By: C.J. Doon
The matchup between the Broncos and Patriots on Sunday afternoon marked the annual meeting between future first-ballot Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and yet, during its 13th production, everything seemed so…different.
The obvious changes were clear: Peyton emerged from the visitor’s tunnel at Gillette Stadium sporting a charging bronco on his helmet, not the familiar blue and white horseshoe. He took snaps from someone not named Jeff Saturday, and threw passes to receivers named Thomas and Decker, not Wayne and Harrison.
What became evident as the game wore on, however, was that this historic rivalry may have written its final chapter.
Instead of the usual air-show, we saw Tom Brady hand the ball off 51 times to a bevy of running backs, with Tom Terrific throwing for a pedestrian 223 yards and one touchdown.
Instead of seeing Manning emerge victorious after throwing for three touchdowns and zero interceptions, a feat that has led to a record of 31-4, we saw the former Colt run off the field on the short end of the scoreboard.
Instead of the usual thrill that comes from the inevitable back-and-forth tussle between Peyton and Brady, we saw the Patriots take a 31-3 lead at the end of the third quarter, and put the game out of reach.
Archie’s eldest son was able to march the Broncos down the field for two touchdowns to pull within ten points, and for a moment, it seemed as if we were going to see a repeat of the thrilling AFC Title Game against the Pats from ’08, where Manning led the Colts to a 38-24 come-from-behind victory that sent the Colts to the Super Bowl.
Instead, Broncos’ running back Willis McGahee fumbled at the New England 14-yard line with 5:19 to play, and Manning and Brady shook hands at midfield for what could be the very last time.
What we saw on Sunday afternoon was the end of an era. The magic that used to encompass this historic matchup has now faded away. All we have left to remember the rivalry are the memories of seasons’ past, such as the infamous “4th and 2” game in ’09, and the Patriots thrilling comeback to stay undefeated in ‘08.
There is still hope for another playoff matchup, a game that could rewrite the next chapter of one of the greatest quarterback matchups of all-time. But the sad truth is that Brady, now age 35, and Manning, now age 36 and coming off two neck surgeries, are reaching the end of their careers. Soon it will be the matchups of Luck vs. Griffin III or Rodgers vs. Ryan that will grab the spotlight.
As the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end”. Until then, here’s hoping that we haven’t seen the last of these two great athletes.
In other news, here’s a breakdown of what we’ve learned about the NFL season so far. Are you ready?
Yep, that’s right. Nothing! It’s the most unpredictable season in recent memory!
Here are some facts to prove it:
- The two remaining unbeaten teams, the Atlanta Falcons and the Houston Texans, own two of the four best odds to win the Super Bowl. Their combined playoff record is 7-12.
- The New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers, who combined for a record of 28-4 in 2011 and played in the last two Super Bowls, have a combined record of 5-5 heading into Week 6.
- Matthew Stafford, who threw for a career-high 41 touchdown passes in 2011, is on pace for 12 touchdown passes in 2012.
- The NFC West, which posted a combined record of 25-39 in 2010 and was widely considered the worst division in pro sports, now owns the best combined record of any conference through five weeks at 14-6.
Suddenly, the whole Mayan calendar end-of-the-world prediction doesn’t sound too far-fetched.
With that crazy idea, let’s jump right in to this week’s edition of Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em!
Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis Colts – On Monday Night Football, the Texans’ Arian Foster rushed for 152 yards on 29 carries with one touchdown against the Jets, as the Texans cruised to a 23-17 victory over that other team from New York. The Jets have allowed 172 yards/game on the ground this season, the second worst rank in the league behind only the 1-4 New Orleans Saints. Donald Brown has been less-than-average this season at running back for the Colts, but had a productive day against the Packers this week, rushing for 84 yards on 17 carries in the Colts’ thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Green Bay Packers. Brown will continue to play with intensity for an inspired Colts team that is playing without head coach Chuck Pagano, who was diagnosed with leukemia last week. The Colts have adopted the slogan #Chuckstrong to help raise awareness for leukemia research, and will continue to play hard to honor their coach as he fights the toughest battle of his life.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers’ running back returned with a bang on Sunday, rushing for 81 yards and a touchdown, while also catching two passes for 20 yards against the vaunted Eagles defense. Normally, players returning from ACL injuries need a few weeks to get back to their normal level of play (Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles, for example), but Mendenhall looked quick on Sunday and did not seem to favor his knee at all. This week’s matchup is against the Titans, who have allowed the 5th most rushing yards per game to opposing running backs this season, so look for Mendenhall to put up even bigger numbers.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals – Fitz has struggled to find his groove so far this season, averaging only 8.8 points per game. However, Fitzgerald has posted 12 points or more in two of his past three starts, and is beginning to terrorize opposing defenses. The good news: the Cardinals are due to face the Bills this week, who have given up 35.2 points per game and have allowed 13.2 yards per catch and 12 touchdowns to opposing receivers. If Kevin Kolb can bounce back from his subpar performance against the Rams, Fitz will put up huge numbers against the Bills’ porous defense.
Willis McGahee, RB, Denver Broncos – The bad news: 14 carries, 51 yards, and zero touchdowns against the Pats, including a late fumble that cost the Broncos a chance at a comeback. The worse news: McGahee faces the Chargers defense this week, which allows a stingy 74 yards/game to opposing running backs, good enough for 5th best in the league. If the Broncos have any chance at winning on Sunday, it will be Peyton Manning, not Willis McGahee, that will be putting up big numbers.
Nate Washington, WR, Tennessee Titans – Washington has been solid so far this season, averaging 7.6 points per game as the Titans #1 wide receiver. Against the Lions in Week 3, Washington caught three passes for 112 yards and one touchdown, exploding for 17 points. However, his play has steadily declined since, and with Matt Hasselbeck now taking the snaps for the Titans, Washington is expected to see even fewer passes thrown his way. More bad news for Washington owners: the Titans play host to the Pittsburgh Steelers this week, a team that has allowed the 2nd fewest receptions to opposing receivers this season.
Pierre Garcon, WR, Washington Redskins – After Garcon’s magnificent performance in Week 1 vs. the Saints – 4 catches, 109 yards, and one touchdown – the Redskins’ receiver has fallen off the map. Garcon was shut out in Weeks 1 and 2 by the Rams and Bengals, and has averaged a pathetic 2.5 points per game in last four games. However, Garcon was targeted seven times by RG3 in Sunday’s loss to the Falcons, catching three passes for 24 yards. The problem is, RG3 left Sunday’s game in the third quarter with a concussion after a ferocious hit by Falcons’ linebacker Sean Witherspoon, and is doubtful for this week’s matchup against the Vikings. If rookie Kirk Cousins starts in place of Griffin, Garcon will see his production dip even further.