DENVER — In the midst of what can be called the golden age of NFL quarterbacks, there are duels that get the juices going.
Tom Brady vs. Manning (Peyton or Eli). Drew Brees vs. Aaron Rodgers. Brady, Brees or Rodgers vs. Manning (either one).
It’s the best of the best whenever any of them get together.
But in Week 8, the only matchup of that magnitude takes place Sunday night when the New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos meet in Sports Authority Field at 7:20 p.m. (NBC).
While the game is about more than two players, Brees and Manning make the game between the Saints (2-4) and Broncos (3-3) must-see TV — much like their showdown in Super Bowl XLIV after the 2009 season.
Going into Sunday’s game, Manning and Brees have combined for 99,475 career passing yards (56,636 for Manning and 42,839 for Brees) and with 525 more yards will surpass the 100,000-yard mark as a tandem.
They also have a combined 712 touchdown passes (413 for Manning, 299 for Brees) and 8,615 completions (4,836 for Manning; 3,779 for Brees).
With off-the-chart numbers like that, it would be easy for Brees’ backup, Chase Daniel, to become a fan and sit back and watch Manning and Brees do what they do.
“This is awesome,” Daniel said this week. “We’re getting to see two of the league’s premier quarterbacks, two of the best to ever play the game. It’s going to be exciting to watch.
“The numbers they’ve put up are absolutely insane … that’s a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns. I have to stay involved with the game in case I have to go in, but this is something to take in and learn as much as possible from. It’s history, without a doubt.”
With Manning and Brees getting hot over the past few weeks, the thin air of the Mile High City figures to be filled with passes from the Hall of Fame-bound quarterbacks.
“He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer; he has the records and numbers to warrant that,” Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said of Manning. “He is a football genius. He understands defenses, alignments and pre-snap reads.
“When you talk about the skill level of quarterbacks, there needs to be three characteristics — and he has all three. He is tough, smart and accurate.”
Vitt said that makes Manning, the MVP of Super Bowl XLI, a lot like Brees, who was the Super Bowl XLIV MVP with Manning on the other sideline.
“He makes other people around him accountable and makes other people around him better,” said Vitt, who jumps into the fire in rejoining the Saints after a six-game suspension.
Not even a series of neck surgeries, which cost him the entire 2011 season and paved the way for his departure from the Indianapolis Colts, or a change of scenery seems to have bothered Manning.
He’s completed 67.8 percent of his passes for 1,808 yards with 14 TDs and only four interceptions and has a passer rating of 105.0. His last performance, which came on Oct. 15 before a bye, was vintage Manning.
He led the Broncos back from a 24-0 halftime deficit with 35 unanswered points for the 47th comeback victory of his career.
“In his last three games, he’s thrown for an average of 300 yards, three touchdowns and a 70 percent completion percentage, which is historic,” Vitt said. “No one has ever done it before.”
That’s not good news for a Saints defense that ranks dead last in total yards allowed (465.5) and is 30th against the pass (304.5).
Fortunately for the Saints, they have Brees to at least try to match Manning’s numbers.
After a slow start, Brees has also come on strong in the past three games with 1,193 yards, 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions — helping the Saints to a 2-1 record after losing their first three.
As someone who plays the same position, Brees, who is three years younger than Manning, appreciates how he approaches the game and manages it when on the field as well as on the sideline.
“He’s making adjustments. You look at his sideline routine and the way he’s studying pictures, you just constantly see a guy who is competing,” Brees said. “Competing and trying to put himself and his team in the best position to succeed.”
It sounds a lot like Brees, who will be trying to extend his NFL-record streak with a TD pass to 50 consecutive games.
“It’s pretty well documented, he’s been extremely consistent,” Manning said. “Any time you have some of these NFL records … a season record is one thing, but any record that span over three or four years tells you what a consistent player he’s been.”
It’s a big problem for longtime Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, a perennial Pro Bowl pick as one of the league’s cover corners.
“It’s like he turned into a different player when he left San Diego,” Bailey said. “I don’t know if it’s the system or what, but he has the ability to make every throw and make every DB in this league look stupid.
“I don’t know how he does it, but he’s been special since he got to New Orleans.”
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