Brady quickly took his team from midfield to the 10-yard line on a big play to Rob Gronkowski, his touchdown to Gronk with 12 seconds remaining meant little after the two-point conversion failed. Broncos 20, Patriots 18.
Manning went on to win another defensive battle two weeks later, defeating a Panthers team that went 15-1 in the regular season and allowing the longtime Colts and Broncos great to ride off into the sunset with a second Super Bowl title.
The final tally
The Brady-Manning rivalry, in total:
|Player||H2H wins||H2H playoff wins||H2H AFC Championship wins|
Brady on Manning (and vice-versa)
With so much history on the field, warring against each other for control not only of the AFC but the Lombardi Trophy, as well as unanimous acclaim and future Hall of Fame consideration, Brady and Manning had to have despised each other, right? Not so fast.
In 2019, three years after Manning hung up the cleats, Brady posted a selfie with his fellow legend and surprised NFL fans across the nation with his declaration, "We were friends this whole time." A year later, Brady made a special appearance on Manning's ESPN+ documentary "Peyton's Places," swapping stories and hitting golf balls with his longtime rival. He also touted Manning as a friendly competitor on several WEEI appearances, calling their on-field clashes "incredible."
So, in the end? We'll probably compare them for all they did against each other, but it turns out even they couldn't get enough of their own rivalry.