FOXBORO -- Over the years, great tracts of rain-forest have been felled to fuel the chronicling of Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning.
For a decade it has been the NFL's must-see quarterback rivalry -- or at least it was until Manning's neck surgery turned the 2011 Colts into a football team best left unseen.
Rev up those chainsaws, though. More forests must fall. Peyton's little brother Eli is the "other Manning" no more. Brady vs. Manning will not die.
The Manning who four years ago engineered the last-minute scoring drive that derailed New England's pursuit of perfection in Super Bowl XLII gained admittance this season into the NFL quarterbacking elite. NFL know-it-alls now speak of the 31-year-old Eli as respectfully as they do Peyton and Tom and Aaron and Drew. Next Sunday in the House That Peyton Built -- Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium -- Eli will oversee the family business of rivaling Brady when the Giants and Patriots meet in Super Bowl XLVI.
"He does everything you're looking for as a quarterback," said Brady, 1-2 all-time against Eli, 8-4 against Peyton. "I've seen first-hand what he can do in the fourth quarter of these games. He's a great leader. You always hear that coming out of New York. The guys really have a lot of respect for him, and so do I."
Patriots defensive end Mark Anderson went to the Super Bowl five years ago as a Chicago Bears rookie and lost to Peyton and the Colts, 29-17. Anderson, not wanting to compare
In soggy San Francisco last Sunday, against the NFL's fourth-ranked defense, Manning set Giants franchise playoff records for completions (32) and pass attempts (58), producing 316 passing yards and two touchdowns (no interceptions) during a 20-17 overtime victory. The 49ers' defense sacked Manning six times, and hit him 12 other times. Manning has seemed unfazed by his leaky offensive line. In three games this post-season he has thrown eight touchdown passes, one interception.
"You've seen him grow," said Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. "You've seen a guy not making the boneheaded mistakes. He's protecting the football, and that's first and foremost."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick this past week also mentioned Manning's ability to "hurt you with his legs," no doubt experiencing flashbacks to Eli's famous escape and heave to David Tyree four years ago in Glendale.
"Not that he's looking to run for 100 yards or anything," said Belichick. "But converting on third down. Scrambling out of the pocket. Keeping plays alive. We've seen that before."
During the 2011 regular season, Manning threw for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns (16 interceptions), including an NFL-record 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes. Two of those fourth-quarter TD passes came in the final 3:03 at Gillette Stadium on Nov. 6. Manning threw a 1-yarder to tight end Jake Ballard with 15 seconds left for a 24-20 victory.
The Giants won that evening without wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (76 catches, 1,192 yards, 7 TDs during regular season), who was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Nicks this post-season has 12 catches for 220 yards and two TDs.
Nicks and Victor Cruz (82 catches, 1,536 yards, 9 TDs during the regular season) are a challenge unlike any New England's secondary encountered during the AFC playoffs. Cruz, a UMass product, had six catches for 96 yards against New England in the regular-season game. He had 10 catches for 142 yards last Sunday against the 49ers.
Patriots safety Devin McCourty said the presence of Nicks and the evolution of Manning makes the Giants' offense more dangerous than it was on Nov. 6. Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw also did not play in the teams' regular-season meeting due to a foot injury. "I just think to prepare for all those guys is the toughest thing," said McCourty.
With Peyton Manning having missed the entire 2011 season, Eli has emerged totally from big brother's shadow. As the first overall pick in the 2004 draft -- by San Diego, which swapped Eli to the Giants for Philip Rivers after Eli and dad Archie made it known Eli did not want to play for the Chargers -- Manning was expected to be this good. If the Giants win next Sunday, Eli will have two Super Bowl rings to Peyton's one. He will have beaten Brady's Patriots twice in the Super Bowl.
"And he wins," Belichick said in concluding his strategic ode to Eli this past week. "That's really what a quarterback's job is, to manage the game so his team can win. That's what he's done."