BOSTON – Here we go again.
This Sunday the Patriots will be in Denver for the AFC Championship game. But this isn’t really about the Pats and Broncos. It’s about Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. Again.
They are two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, and they will go head to head in the conference championship for the third time.
Greatness is a subjective term, but there’s no denying what Brady and Manning can do on the field. Brady set the NFL record with 50 touchdown passes in 2007, a mark that was broken by Manning this season. You will find the two names at or near the top of just about every QB list.
ESPN’s new metric, Total Quarterback Rating, or QBR, was created to shed a light on everything a quarterback does in today’s hyper-fueled NFL.
It has Manning second, and Brady ranked 11th. It also has Josh McCown first. Josh McCown? The Bears didn’t make the playoffs, but in this day and age we’re told that wins are a very old-school stat. And old-school is bad.
Winning is what Tom Brady does best. That might disappoint stats-driven fans and fantasy football owners, but it’s kept us pretty happy here in New England.
This is the Patriots’ 10th postseason appearance in 11 years. They’ve now made it to the conference championship in seven of those seasons, winning the Super Bowl three times.
Brady has remarkable statistics in that stretch and throughout his career, but there’s only one stat he – and you – care about.
The Patriots are 138-38 in the regular season during that run. They are 18-7 in the playoffs with Brady at the helm.
Two of those wins, and one loss, came against Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. This year the Pats had to bury to Colts to get another crack at Manning. Saturday night’s rain-soaked win at Gillette made it clear that this is a different team heading into the high altitude for the weekend.
That night belonged to LaGarrette Blount and the New England running game.
It’s a smash-mouth, straight-ahead style of play that has developed over the season, and has never been more important with the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Blount set a Patriots playoff record with four touchdown runs, and tied another with 166 rushing yards. Brady didn’t have to throw a single touchdown pass in the win, instead using the pass to soften the Colts defense as the running game delivered a Blount-force win.
It was a remarkable performance by Blount, who set a career high with 189 yards and two TDs in the season finale against Buffalo.
Pats fans no longer worry about Stevan Ridley’s slippery hands. Blount, traded to New England by the Bucs for Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick, has made us believe in the running game again.
None of that will lessen the hype surrounding the latest round of Brady vs. Manning. When it’s all said and done, Manning will probably have the edge in stats.
If Brady has Blount running like this behind him, he’ll have to settle for the win.
It might not help his QBR, but in New England, folks are more interested in the letter W.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.