FOXBOROUGH -- Let the annual, ''Who's the best quarterback in the NFL" debate begin.
The two won't be on the field at the same time, but Monday night's matchup is as much Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning as it is New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts.
It is certainly not Richard Seymour against Dwight Freeney or Edgerrin James against Corey Dillon or Marvin Harrison against Deion Branch. It's the quarterback with fabulous numbers against the quarterback with the most fabulous of numbers: three Super Bowl victories.
''I love watching him play and then to compete against him," Brady said. ''Obviously, the quarterbacks don't compete against each other, but as a team you're competing against the team that he leads, and you're leading another team. It makes it all exciting. I think we'll all be excited to play."
Brady laughs when asked if he is a better quarterback than Manning.
He gushes praise when asked about Manning's skills as a signal-caller.
And he jokes when asked what Manning can do that he can't: ''He can throw 49 touchdown passes [in a season] . . . He's married? That's a good one. I'll take that."
''He's proven himself year in and year out," Brady said. ''He's so consistent. He and Marvin Harrison, what they have going now for eight years is pretty remarkable. He's one of the greatest ever to play. You can rattle off statistics, but he sets the standard for quarterback play.
''He's very dependable, consistent, and tough. He's a great leader."
The same is said about Brady. Each week an opposing defender has described Brady as the game's best quarterback. Manning gets similar praise from his foes.
''He's a premier quarterback in the game," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Manning. ''The numbers and his performance and production speak for [themselves]."
Rattling off Manning's impressive statistics, as Brady suggested above, would require quite a bit of rattling.
Manning set an NFL record with 49 touchdown passes a year ago, and he holds the league marks for most consecutive seasons with 25 or more TD passes (seven), and most consecutive seasons with 4,000 or more passing yards (six). Those are just three of his dozens of league and team records.
Manning has been so good that he is considered to be having a so-so year with just 1,551 passing yards and 11 touchdown passes (with five interceptions) in leading the Colts to a 7-0 record. In fact, Brady has thrown for more yards (2,020), and is just slightly behind in TD passes with nine (with four interceptions). But his team is only 4-3.
Brady's career highs in passing yards (3,764 in 2002) and touchdowns (28 in '02 and '04) are barely better than Manning's worst years -- 3,739 yards in 1998, his rookie year, and 26 touchdowns, which he has done three times.
But numbers do not make Brady one of the best.
''He's not trying to go out there and throw for all those yards and all those touchdowns, that's not what it's all about for Tom," Branch said. ''It's all about winning games. He does whatever it takes to win games."
When Colts coach Tony Dungy watches tape of the Patriots, he sees the same old Brady.
''He's playing very well," Dungy said. ''He's actually having to carry the team a little bit more. They've been in situations where they've been behind a little bit more than the last couple of years. Their running backs have been out, so he's actually thrown more. He's doing an excellent job as usual."
Which leads to one of Brady's most impressive statistics: a 6-0 mark against Manning and the Colts, including playoff victories in each of the last two seasons.
Brady has won the statistical battle against Manning as well, throwing for 10 touchdowns to just four interceptions against the Colts, while compiling a quarterback rating of 98.0. Manning has thrown only nine TD passes with 10 picks, and posted a rating of 73.3 against Brady-led squads.
Belichick has a selective memory when it comes to how well his defenses have done keeping Manning in check.
''He's completed plenty of passes against us," Belichick said. ''I'm sure he probably had to ice down his arm a couple extra days after the opener last year. He got tired of throwing those 60-yarders."
Manning completed 16 of 29 passes for 256 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in that game. Not to be outdone, Brady had one of the better games of his career, as he completed 26 of 38 for 335 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Brady's career-best passer rating (148.3) came against the Colts in 2001.
In training camp, Brady talked about having an offense as good as the Colts, but almost every time he has played them, his offense (and defense) has been better.
''I know that the best defense against that offense is having our offense out on the field," Brady said. ''It's been like that every time we've played those guys."
This time, however, the Colts have the league's top scoring defense (11 points per game).
''We're just going to try to score some points," Brady said. ''Nobody's scored any points on 'em."
Jerome Solomon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org