If only Brees was buying it.
“That’s exactly the trap I’m not going to fall into, which is trying to keep up with Peyton,” Brees said Monday after New Orleans’ opening practice of Super Bowl week. “I know that Peyton is going to make his plays, and he’s going to be Peyton and that just means that I need to be me.
“It’s me and my offense against their defense and vice versa,” Brees said. “Certainly, I have a lot of respect for Peyton and what he’s been able to accomplish ... but it’s not me against Peyton.”
Brees has followed Manning’s career since the late 1990s, when the Saints’ quarterback was still at Purdue and Manning was a rookie with Indianapolis. Brees sometimes attended Colts home games.
As a senior, after leading Purdue to a dramatic comeback victory over Ohio State, Brees checked his voicemail and had a message from Manning congratulating him. Brees always remembered how Manning took a moment to encourage him when he was still in college. Their friendship grew after Brees took over as starting quarterback in New Orleans, assuming the role once held by Manning’s father, Archie.
Earlier this season, when the Saints and Colts each made it into December without a loss, Brees said he would love to see New Orleans and Indianapolis meet — both undefeated — in the Super Bowl.
It turned out that neither team made it all the way through the regular season without a loss. But both teams finished with the top seed in their respective conferences and won a pair of home playoff games to set up the clash that Brees was hoping for all along.
Manning finished 2009 second in the NFL in yards passing with 4,500 and second in TD passes with 33. Brees was sixth in the league with 4,388 yards passing to go with an NFL-best 34 TD passes. The Saints held the top offensive ranking in the NFL. The Colts were ninth.
While Brees will try to avoid allowing what Manning does affect his approach, he still appreciates the intrigue and the spectacle of two top quarterbacks leading two of the highest-powered offenses in the league against one another with a Super Bowl title on the line.
“Certainly this is a game that very well could be back and forth, or one team gets out to a lead and all of a sudden the other team closes the gap,” Brees said. “I think we’ve both shown the ability to come back from big deficits.”
Manning also sees the possibility of the Super Bowl turning into an offensive shootout. Like Brees, Manning said he has to be mindful of remaining true to what has worked all season for the Colts’ offense and not get caught up in what Brees and is doing.
“You understand just how explosive their offense can be,” Manning said. “I think you have to be careful trying to get out of your rhythm in order to keep up with them. You still have to go play offense the way we have played all year, trying to be efficient. We have been excellent on third down, been good in the red zone. Those things will be important this year. And for the most part we have protected the ball which might be the most important factor in this game.”
The Colts have averaged 26 points per game, ranking seventh in the NFL in that department.
As much as Manning would like to think that kind of output will be enough against New Orleans, he knows it may not be.
The Saints have averaged a league-best 31.9 points per game.
“I do know that we are going to have to score points in this game if we are going to have a chance to win,” Manning said.