Peyton and Eli Manning will never make their NFL careers a personal competition.
They root for one another, yes, talk often and watch each other’s games when not working on their own. They’ve attended each other’s Super Bowl victory and have endured the comparisons about everything from mannerisms to lines in commercials.
And now it’s becoming more difficult to separate the two seemingly identical brothers with the fast starts.
“Eight-and-0, it’s been good,” said father Archie Manning, who starred at quarterback for 10 losing seasons with New Orleans in the 1970s. “It’s been fun, been a good month. The Colts have started good a lot of years, but I’m not sure Peyton has personally started this good, especially with all the young guys. They’re both playing well, and I’m very proud of them.”
It’s not strictly about the wins this year, though.
Four weeks into the season, the brothers are ranked among the league’s top five in touchdown passes, quarterback rating and average yards per attempt. Both are in the top 10 in yards passing, too, making this arguably the best start of either player’s career.
The only thing that has slowed either brother down was Sunday’s scare at Kansas City when Eli hurt his right heel.
He missed the last two days of Giants practice to get treatment on his plantar fascia, a band of connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot and inserts into the heel. If Eli doesn’t play, it would end the Manning brothers’ incredible combined streak of 277 consecutive starts, including playoffs. Peyton has started 195, Eli 82.
“As an athlete you know when something is bothering you and when something is going to get worse or not, and I’ll make that decision,” Eli said Wednesday.
Otherwise, it’s been a virtually flawless first month.
Peyton has shown he can win the slugfests, produce the comebacks and crank it up in the blowouts. He’s completed 70.8 percent of his passes and is on pace to throw for more than 5,200 yards, which would be a career-high, and 36 TDs.
The only difference between this season and last, when he won his third MVP Award, is that Peyton’s left knee is healthy. Otherwise, teammates say he hasn’t changed a bit over the years.
“He’s the same as when I first got here, a football geek,” Colts receiver Reggie Wayne said. “Always studying film, always talking about things. That’s what he’s been the whole time. No more, no less.”
Eli, meanwhile, after years of trying to live up to his brother’s accomplishments, is matching them result for result. He held off Washington in Week 1 and his late rally at Dallas inspired Peyton’s remarkable Week 2 comeback at Miami. The last two weeks, the Manning boys have won four games by a combined average of 18.3 points — all by double digits.
The younger brother has completed 63.2 percent of his passes, thrown for 1,039 yards and eight TDs. All three have him on pace for career highs.
But the similarities are not just an accident.
“Peyton’s been really helpful to Eli, and Eli will tell you that,” Archie Manning said. “Peyton has given him advice in regards to offseason work habits, how you attack this blitz or how you dealt with this from the 49ers. I think any quarterback in the league would say it would be pretty neat to have a brother playing the same position in the league who can do that.”
And, of course, the Mannings have kept it all in the family.
Blessed with the genes and guidance from arguably the best quarterback to never win a playoff game, Peyton and Eli have more than rectified the legacy of the NFL’s first family.
Peyton owns three MVPs, a Super Bowl ring, a Super Bowl MVP and all of Indianapolis’ major quarterback records. Eli won his Super Bowl ring two years ago in what was considered one of the greatest upsets in the game’s history. Eli, though, got his ring in four seasons. It took Peyton nine.
Yet even with their work ethic and focus both opened this season with plenty to learn.
Eli has two new starting receivers, Steve Smith and Mario Manningham, while Peyton is missing longtime target Marvin Harrison and Harrison’s anticipated replacement, Anthony Gonzalez, who is out with sprained ligaments in his right knee.
So far, neither has had a problem making it work.
“We do have a very young team and we count on rookies to contribute for us and contribute early for us,” Peyton said. “So, it’s been a credit to those guys for getting these guys caught up.”
The question, though, is who is better?
The Colts’ quarterback clearly has better overall numbers, partly because he’s played most of his games indoors on a consistently high-scoring team that has won at least 12 games the last six seasons.
Eli, in contrast, has played for a Giants team that prefers power-running in the sometimes windy conditions at The Meadowlands.
And while Eli continues to improve at age 28, Peyton’s teammates think he’s still getting better at age 33, too.
“It’s not just about physical attributes, it’s about how smart you are, the decisions you make, the reads you make,” Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. “I think Peyton is getting better because he’s making better decisions. The game is more mental than physical anyway, I think that goes for any player at any position.”
Nope, it’s not a contest.
But it should make for some interesting discussions when the Mannings return home for their postseason homecoming.
“They don’t compete against each other and never really did because there’s a five-year gap,” Archie Manning said. “They never put themselves in the situation where they wanted to outdo each other in stats or whatever. If anything, Peyton helped Eli.”
© 2009 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.