Playing Manning is a unique experience. When Manning was a rookie, several of the young Patriots defensive backs were barely teenagers, if they were at all. Meriweather had heard about and watched Manning for basically as long as he could remember by the time he lined up against him for the first time.
“You want to me to be honest?” Meriweather said. “I was scared as hell. I was nervous. The couple plays I did get, I was nervous. Even last year, I was nervous. This year, I’m hoping I won’t be as nervous. I’m more settled. I hope.”
Meriweather's nerves are only one reason it's so difficult to face Manning for the first time, as defensive backs Darius Butler and Patrick Chung will discover Saturday night. The Patriots defense is lucky it can prepare against Tom Brady, one of the few quarterbacks who can match Manning in the ability to get into good plays and out of bad ones. When it comes to games, though, rookies may have literally never seen anything like Manning.
"I don't think it's star-struck," Belichick said. "Their offense is kind of unique. The way they handle it all, you don't see that every week. And if you haven't played in this league, you probably haven't seen that at all. Talking to our younger players through the years, guys like Meriweather and Mayo, it certainly helps to have played him once. There's no doubt about it.
The timing, the tempo of the game, Manning's quick release and his ability in the pocket to get rid of the ball so quickly, to scan the field. Competitively, you don't see too many quarterbacks at his level."