Tom Brady missed nearly an entire season with torn knee ligaments. Peyton Manning was sidelined all last season by neck surgery and nerve damage that weakened his throwing arm.
That might have been the beginning of the end for lesser quarterbacks.
Not for Brady and Manning, winners of four Super Bowls and six MVP awards between them.
Theyll renew their long-running competition today one week after their outstanding performances in the latest of their many victories. Bradys only team, the New England Patriots, will host Mannings new team, the Denver Broncos. Both are 2-2.
Youre looking at two of the best quarterbacks to play over the last decade, Denver coach John Fox said. Without a doubt, when their careers are over hopefully not anytime soon for either one of them theyll be first-ballot Hall of Fame players.
Brady, 35, has said he wants to play into his 40s. Manning, 36, hasnt been as specific but shows no signs of wanting to stop.
Not long ago, though, Mannings future was cloudy. On Sept. 8, 2011 he underwent spinal fusion surgery, the fourth operation on his neck in 19 months.
I went through the entire rehab process and saw doctors, and if the doctor had advised me not to play, then I would not play, Manning said. I certainly didnt need a year off to re-emphasize how much I enjoy playing.
And hes playing very well after leaving the Indianapolis Colts as a free agent.
In last Sundays 37-6 win over the Oakland Raiders, Manning completed 30 of 38 passes for 338 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. For the season, hes connected on 64.7 percent of his passes for 1,162 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions.
Looks real good, as he always does, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. I dont think anybody that we play against is any better in terms of recognizing what the defense is in and where theyre weak and vulnerable and how to get to plays that hurt it.
That may be because Belichick doesnt have to play against his own quarterback.
Brady also is coming off his best game of the season. He directed the Patriots to touchdowns on six consecutive second-half possessions in a 52-28 rout of the Buffalo Bills and finished 22 of 36 for 340 yards with a season-high three touchdowns and no interceptions.
He wasnt nearly as impressive early in the 2009 season, his first after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his left knee. He was hurt in the first quarter of the first game of the previous season.
Its a challenge because youre very rusty. At least I was, Brady said. We didnt have a great year in 09 when I did come back. It was a very up and down year for us as a team. Peyton has obviously worked very hard, and the level that he plays at now, it doesnt look like he missed any time.
The two quarterbacks are friends, and Brady said that while he was sidelined in 2008, Manning reached out to him.
It meant a lot to me, Brady said. My first start of my career I met Peyton on the field before the game. He was out there warming up. I went over there, and he said, Im Peyton Manning. I was thinking, Of course, I know that.
Its nice when were going through some things to bounce an idea off of one another. Its really grown over the years. Weve known each other for a long time. We talk about a lot of things. We see each other off the field quite a few times over the years.
Its when Brady and Manning are on the field where fans marvel at and often compare their skills.
They first played each other in the third game of 2001, a 44-13 Patriots win over Indianapolis in Bradys first career start. The Colts moved out of the AFC East in 2002, but the teams have met in every season from 2003 to 2011 and three times in the postseason. In head-to-head matchups, Brady has a 6-3 record against Manning in the regular season and 2-1 in the playoffs.
Denver safety Rahim Moore, 13 years younger than Brady, watched him on television before being drafted in the second round last year.
Its the real deal now, Moore said. I think him and Peyton are the greatest to ever do it. It shows every week on the field.
But as they usually do before their teams meet, Brady and Manning downplay their individual matchup and emphasize that games are decided by the performances of the entire teams.
I know its a boring, boring answer, but its Broncos vs. the Patriots, Manning said.
Despite their .500 records, both teams two losses have been close.
Denver fell to two of the NFLs three unbeaten teams, the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans, by six points each. The Patriots lost to the Arizona Cardinals by two points when Stephen Gostkowski missed a 42-yard field goal attempt on the next to last play and to the Baltimore Ravens by one point when Justin Tucker connected on a 27-yard field goal on the final play.
But last Sunday, the Patriots became just the second team in NFL history with a 300-yard passer (Brady), two receivers (Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski) with at least 100 yards, and two runners (Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley) with at least 100 yards.
The Broncos also have a balanced offense. Willis McGahee rushed for 112 yards last Sunday, and Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are dangerous receivers at Mannings disposal.
New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was Denvers head coach in 2009 and 2010 but said he has no special feelings about facing the Broncos.
Its just the next game, he said.
The Patriots arent putting much stock in last seasons wins over Denver with Tim Tebow as the Broncos starting quarterback.
Now, of course, the Broncos have replaced Tebows scattershot arm with Mannings precision. Brady figures the Patriots will have to score a lot.
Youre not blind to the fact that theres a great player on the other side of the ball that is capable of having a great performance, he said. You cant think that youre going to score 20 points and think its good enough or 30 points and think its good enough.
The Broncos feel the same.
As long as Tom Brady wakes up and his arm is working, anything can happen, Moore said.