DENVER — For all the accomplishments in his spectacular 16-year career, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has two notable failings. The first: He has never beaten the Giants in the Super Bowl. The second: He mostly stinks when he plays the Broncos in Denver.
Brady needn’t worry about the former, because the Giants again failed to make the playoffs. But the latter is now an issue as he prepares to face Peyton Manning in the 17th matchup between the two legendary quarterbacks.
While Brady’s duel with Manning is the lead storyline, the subplot of how and why he can’t seem to solve the riddle of playing well and winning at Sports Authority Field at Mile High is as big an issue for the Patriots’ 38-year-old quarterback.
Will kryptonite get Brady once again?
The future Hall of Famer is trying to reach his seventh Super Bowl, but to do so, he needs to beat the Broncos at a stadium where failure has been the rule, not the exception. And it’s not just Manning or other great quarterbacks Brady has succumbed to at Mile High. In fact, Brady has come out on the losing end against some eminently forgettable quarterbacks over the years.
He’s 2-6 lifetime in Denver, and most recently lost to Brock Osweiler in November. The other quarterbacks who have beaten him here: Brian Griese, Kyle Orton and Jake Plummer (twice).
Not exactly a murderers’ row of NFL quarterbacks.
Brady insists playing at Mile High, where visiting players often have trouble adjusting to performing at a higher altitude, isn’t much different from playing anywhere else. He thinks it’s more the quality of the Broncos teams the Patriots have played, although he acknowledges part of it could be running around in the thin air.
“I think it’s all those things,” Brady said. “The level of competition and the quality of their players and coaches is what makes it a great team and a great organization. They’ve been that way for a long time. So they have a great tradition there and we’ve played a lot of good Bronco teams. beaten them a couple times, but they’ve beat us most of the time, so I’d like to get to that No. 3 in the win column this weekend.”
A win would cement Brady’s legacy even further — not that it needs much cementing. Brady already has staked a claim to being considered not only the best NFL quarterback ever but the best NFL player at any position. His resume is simply brilliant: four Super Bowl championships, three Super Bowl MVP awards, 10 AFC Championship Game appearances and now five straight conference title games.
But as the Eli Manning-Tom Coughlin Giants proved in the Super Bowls after the 2007 and 2011 seasons, Brady is not infallible. And if Peyton Manning can play the kind of mistake-free football his younger brother did in beating Brady twice, the Broncos surely will have a decent chance to win. In fact, it would behoove the Broncos to do their best imitation of those Giants teams by adopting a similar game plan.
The Giants solved Brady with a relentless pass rush, particularly up the middle with their innovative “NASCAR” package that featured Justin Tuck moving from end to tackle and then Osi Umenyiora, Michael Strahan (in 2007) and Jason Pierre-Paul (in 2011) applying pressure from the outside.
The Broncos’ defense has been exceptional this season, and bookend pass rushers Von Miller and Demarcus Ware probably are the best one-two combo in today’s NFL. If they can get decent pressure on Brady, and if the Broncos can add some push up the middle to get Brady out of his comfort zone in the pocket, he could be in trouble.
And if Denver can continue to rely on its running game, with C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman shouldering the load, the Broncos can go a long way toward controlling the clock and keeping Brady off the field as much as possible.
Brady knows he’ll have to be sharp, even if Manning is nearing the end of his career and his play has slipped noticeably the last two seasons.
“I think is an incredible player, and any time you face that caliber of player — and there are a lot of great quarterbacks in the NFL Peyton has been one of the best to ever play — you’ve got to be at your best,” Brady said. “You can’t play anything less than your best and expect to win, because he’s going to play well and he’s going to have that team playing well.”
Brady is one victory away from earning the right to become the first quarterback since . . . well, himself . . . to win back-to-back Super Bowls. He did it in 2003-04.
If he wins, it’s on to San Francisco for Super Bowl 50. If not, it will be more Mile High misery.
Better than Brady?
Quarterbacks who have beaten Tom Brady in Denver:
Jake Plummer (2) Oct. 16, 2005; Jan. 14, 2006 (2005 playoffs)
Brian Griese Oct. 28, 2001
Kyle Orton Oct. 11, 2009
Peyton Manning Jan. 19, 2014 (2013 AFC Championship Game)
Brock Osweiler Nov. 29, 2015