Tom Brady And Peyton Manning's Rivalry Explained

On September 30, 2001, Tom Brady was almost unknown (via The Sun Chronicle). It was his first start for the New England Patriots after he'd spent the previous season and the beginning of the 2001 season on the bench. In 2000, he was picked 199th overall in the NFL draft. And that night, he was squaring off against one of the game's elite quarterbacks, Peyton Manning, a former No. 1 draft pick. Brady and the Patriots slaughtered Manning and the Indianapolis Colts that night, winning 44-13 (via CBS).

It was the beginning of a rivalry "for the ages," as one NFL writer put it, and for more than three years, Brady and the Patriots dominated it. Per Sports Illustrated, Brady won his first six matchups against Manning, including the 2004 AFC Championship and 2005 AFC divisional playoff. Later that year, though, the momentum swung the Colts' way. They won the next three Brady-Manning showdowns, including the 2007 AFC Championship. Manning and Brady would ultimately meet in four AFC Championships.

Regular season vs. postseason

The Denver Post noted in 2014 that Peyton Manning had better regular-season stats than  Tom Brady, including NFL season records for touchdown passes and yards passing. On the other hand, Manning was, at that point, 1-for-2 in the Super Bowl, while Brady was 3-for-5 and had won more playoff games overall.

Ironically, when played against each other, it was the exact opposite. They faced each other in the regular season 12 times before Manning retired. Brady won nine of those games, Manning three. On the other hand, in their five postseason matchups, Manning won three, Brady two. Manning's three postseason victories over Brady all came in AFC Championship games; Brady only beat Manning at that level once (via CBS).

That included the January 21, 2007, game that Sports Illustrated called Brady's "most devastating defeat." The Colts rallied from being down 21-3. It was the biggest comeback in the history of NFL conference championships. They went on to win the Super Bowl that year.

The end of the line

Tom Brady's and Peyton Manning's last matchup was another AFC Championship on January 24, 2016. Manning's new team, the Denver Broncos, won 20-18, holding off the Patriots' last-minute rally, according to Sports Illustrated. The Broncos won the Super Bowl, and Manning retired afterward, going out on top.

As bitter as the rivalry might have seemed on the field, it was different behind the scenes. Throughout their careers, they were complimentary of each other. In 2014, Brady said of Manning (via NFL), "You just count on a great performance from him every week. ... I've always respected him because he's always someone who has chosen to get better."

In 2019, Brady posted a selfie of the pair together, saying, "We were friends this whole time," per CBS. Later, he appeared in Manning's ESPN+ documentary "Peyton's Places," in which they played golf together — a friendlier rivalry. After one false start, Brady announced his retirement on February 1. It was the end of an era.