FOXBORO, Mass. -- Less than a few hundred feet from where he works his magic on the field, Tom Brady was behind a lectern Thursday, marveling at the gifts of another quarterback.

As he watched last week's NFC Championship Game between the Giants and the San Francisco 49ers, Brady said he couldn't help but take note of Eli Manning's poise under pressure.

The Giants quarterback is neither physically imposing nor speedy. But when defenses are bearing down on him, he doesn't flinch -- a trait that Patriots quarterback Brady can appreciate.

"It's part of the position," he said after Thursday's first Super Bowl practice. "You watch the San Francisco game. He was getting drilled and just stood in there, kept making the throws, trusting his protection, and came through when they needed him."

Some scoffed last summer when Manning, in response to a question, declared himself an "elite" quarterback, in the ranks of his brother Peyton and Brady. But the Patriots are believers.

Manning threw for a franchise-record 4,933 yards and had 29 touchdown passes in the regular season. He has passed for at least 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns in seven consecutive years.

Defensive end Mark Anderson was asked what comes to mind when he thinks about the Giants. But his response wasn't their vaunted front four or their speedy receivers. "Eli. I see Eli," Anderson said. "Eli is the key to their team right now.''

Some Patriots said Manning is the best quarterback they've faced since . . . well, since they faced him Nov. 6 and lost, 24-20.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"Obviously, he's in the Super Bowl, so you got to put him up there right now," Anderson said.

Manning can hurt teams in a number of ways, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said -- even with his feet. "Not that he's looking to run for 100 yards or anything," he said. "But converting on third down, scrambling out of the pocket, keeping plays alive, we've seen that before. He does a good job.''

Vince Wilfork said the Giants have "probably one of the best offenses we've seen, from every aspect." And Manning's the main reason why.

"[There have been] a lot of questions about Peyton. Now his little brother Eli, he stepped his game up big time," the defensive tackle said. "He can always be compared to some of the greats in the game now because of his production. He took that team over.''

Brady said he's had an eye on Manning since the Chargers selected him first overall in the 2004 draft and traded him to the Giants. And he's seen him up close three times.

On Nov. 6, after Brady threw the go-ahead touchdown pass with 1:36 left, Manning capped an 80-yard drive with the winning touchdown pass with 15 seconds to play. Of course, Manning threw the touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds remaining that beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. And on Dec. 29, 2007, Manning threw four touchdown passes in the Giants' 38-35 loss to the Patriots.

"He does everything you're looking for at quarterback," Brady said. "I've seen it firsthand what he can do in the fourth quarter of these games. He's done a great job of bringing his team back. He's a great leader. You always hear that coming out of New York. The guys really have a lot of respect for him. And so do I."

Gronkowski held out. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski did not practice because of a sprained left ankle suffered Sunday against the Ravens.