Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said he thinks the Patriots have done a good job of blending new players into the lineup while maintaining their high rate of success this season, but he also didn’t circle Sunday’s date when the schedule came out because he didn’t want to overlook any games leading up to it.
He also said he’d never grow his hair long like his counterpart on Sunday, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (read the Q&A after the full entry button)
Here’s what Manning discussed with members of the media during a conference call today. The Q&A was provided by the Patriots media relations staff.
Q: Knowing the respect you have for Tom Brady and it seems that you guys play each other every year whether it’s in the regular season and/or the postseason, do you have this date circled on your calendar when you have to see Brady and face the Patriots?
PM: I don’t really think we have it circled just because every game is so important now. The only game that we really circle kind of at the beginning is that opening game. We’re always going to try to get the season started off right. It was a division game for us this year. Like you said, this is a game that’s almost been like a division game. We have played them every year since 2003. They’ve always been a good team when we’ve played them. And you always know it’s going to be a challenge. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of just waiting until this week gets here and now trying to prepare and get ready for the Patriots once this week arrives. I think if you start looking at them a little too early, you’re probably going to slip up and not take care of business in the previous week. They’re certainly playing excellent football right now. They have a lot of new players. There are some new faces. You see a lot of the same resemblances – just good sound football, forcing the other teams into mistakes. And that’s why they’re winning so many games right now.
Q: On maybe a subconscious level, do you think you and Tom Brady have pushed each other over the course of the last decade?
PM: That’s probably a little…you mentioned subconscious, that’s pretty deep for me. I’m not sure I’m that much of a thinker. I don’t have the ability to answer that kind of question. I’m not really sure. All I can say about Tom…and I feel like it’s pretty well-documented what I think about him as a player, just what he’s been able to do with his career up there in New England. He has just been outstanding. He’s gotten better every year. I know from talking to our defensive players what kind of challenge it is to get ready to play against his ability to make big time throws, his ability to look off defenders, to read the defenses. It’s always been a real challenge when you’re playing against Tom and his teams because even though you’re worried about the defense, you know you’re going to have to score points because he’s going to be able to put up points for their offense.
Q: If you hear me say that someday Brady-Manning could be a football version of say Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, what do you think when you hear that?
PM: I think it’s hard. I can’t speak for Tom, but I think he would certainly see it the same way I do. I think it’s kind of hard right in the middle of our careers to think about something like that just because we’re right in the middle of it right now. I know how I see it; I still see it as team versus team. [In] basketball, maybe there is a little more – even though it’s a team sport – maybe there’s a little more one-on-one to it because there are just five guys out there. Football still is the ultimate team sport. No question there have been some great games between the Colts and the Patriots during this past decade, and Tom and I have been the quarterbacks. It’s been an intense rivalry. There’s great respect between the two teams. It’s really hard for me just in the middle of the 2010 season to think about too much of the history and years past, especially this year with all that’s going on with our team. There are so many new players that we’re playing. [With] some of the challenges that we’ve faced, I’m really just focusing on this year. But, I just can’t say enough good things about their team and about their quarterback, Tom Brady.
Q: How much time, if at all, have you spent away from the field talking with Coach Bill Belichick and have you guys picked each other’s brains at all? How have those conversations been?
PM: I don’t know. I have run into him on occasion. [There’s] probably nothing too much to report there. He’s an excellent coach, there’s no question about it. They’ve had different defensive coordinators through the past few years, but I’ve always said that he’s had his stamp on it from the get go. And it’s no different this year. They’re playing such sound football. Especially with all their young guys playing, you can tell he’s got these guys caught up to speed real quickly. He really has some young outstanding players that have really developed in a short period of time. It’s always a challenge playing against – I’ve always just called them ‘his defenses,’ even though he wasn’t always the coordinator. I guess maybe he does have the title as the coordinator now, I’m not even sure. He seems to be calling most of the defenses. It’s always a challenge going against that defense, no question about it.
Q: You mentioned the challenges your team has had and you mentioned that the Patriots are playing well right now. Is this a measuring stick game for your team?
PM: I certainly consider the Patriots to be one of the top teams right now. They certainly seem to be playing at a high level. We’re still just sort of taking it week-to-week. It definitely has been a different type of season because of the abnormal amount of injuries we’ve had and different guys playing. Every week presents a new challenge. We’re sort of trying to form the identity for our team that week depending on who is playing. That’s why it’s a great challenge in a week like this because you have to do certain things just to take care of the Colts, and then you also have to get ready for the Patriots. It’s sort of a double whammy there. And it is a tremendous challenge to get ready to play against such a good opponent at the same time while you’re still working on getting on the same page with some of the new guys. Brandon James last week played in his first NFL career game, so you do have to spend time working with him [and] getting him on the same page. And then you’ve got to prepare for the opponent as well. It has definitely been a challenge from a preparation stand point, but you have to get it done.
Q: Do you think it took you a while to get a handle on Bill Belichick’s schemes? It seemed early on you had some difficulty but now it seems you’ve had a lot more success going up against Belichick’s defense.
PM: Those are your words and not mine. I don’t think I have a handle on any defenses. Like I said, every game takes on its own identity. Certainly, if you ask about a certain year, there have been certain times where our offense has executed better than in years past. It’s really hard to summarize them all, put them into one. And I’ve never admitted to having a handle on anything. My goal each week is to try to get our team in the end zone, try to protect the ball. Like I said, it’s been a core group of the same players for a number of years. Last year, was the first time you saw a lot of different faces out there when you don’t see a [Tedy] Bruschi or a [Mike] Vrabel out there or a [Rodney] Harrison. It’s a different feel. But they have some young guys that can really fly around: [Jerod] Mayo, [Patrick] Chung, [Brandon] Meriweather can make a lot of plays. They still have the same integrity of a typical Patriots defense of just being so sound. Every week just kind of presents something new. It’ll certainly be a new challenge this year.
Q: What do the four MVP awards you have represent to you?
PM: I don’t really think a whole lot about it in the middle of the following season. I really don’t have a whole lot to say about it. I guess just to give you some kind of answer, I’ve always accepted those just on the behalf of my teammates and my coaches who have just given me great help throughout my career. I’ve always kind of considered them to be team awards.
Q: The Patriots played two games without Patrick Chung and then he came back last week. Watching the defense on film, what does Chung bring to their defense?
PM: They have three excellent safeties at the get go between [James] Sanders, [Brandon] Meriweather and Chung, but Chung’s a guy that they move around a lot. He’s a guy that can cover a slot receiver in nickel defenses. He can cover a slot receiver one-on-one. He can cover tight ends. He can play the deep half of the safety. So he’s very versatile. He’s got excellent speed, big play capabilities, and just seems like he has a real knack for the football. Last year, being his rookie year, like I said, he got great experiences as a rookie and just seems like he’s taken a big step into his second year, which I can relate to. After playing as a rookie, things become more comfortable for you in the second year. And you really see Chung flying around out there.
Q: Losing Dallas Clark obviously must have been tough for you. How is Jacob Tamme made up for that loss?
PM: We’re still dealing with it. It’s a week-to-week transition. Out of respect for Dallas, I’m not sure if you can replace Dallas Clark. I think you just adjust. I think Dallas is that good of a player and deserves that much respect. Jacob has really been working hard. He’s been learning on the run. Even though he’s been here for three years now, he really hasn’t played a whole lot in games, so he and I are getting good game experience together. He’s really done a good job, made some huge plays, a couple of huge touchdowns for us. And we’re throwing a lot at him as well. We’re asking a lot of him. He’s really responded well. I think each week presents a new challenge for him as he gets used to playing against different types of defenses and different types of opponents. And it will be a great challenge for him this week.
Q: Will you ever grow your hair long like Tom Brady?
PM: Oh, no. I pretty much have had the same haircut for the past 32 years I think for the most part. Nothing too exciting.
Q: Who’s the better actor?
PM: I can’t tell. The one thing, let me make it very clear, I am a football player. I am not nor have considered myself to be that. I’m a football player. That’s what I want to be. Let’s make that real clear. There’s no confusion about that.
Q: You were talking about adjustments, specifically last Sunday against the Bengals you had just 185 passing yards, but your defense stepped up huge. Can you talk about the support they’re giving you right now?
PM: Certainly. It’s a team game. It takes team effort. That’s just been happening a lot this year. Defense has been picking up the offense. Offense has picked up the defense. We’re still looking, hoping that both sides of the ball play their best game of the year at the same time. That’s what you always want. But there’s no question that our defense did a great job on Sunday against the Bengals, causing turnovers, forcing Cincinnati into mistakes, and giving our offense great field position. They were outstanding on Sunday. They’re certainly in for a tougher challenge this Sunday. There’s no question that you’ve got to have both sides of the ball doing a good job and trying to keep the other out of tough situations.