Game #1 takes us back to January 21, 2007, where the Colts battled to New England Patriots for the right to go to Super Bowl XLI. Since you've all read Manning's Greatest Game #3, and you know it is Super Bowl XLI, I think you have an idea who wins this game. Manning and the Colts had come off Battle of Field Goals win in Baltimore, and the Patriots beat the 14-2 and #1 seed Chargers. Coming into the Playoffs, I had the exact same thoughts as BBS, in that the Colts would be hosting the Patriots for the AFC Title, and that was the Colts best shot at getting to the Super Bowl. A round of applause is unnecessary. Here's what BBS said:
The Colts will beat the Chiefs, and then they will play their next playoff game in Baltimore for the first time since the Baltimore fans abandoned the Colts, thus prompting them for Indy. The Colts will then beat the Ravens, and then square off in the AFC Championship game against... the Patriots. Yes folks. The Patriots will beat the heavily favored San Diego Chargers, and they will face the Colts in the AFC Championship Game in Indianapolis. The Colts will beat New England (again), and thus make the Super Bowl. A road through the AFC like this is storybook: Beleaguered run defense against Larry Johnson; Colts in Baltimore for the playoffs; Colts against Patriots in AFC Championship Game. In one swoop, all playoff demons get exorcized.
I thought that instead of explaining the details of a game everyone has seen multiple times probably, I thought I'd make this a video blog. I've pulled clips from the game (well, almost exclusively from the second half), and I'll let the actual tape tell the story for me. I'll interject with my thoughts at the time, as I'm sure they were very similar to yours.
The game started out very slow for the Colts, getting down 14-3 with about 10 minutes to go in the second quarter. Then the unthinkable happened: An Asante Samuel INT returned for a TD, putting the Patriots up 21-3, looking like they were on their way to another blowout victory of the Colts in the playoffs. It got even worse for the Colts, as Manning was sacked on the first two plays of the next drive, and the Colts punted from their own end zone, giving the Patriots the ball near midfield. The Patriots looked like they were going to put the game away with about 5 minutes to go in the half, but they decided to run an illegal pick play on a 3rd down, then got called for an illegal shift, then Brady got sacked, putting them back at mid field. This was key for the defense, and gave the offense the ball back with about 3 minutes to go in the half.
The first two plays did absolutely nothing, and CBS was already starting to show that the Colts had no shot, as you can see for yourself in this video. Personally, I think this is the biggest play in the game. It was a catalyst for this drive, and gave the Colts a new life:
I'm going to keep Manning's stats from before this play, and after. Up until that play, here were his stats:
Those are, in fact, down right awful. However, that play to Reggie Wayne, and the subsequent march down the field were a sign of what was to come. They added a FG to make the halftime score 21-6. At this point, I was still fuming over the fact the Colts hadn't scored a TD since the KC game, and thought we had no chance of winning. I had to take a cold shower to release all of that out of me. I felt much better as I stood in the shower, and rationalized to myself how the Colts would get back in the game. It seemed crazy at the time, but what is a homer supposed to do?
The Colts took the opening kickoff, and marched 76 yards in 14 plays, taking up almost 7 minutes on the clock. It was capped off by this:
The Colts were now within a TD, and Brady and the Patriots hadn't seen the field in a very long time. They went 3 and out, giving the ball right back to the Colts, where they again went 76 yards, this time in only 8 plays. The Colts tied the game this way:
By the way, the pass by Manning and the catch by Harrison on the 2-point conversion were spectacular. We were talking about Marvin's greatest catches last week, and this one should be in that conversation. It was awesome. The Patriots answered with a big kick return and TD in the back of the end zone by Jabar Gaffney to go back up by 7. That didn't stop Manning and the Colts. They drove down to the 2, and on second down, the third Lineman of the game scored a TD...
The Colts offense was on fire. Here's what the Colts had done in the past 4 possessions:
This was all after CBS flashed the stat about only 1 TD vs. the Patriots in the Playoffs. Nice reverse jinx there. The Patriots added a FG, and the Colts had the ball back. I love this play, since it proves the "Manning isn't good when under pressure" completely false...
The Colts tacked on a Vinatieri FG to tie the game back up. The Patriots again had a good kickoff return, and Reche Caldwell dropped another wide-open pass with his bug eyes, and they settled for a Gostkowski FG. The Colts went 3 and out, giving the ball back to the Patriots with 3:22 left on the clock. Heath Evans wanted to join a full huddle, penalizing the Patriots 5 yards. On third and 4 (that 5 yards was big, huh?), I'm screaming at the television "You better have 3 guys shadowing Troy Brown, because Brady is going to throw to him". I never doubt Bob Sanders any more...
Patriots punt, and Manning gets the ball with 2:17 to go, needing a FG to tie, or a TD to win. Three plays later, Bryan Fletcher decides he's going to be the play caller, and he's right...
Was it just me, or did the ball seem to hang above Reggie's head for about 10 minutes before it safely was back in his hands? A roughing the passer penalty got the ball to the 11 with 1:53 to play. 69 yards in 23 seconds. Not bad. Two unsuccessful runs get the Colts down to the 3. You don't need an explanation for the next play...
Manning has led the Colts back from an 18 point deficit, and scored a GW TD in a playoff, something his QB counterpart has never done. The Patriots still have a chance, getting the ball with 1:00 on the clock. The get it across mid field with 0:24 left. Absolute Elation...
Let's take a look at Manning's stats from that point in the 2nd quarter on:
Manning's obviously had a better stat line than this, but you cannot put into words how great he was in leading this comeback on this stage. It was simply amazing. That is why this is Peyton Manning's Greatest Game. Here's to hoping he can top it someday in the future.