Peyton Manning Will Go Down As Patriots' Toughest Opponent in Brady/Belichick Era
Peyton Manning's legacy will forever be appreciated by those who saw him battle Bill Belichick's New England Patriots for 16 seasons. As a former No. 1 overall draft pick, Manning fought through a rough start to his NFL career to become of the the greatest ever to play his position, which was done by battling against some of the toughest teams the NFL has ever had set foot on a field, like the Patriots, with Belichick and future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady leading the historic franchise.
The rivalry between Manning and the Patriots will always be remembered by some of the infamous moments by either side.
Whether it be when Kevin Faulk fell short of the first down marker on 4th-and-2 in 2009 during a 35-34 loss to the Manning-led Colts, the Patriots accusing Indianapolis of pumping in crowd noise in 2007 during their 24-20 win over the Colts, or Manning asking to talk outside the locker room at Gillette Stadium in fear that the locker room was bugged by New England, what is clear is that both teams had swapped off getting the better of each other during the 2000s, which created speculation, controversy - but importantly - one of the greatest rivalries the NFL had to offer.
Manning's record against the Patriots doesn't quite tell the whole tale. His career record vs. Belichick - regular season and postseason combined - is 8-12, which obviously isn't a winning record. But it is by far the most wins by any quarterback against Bill Belichick, who is considered the greatest head coach of all time. Those eight wins - five of which came during the regular season and three in the postseason - pushed New England to continue to get better, and can be considered one of the reasons why the six-time Super Bowl champions were able to sustain their success in the 2000s into the 2010s.
"For 18 years, we battled fiercely but regardless of each game's outcome, I always walked off the field with the utmost appreciation for the highest level of competition in which those games were prepared for and played," Bill Belichick said back in 2016 in wake of Manning announcing his retirement. Peyton's immense contributions to the game reflect how genuinely passionate he is about it. I can honestly say that I never 'enjoyed' our meetings, but the respect I have for Peyton Manning as a competitor was, and will likely remain, second to none."
The fierce competitiveness that drove Manning to get the best of the Patriots at times can best be exemplified during the 2016 postseason, when the Manning-led Broncos took on New England in the AFC Championship.
That season would be Manning's final in the NFL, which was probably for the best. The veteran QB had seemingly lost a step, having thrown 39 touchdowns during the regular season the year before to having thrown just nine during the 2015 season. His best days were well behind him - that's at least what it seemed like - but that didn't stop Manning's burning desire to beat New England from showing a bit of his old self as an efficient game manager that year against the Patriots, who had finished with the same 12-4 record as Denver during the regular season.
During that game, Manning completed 17-of-32 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns. His play that game helped Denver edge New England 20-18, which catapulted them to Super Bowl 50. It was the only game during that year's Super Bowl run for the Broncos that Manning had thrown a touchdown pass during a game - let alone two - which displayed how the rivalry between Manning and the Patriots had gotten the very best out of the 39-year-old quarterback, even when it looked like his best days were well behind him. To this day, Manning claims Brady is still mad about the final loss to his friendly foe, which is cute when considering how many meaningful victories Tom Brady has over Peyton.
All-in-all, Manning's career - which consisted of 14 Pro Bowls, seven All-Pro seasons, four Super Bowl appearances, two championships, and historic passing numbers - can be seen as the catalyst that motivated the Patriots to strive for greatness and strive to be better each and every year. They knew players like Manning, along with the teams he was on, would beat them if they didn't bring their A-game, which would derail the legacy that Brady and Belichick built over the past two decades. That helped us see one of the greatest runs from a professional sports team in the history of sports.
For that, Patriots Nation thanks you, Peyton.