With Sunday's high-profile matchup between the future Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Peyton Manning on tap, the 37-year-old New England Patriots quarterback acknowledged Monday that as he has aged, he's allowed himself to reflect on the rivalry with his 38-year-old Denver Broncos counterpart.
"Five, six years ago you don't think about those things," Brady said in a radio interview with WEEI in Boston. "But as you mature a little bit and realize this could always be the last one, then you do. It's pretty special.
"[Manning has] been one of the greatest players to ever play. I've been fortunate to share a field with one of the best players that has ever played the game. And every time we play a Peyton Manning-led team, it comes down to the wire. Everything is usually at stake."
Four weeks ago, Brady was coming off a tough performance against the Kansas City Chiefs and Manning was continuing where he left off in 2013. Now, as Week 9 approaches, Brady is back with an offense that looks like a finely tuned machine.
"We brought in some great players to our offense over the last few years, and we are trying to do the best we can do," Brady said. "And other teams are doing that, too."
Brady is also more than aware of the challenge of playing Manning -- who two weeks ago passed Brett Favre to gain the top spot on the NFL's all-time passing touchdown list -- and the aerial assault of the Broncos' offense. In his past 23 games for the Broncos, Manning has a whopping 77 touchdown passes (about 3.3 per game) and just 13 interceptions.
"What can you say more about what Peyton Manning has been able to accomplish? It's been the greatest season-and-a-half stretch in the history of the NFL," Brady said. "Nobody has really matched what he has been able to do, what that offense has been able to do most importantly. When we play this weekend, we are going to have to try to match it because that is what it is going to take. They have a great team, and we are going to have to be at our best."
The Patriots faced the Broncos twice last season in what has become an annual battle of AFC heavyweights, beating them in an epic comeback during a regular-season matchup and falling to them in the AFC title game.
"We had a few opportunities last year -- won the first, lost the second one -- we have to be at our best," Brady said. "Fortunately I don't have to go against him, our defense does. I have to go up against Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, T.J. Ward, and they have a whole challenge they present."
Brady was at his best in a 51-23 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday, going 30-for-35 for 354 yards and five touchdowns in a performance that was nearly perfect. Brady was asked whether he can play better than he did against Chicago.
"I think there is always room for improvement, but truthfully the guys, they make it easy for the quarterback when they play the way they did yesterday," Brady said. "It makes it easy for me -- not that playing the Bears' defense is easy because it's not -- but when the guys around you play the way they did, it makes it easy for the quarterback.
"I'm proud of the way all those guys -- Julian [Edelman], [Rob Gronkowski], Danny [Amendola], the offensive line especially, Tim Wright played great, got off to a great start in the run game. Those things all have a cumulative effect on the offense."
Brady also got a big performance from wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who was signed in the offseason and put up career highs in receptions (11) and receiving yards (124) against the Bears.