What separates Tom Brady from Peyton Manning? Everything you need to know was highlighted in the annual AFC-NFL all-star scrimmage called the Pro Bowl.
Manning was spectacular in Honolulu, in a game that means nothing. He completed 6 of 10 passes for 130 yards and three touchdowns, earned the game's MVP honors, became just the first player in 21 years to win the regular-season and Pro Bowl MVP awards in the same season and padded his Pro Bowl resume with his 9th, 10th and 11th all-star game touchdown passes.
Brady, meanwhile, appeared bored and disinterested during the two drives he played in the Pro Bowl. He said all the right things during the week, but clearly did not care about being in Honolulu. It showed during the game. Just seven days removed from his third Super Bowl-winning performance in four years – a game in which he posted a 110.2 passer rating against a defense that featured three Pro Bowl defensive backs – Brady played his single-worst statistical game of the season. He completed just 4 of 9 passes for 48 yards with an interception by Philly defensive back Lito Sheppard -- a full week after it would have counted. Brady's 21.8 passer rating in the scrimmage was the lowest he's posted in his entire career.
Manning's passer rating of 143.8, meanwhile, made the Pro Bowl the third best statistical game of his record-shattering 2004 season.
Of course, Manning apologists will look at this as a sign of his greatness. The Cold, Hard Football Facts point and laugh, fully aware that greatness rears its head not in the Pro Bowl scrimmage, but in the do-or-die pressure of playoff football.
Brady's brilliance in the postseason pressure cooker and Manning's brilliance in the meaningless Pro Bowl scrimmage provide a perfect case study in the differences between the two quarterbacks. So, too, do these two recent postseason performances:
In the AFC title game, on the road against 16-1 Pittsburgh, in a hostile environment, against the No. 1 rated total defense and scoring defense in all of football, against a team that did not lose a single home game all season, with wind chills hovering near 0, in a contest in which his team needed him the most, Brady played his very best game of the season. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 207 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. New England won, 41-27. The Patriots scored more than that only once (42 vs. Cleveland in December) since September 2001. It was the most points Pittsburgh surrendered since September 2003. Brady's 130.5 rating was his highest since a 38-7 win over Buffalo back in November 2002. Brady, of course, did all this following a night in which he lay ill in his hotel bed, with a temperature of 103 and IV needles stuck in his arm.
In the AFC divisional playoffs, on the road against 14-2 New England, in a hostile environment, against the No. 2 scoring defense in all of football, against a team that did not lose a single home game in two seasons, with snow blowing across the field, in a game in which his team needed him most, Manning played his very worst game of the season. He completed 27 of 42 passes for 238 yards with one interception. For the first time in a season in which Manning set an NFL record with 49 touchdown passes, he failed to find the end zone even once. It was the fewest points Indy scored since a 41-0 loss to the N.Y. Jets in, of course, the 2002 playoffs. It was the fewest points New England surrendered since December 2003. Manning's 69.3 rating was his lowest in any game since, of course, his last playoff loss, a four-interception performance against New England in the 2003 AFC title game.
In other words, back when the opponents were tough and the games counted, Brady stood head and shoulders above Manning and above the football world.
In three playoff games, Brady was flawless. Literally. He went through an entire postseason without an interception – a postseason that included games against the top two scoring defenses in the NFL. His cumulative postseason passer rating of 109.4 (55 for 81, 67.9%, 587 yards, 5 TDs/0 INTs) was his best in any three consecutive games he played all season. Brady, in other words, elevated his performance when the games counted most.
In his fifth NFL all-star game, Manning was virtually flawless. He's thrown a Pro Bowl-record 11 touchdown passes. The second-best Pro Bowl quarterback has thrown just seven touchdowns. Manning, in other words, has elevated his performance when the games counted least.
Of course, the meaninglessness of the Pro Bowl failed to register with ESPN's mental midgets – Joe Theismann, Paul Maguire, Mike Patrick – who announced the game. Early in the scrimmage, ESPN showed a picture of Tom Brady standing on the sidelines.
"Tom Brady's never thrown more than 28 touchdown passes in a season," said Theismann. "For Marino and Manning, that's just half a year."
"They're just getting warmed up," joked the slob Maguire, who couldn't resist worshipping at the altar of meaningless Manning performances.
It would have been entertaining television – if Theismann and Maguire didn't sound so stupid. Marino, of course, played 17 years in the NFL and is the all-time league leader with 420 touchdown passes. Yet he threw more than 28 touchdown passes just four times, and only once in his last 13 years in the NFL. Manning, meanwhile, has thrown for more than 28 touchdown passes three times in seven years – 33 in 2000; 29 in 2003 and 49 in 2004.
Manning was worshipped following his 29 touchdown passes in 2003. In fact, he won regular-season co-MVP honors and led an offense that people said couldn't be stopped. But Brady, according to the likes of Theismann and Maguire, is a statistical nobody after throwing 28 touchdowns twice in his first four years as a fulltime player and winning three Super Bowls.
Consider this: Brady has averaged more than 24 touchdown passes per season in his first four years as fulltime player. If he plays as long as Marino and keeps up this rate, he'll finish his career with 388 touchdown passes. That would place him second on the all-time touchdown list. Marino averaged 24.7 TD passes per season. Brady averages 24.2 touchdown passes per season. Not bad for a guy who doesn't put up big numbers.
As for Manning, maybe someday he will bottle his Pro Bowl magic and twist off the cap when the games actually count. Until then his lofty numbers in the Pro Bowl, or his six TD passes against an overmatched Detroit team in midseason, merely make a mockery of his postseason ineptitude. Expect his bottle of Pro Bowl brilliance to collect dust with all the other empty honors that sit on Manning's mantel.