Peyton Manning didn’t always get the best of the New England Patriots, but he certainly had his moments of brilliance against the six-time Super Bowl champions. After all, even though he doesn’t come close to matching Tom Brady’s ring collection, the recent Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee emerged victorious over Bill Belichick’s team in the playoffs on a few occasions.
Still, that did nothing to convince New England fans that the eldest of the Manning brothers reigned supreme over TB12. At the very least, though, the longtime Indianapolis Colts star earned respect for his ability to play the position at an elite level.
However, Manning recently made a surprising admission about the Patriots that should make him both respected and hated even more by Patriot Nation.
Peyton Manning had some fierce battles against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick during his days with the Colts and Broncos
Peyton Manning spent the majority of his NFL career trying to beat Tom Brady and Bill Belichick as the leader of the Colts’ high-octane offense. Although he routinely put up better regular-season numbers than his peer, the 14-time Pro Bowler often found himself on the losing end of things in the playoffs. After suffering some crushing defeats at the hands of the Patriots, Manning finally got revenge in 2006 when he led Indianapolis to a 38-34 victory in the AFC Championship.
The Colts captured the Lombardi Trophy, and Brady ended up losing to Manning’s younger brother in two dramatic Super Bowl matchups against the New York Giants. Thanks to a well-timed interception by Malcolm Butler, the Patriots finally snapped their title drought in 2014.
But the following season ended in disappointing fashion for Brady and Belichick.
For the second time in three years, Manning defeated the dynamic duo in the playoffs. Of course, he did so in a Denver Broncos uniform. And just like in 2006, the legendary quarterback won a Super Bowl ring after beating the Patriots for the AFC title.
As Brady’s biggest rival, Manning obviously earned plenty of hate from New England fans. But even his biggest bashers would admit the Colts legend deserves to be called one of the best of all time.
Manning’s surprising admission about the Patriots should make him respected and hated even more in New England
Once the Colts elected to move on from Manning, he instantly became the most sought-after free agent. With a chance to choose his own fate, the Hall of Famer kept his biggest rival in mind when he decided where to take his talents.
“If you’re a fan, it’s like, ‘Please get away from the Patriots, go play in the NFC,'” Manning said during a recent podcast appearance on The Ringer. “I don’t know, it’s like, if you’re gonna get in the Super Bowl, you’re gonna have to go through New England, so might as well just play them in the AFC Championship Game every year to have the chance to win the Super Bowl.”
He further added, “New England had a little bit of a role in my decision to stay in the AFC, believe it or not.”
Manning’s surprising admission should earn him more respect and more hatred in New England.
On one hand, he deserves praise for not taking the easy route. He could have made his life easier by taking his talents to the NFC, but he took the “To be the best, you have to beat the best” approach.
Did the Broncos win because of Manning?
But they still had to go through the Patriots to earn a title, so he should earn more respect for remaining in the AFC.
On the other hand, New England fans experienced more heartbreak because of his fateful decision. The team suffered close losses against the Broncos in 2013 and 2015 that prevented them from representing the conference. If Manning had taken his talents to an NFC team, Brady and Belichick could easily have made two more Super Bowl appearances.
Instead of celebrating another title or two, New England fans had to watch their longtime nemesis lift the Lombardi Trophy in victory. By admitting his desire to beat the Patriots factored into his decision to stay in the AFC, Manning gave Patriot Nation another reason to make him a sworn enemy.
Can the Patriots and the Broncos figure out a way to win without Brady and Manning?
Interestingly, both the Patriots and the Broncos failed with their initial plans to replace their iconic quarterbacks. As a result, they will break in new starters at the most important position in sports this season.
In Denver, 2019 second-round pick Drew Lock hasn’t lived up to expectations. He got beat out for the starting job by Teddy Bridgewater, who doesn’t exactly boast big-time upside. Still, the Broncos have an impressive collection of skill players and a defense that should finish as a top-10 unit.
Meanwhile, Belichick paid the price for believing in Cam Newton. The 32-year-old struggled during his first season in New England, and the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Newton signed another one-year deal, but he got released on final cutdown day.
With Mac Jones taking over, the Patriots have a chance to take a big step forward on offense. Belichick spent a sizable chunk of cap space on tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry and receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. Damien Harris headlines a talented running back room. And the offensive line boasts top-five potential.
Still, it remains to be seen whether Jones and Bridgewater can lead their respective teams to the playoffs.
Needless to say, the Broncos and the Patriots are a long ways away from the days of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning battling it out for AFC supremacy.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.