Tom Brady and the New England Patriots faced third-and-goal from the 1-yard line last week against the Kansas City Chiefs. Hoping to extend a 7-0 lead, Brady threw a pass he has thrown dozens of times before in similar situations: A cross to the tight end in the middle of the end zone.
But instead of a touchdown for tight end Rob Gronkowski, the ball landed in the hands of Chiefs linebacker Reggie Ragland. How could that have happened to Brady, whose 1.82 career interception percentage is the second-lowest in NFL history?
Peyton Manning has a pretty good idea. In his latest installment of "Detail" for ESPN+, Manning gently chided Brady for throwing the pass after losing sight of Ragland.
"It happens every now and then," Manning says while showing multiple angles of the play. Noting that Ragland initially moved toward the line of scrimmage after a play-action fake, Manning adds: "You lose track of that guy who kinds of bites the fake. ... He kind of gets hidden behind three Patriots offensive linemen [and] two Chiefs defensive linemen. There's no way Tom can see this guy. I used to always say that if you can't see clearly in front of you, if you think somebody might be in there, you have to err on the side of caution and not throw it there, or throw it a little bit higher."
A field-level-camera view from the opposite end zone confirms that Ragland is low enough to be hidden even to Brady, who is 6-foot-4.
"I think Tom just loses sight of this guy," Manning says. "He can't see him. Thinks he's got Gronk wide open."
That was the closest Manning came to criticizing Brady -- his friend and competition in any discussion of the best quarterback in this generation -- during a 25-minute breakdown of his performance in the AFC Championship Game. Brady recovered from the interception to lead the Patriots to an overtime victory, qualifying for a ninth Super Bowl since he took over the starting job in 2001.
Beginning at that point, 12 of the next 17 Super Bowls included either Brady or Manning. Brady has won five, and Manning retired after winning his second (in four appearances) at the end of the 2015 season. They competed on the field, as Brady and the Patriots won their first six matchups and Manning six of the final 11. And their career passing numbers are quite close in about the same number of games despite playing in vastly different schemes in their careers.
Rather than focus on Brady's throws during the breakdown, Manning spent most of his time explaining his decisions and pointing out his expert technique.
Of an early passing play, Manning demonstrated how Brady stayed "tight in the pocket" to allow Patriots right guard Joe Thuney to execute a trap block across the formation. Noting that he himself ran that play often, Manning said: "Protect your offensive lineman by being in the right position in the pocket. Don't drift. Don't get too deep."
Neither Manning nor Brady will be remembered for their mobility, but Manning provided an enlightening example of how Brady avoids harmful contact in the pocket. As Chiefs pass-rusher Justin Houston bore down on Brady from his right side, Manning noted Brady's "violent" turn away at the precise time Houston arrived. Brady kept both hands on the ball but turned his entire torso toward the left sideline. Houston passed by, Brady straightened out and threw an accurate pass.
Manning took several opportunities to laud the chemistry between Brady and receiver Julian Edelman, beginning with a 14-yard seam pass to convert a third-and-7 on the first drive. Manning noted that Brady can throw the route "in his sleep," always keeping the ball low to protect Edelman from major contact.
When Brady threw a pass hard and high to Gronkowski in the fourth quarter, leading to a third-down interception, Manning took us inside Brady's head once again. (The play was nullified when Chiefs pass-rusher Dee Ford was penalized for being offsides.)
"It looks like Tom wants to throw this ball downfield, and he just throws it a little harder and a little higher than he wants to," Manning says. "He really wants the ball downfield. It's easy to do. You want it, you want it, you want it, oh it's not there. OK, I'll lay it off, but I kind of lay it off kind of angry about it, if you will. I've done it before, where you throw that layoff or that checkdown a little bit harder because you're mad that you didn't get the ball downfield."
Manning's respect for Brady is clear throughout the breakdown, proof of a relationship both he and Brady always said was strong, despite exceptionally competitive personalities magnified in a rankings-obsessed media environment. Indeed, their friendship survived the potentially awkward revelation of a private email Brady sent to a friend in 2014. Of his "rivalry" with Manning, Brady wrote: "I've got another seven or eight years. He has two. That's the final chapter. Game on." Brady apologized via text, which Manning said was "unnecessary" and that there was "no harm, no foul."
As it turns out, Brady was right. Manning made it until the end of the following season. Brady is still playing and said over the weekend that there was "zero" chance he would retire this offseason. He has at least one more record to claim. As of this moment, guess who is the oldest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl?
Answer: Peyton Manning, who was 39 when the Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. A win for Brady on Sunday would give him a record sixth Super Bowl victory at a record age of 41.