Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos stiff arms linebacker Larry Foote #50 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter.
The last time the Broncos and Patriots met were under completely different circumstances. Quarterback Tim Tebow had just led Denver to an overtime playoff win over the Steelers and Tebowmania had reached its zenith. A week later, New England made quick work of the Broncos and Denver's front office spent the next few months figuring out how to get rid of Tebow. That eventuality became official when Peyton Manning signed with the team.
And now, four weeks into the Manning era, Denver is 2-2. Just like the Patriots. And while the Week 5 match-up probably won't have any bearing on who wins their respective divisions, it does provide us another chance to rekindle the Brady-Manning discussions. First, some background, via ESPN.com blogger Bill Williamson.
Of course, this isn't technically Brady vs. Manning. It's Brady vs. Denver's defense. Which is what coach Bill Belichick was focused on during Tuesday's press conference.
"They've looked good in all three phases of the game," he said. Really active on defense, especially with their front. Those guys are very disruptive, [Derek] Wolfe, he's done a good job for them. He's stepped in there, got a lot of playing time, along with some of the regular guys they have in there. Of course [Elvis] Dumervil, Von Miller. Two very, very active guys. There's some strong guys in the secondary, they added [Tracy] Porter, you know Champ [Bailey], that's a good group as well."
Belichick isn't just flapping his gums, either. While the Patriots' high-powered offense isn't a secret, the Broncos' defense aren't a bunch of stiffs. According to Football Outsiders, they rank seventh overall (third against the run, ninth against the pass).
There's another connection between these two teams beyond the two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels served as the Broncos' head coach for a season and a half, jumping out to a 6-0 start in 2009 before the wheels fell off and he was fired midway through 2010.
"It's an important game for our team,'' he said, according to the Boston Globe. "I guess there's a lot of times over the course of a season where there's players or coaches on either team who have had experience or been a part of another organization or team and I think that happens rather often, I would say.
"It's a big game for us because it's the next one and we're just trying to build on some of the things that we did well in our last game and really emphasize trying to play well at home.''
We're guessing it means a tad more than that to McDaniels, who was run out of town. The fact that Manning now happens to be Denver's quarterback probably makes this even more significant.