EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Eli Manning will experience a gameday rarity on Sunday, when he plays a team with a starting quarterback older than he.
Drew Brees, an 18-year veteran who is 39, will lead his New Orleans Saints in MetLife Stadium against the Giants and the 37-year-old Manning. They are two of the NFL's four oldest quarterbacks, joining New England's Tom Brady (41) and the Jets' Josh McCown (39). At a time when many teams are acquiring and playing young quarterbacks – five were taken in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft – the Giants and Saints are very happy to start passers who are a combined 76 years old.
"They're both outstanding players, and … there's no substitute for experience, especially when you're well-performing guys like they are," Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. "They're good players, and so it doesn't surprise me. I think in this game at certain positions, as long as your legs and your arms stay good, you've got a chance to continue to play. I think that's what you're seeing from both Eli and Drew."
Manning and Brees have played 471 regular-season games (starting 468) and completed 10,831 passes for 124,005 yards, and 838 touchdowns. They have three Super Bowl victories, two by Manning.
"I don't know if either of us would've ever predicted that," Brees said. "I'm very grateful for the opportunity to play this game so long. I just feel extremely blessed to have had the opportunity and play with the organizations that we've been able to play with (including the San Diego Chargers). First class organizations. I've played for some great coaches. Played with some pretty unbelievable teammates. Just having these experiences, it's been unbelievable."
The two quarterbacks have also absorbed a combined 754 sacks, leading some to question the reasons for their durability.
"I'm sure a number of things," said Saints coach Sean Payton, a Giants offensive coach from 1999-2002. "Number one, I think both players understand the timing and anticipation necessary, they don't take unnecessary or additional hits. They understand where their protection is at. I do think both players, and again just knowing (Manning), not having worked with him, but both are very committed, not only to the mental element of their game but their physical routine, whether it's in-season, offseason, training camp."
"It's not extremely taxing on your body," Manning said. "Besides your arm, practices aren't brutal. Games you can take a few hits, but you don't necessarily have to be fast or be explosive and those types of things which can kind of – you could lose at an older age, but guys are taking care of their bodies better, they're taking care of their arm, more arm care and if you could still keep a strong arm and still keep your joints healthy where you can move around a little bit, you can continue to play."
Manning last faced a team with an older starting quarterback on Nov. 27, 2016, when McCown started for the Browns in a Giants victory in Cleveland. Prior to that, it was when Brees and the Saints visited on Sept. 18 of that year.
The two quarterbacks know and admire each other.
"Watched Drew play in college and his whole career," Manning said. "Known him for a long time, so just he keeps doing it. He keeps being able to throw the ball accurately and still got great arm strength and get down the field, still runs around and looks young out there."
"It's been pretty impressive what he's been able to accomplish," Brees said.
This game has several connections between Brees and the Manning family, which, of course, has long called New Orleans home. First and foremost is the matchup with Eli, as the 1-2 Giants try to get to .500 and the 2-1 Saints hope not to fall there. Brees needs 418 passing yards to break Peyton Manning's NFL record of 71,940 (Brett Favre is currently between them at 71,838). And Brees, of course, is playing for the team Peyton and Eli's father, Archie, played for from 1971-81.
"I feel like I see Eli once or twice all season, whether it's down here in New Orleans, or at an event, or something like that," Brees said. "We played in a few Pro Bowls together. I think there's obviously that mutual respect. I know the family very well. His father Archie lives down here. His older brother Cooper, who I see from time to time. His kids and my kids go to the same school, go to Newman (High School), where Eli went. There's a lot of crossover there."
On the field, Brees provides no evidence that he is the NFL's second-oldest quarterback. Last year, he set a record by completing 72 percent of his passes, a figure that pales in comparison with his current 80.6 completion percentage. In an overtime victory last week in Atlanta, he raised his career total to an NFL-record 6,326. He needs four touchdown passes to become the third player in history with 500.
Manning has also started the season impressively, completing 73.6 percent of his passes (81 of 110) for 800 yards, three touchdown and one interception on a tipped pass. His passer rating is 99.1.
Brees has had plenty of success against the Giants – a 5-2 record, 311.0 passing yards per game, 20 touchdowns, four interceptions, and 112.1 passer rating that the Elias Sports Bureau said is the highest of any quarterback against the Giants in the Super Bowl era (minimum 100 attempts).
The great question is how long can Manning and Brees play? Neither quarterback is prepared to provide an answer.
"I think I can do it until 45," Brees said. "I'm not telling you I am. I think I'll walk away from this game before that, or until about 32 teams tell me that I can't play anymore, and when I do, it'll because I just want to spend more time with my family, with my kids, and I'm ready for the next chapter. But I'm not there yet. I enjoy doing what I'm doing. I feel like we have a great opportunity here in New Orleans with our team, and I just still love it. I love the locker room, I love the grind, and I love the challenges."
"I don't think I ever had an expectation of how long it would be in the first place," Manning said. "You kind of play until you're not."
The way they're playing, that day could be a long time coming.
View the Saints starters for this weeks game at MetLife Stadium