Again I interrupt all of the free agency talk to bring you this week's Throwback Thursday. This week is the final installment of the series where I've been looking at each decade in Colts history. This means that we get to look at the golden age in Colts history, the 2000s.
This was a decade that saw the Colts emerge as a perennial contender for the Super Bowl. As you all know, though, with all of the highs came some crushing lows in this decade. We'll cover them all, or at least most of them, in this post.
The 2000 season for the Colts came with high expectations. The team had just finished 13-3 and secured a home playoff game. And that was all in only Peyton Manning's second year, and Edgerrin James' first year.
The season didn't quite go as planned. The Colts were 7-3 before dropping three straight games to drop them to 7-6. This set back resulted in the Colts ultimately finishing 10-6, in second place in the AFC East, and the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs.
The playoff result was the same as the year before, only more painful this time. The Colts blew a 14-0 lead against the AFC East champion Dolphins and the game went to overtime. In the extra period, Mike Vanderjagt missed a 49 yard field goal to give the Dolphins life. Lamar Smith would score the game winning touchdown for the Dolphins to knock the Colts out of the playoffs.
In case you were wondering, had the Colts won, they would have gone to Tennessee for a rematch from the year before against the Titans.
In 2001, many high expectations for the Colts were dashed when James was lost for the season with a knee injury. The Colts defense gave up an average of 30 points per game, and Manning was sacked a career high 29 times.
Needless to say, Head Coach Jim Mora wasn't all about reporters asking about the playoffs. The Colts would finish 6-10 and fourth in the AFC East. Mora would be fired after the season.
In the off-season, the Colts hired Tony Dungy to be the new head coach. They also used the 11th overall pick on Dwight Freeney. The Colts were also transitioned away from the AFC East and into the AFC South where their new division foes would be the Jaguars, Titans, and Texans.
The 2002 season saw the Colts return to their winning ways. The Colts would finish 10-6 and second in the AFC South (Tennessee won the division). Again they qualified for the playoffs, and would have to head to the Meadowlands to play the Jets.
This was one of the more forgettable playoff games in team history. The Jets blew away the Colts by the score of 41-0.
In the off-season, and as a result of the game, Vanderjagt did an interview and "got liquored up and ran his mouth," according to Manning.
In 2003, the Colts began the season 5-0, including the Monday Night Miracle win over Tampa Bay. For the first time ever, the team would win the AFC South with a record of 12-4.
With the 12-4 record, the Colts were only the third seed in the AFC, but that was enough to bring the playoffs back to Indianapolis for the first time since the 1999 campaign.
The Colts would face the Denver Broncos in the first round of the playoffs. The result was a blow out. Only this time, the Colts came out on top. A 41-10 win over Denver game Manning his first playoff win ever, and the franchise its first home playoff win.
The last time the Colts had won a playoff game, in 1995, the team traveled to Kansas City for the Divisional Round. This season was no different. The game was expected to be a high scoring affair between the Colts passing attack and the Chiefs two headed scoring monster of Priest Holmes and Donte Hall (returning kicks).
It didn't disappoint.
The Colts ended up winning the shootout 38-31, again knocking the Chiefs out of the playoffs.
This meant the Colts would be headed to the Championship game for the first time since losing to the Dolphins in 1971. This time their opponent would be a different AFC East opponent: the Patriots.
The game was a snowy slugfest that saw the Patriots defense manhandle the Colts. Manning was sacked four times, and threw four interceptions in the game. The Colts could never get closer than seven points as the Patriots defense, and Adam Vinatieri's five field goals, kept the Colts at bay. The Patriots would win 24-14.
In 2004, the regular season began the same way the Colts' season had ended a year earlier with a loss in New England.
Then Manning went on a tear.
In what is, in my opinion, the greatest season for a QB ever, Manning shattered just about every important record (except for yardage) that a QB could for passing. Most notably, Manning fired 49 touchdown passes in, essentially, 15 games as the Colts sat the starters in Week 17. They again finished 12-4, and again on top of the AFC South.
And again the Colts would face the Broncos in the Wild Card round in Indianapolis. And again it was a blow out. This time the Colts won 49-24.
Unfortunately, the season would end exactly where it started: New England. This was one of the ugliest Colts losses I ever witnessed. The high powered offense of the Colts was completely grounded in the snow of New England. The Patriots would win 20-3 and defend their Super Bowl title a few weeks later.
In what became quite the trend in the 2000s, the Colts bombed in the pre-season, going 0-5. I only mention that here, because the team roared out to a 13-0 start to the regular season. This year, the defense and offense was rolling and the Colts looked unstoppable.
That brings us to the golden year, if you will: 2006.
The season started out like any other with the Colts speeding out to a 9-0 start. Then the wheels started to fall off.
Over the final seven games, the Colts would go 3-4, losing to the Cowboys, Jaguars, Titans, and Texans all on the road. And the run defense was completely gashed in the process.
This forced the Colts to do something we hadn't seen much in the Dungy era, the Colts had to play to win in Week 17. They did, and wound up as the third seed in the playoffs.
For the third time since moving to Indianapolis, the Colts would meet the Chiefs in the playoffs. This time (like the other two) many thought the Chiefs could win. This time, it would be behind the rushing attack of Larry Johnson.
Only this time, it didn't happen. For the first time all season the Colts didn't allow an opposing team to rush for 100 yards.
The win meant the Colts would head to their old stomping grounds for the next round: Baltimore.
The Colts would be unable to muster a touchdown against what really was one of the better Baltimore defenses. However, five Vinatieri field goals made all the difference as the Colts stifled the Ravens, en route to a 15-6 victory and to the AFC Championship Game.
It turned out to be a good thing that the Colts played for the third seed in the AFC. With the Colts beating the second seeded Ravens, and the Patriots beating the top seeded Chargers, Indianapolis would host the title game.
Of course, that meant it would come against the Patriots. In the greatest game I ever witnessed in person, the Colts won with a stunning comeback over New England and punched their ticket to the Super Bowl.
For the third time ever the Colts reached the big game. And for the third time the Colts would play the Super Bowl in Miami.
After a sluggish start, Manning and the Colts (especially Dominic Rhodes) came to life. It all ended with a 29-17 victory over the Bears. The Colts were Super Bowl Champions for the first time since 1970!
The title defense began the following year in 2007. And it couldn't have started any better as the Colts blew away the Saints on opening night.
They rolled off seven victories to begin the season before dropping a thrilling game to the Patriots in Week 8. The following week, the Colts lost a thumper in San Diego in a game that saw Manning toss six interceptions, and saw Vinatieri miss a potential game winning chip shot field goal.
The Colts got back on track, winning every game until Week 17 where they rested their starters against the Titans. Still, the Colts finished 13-3 and were the second seed in the AFC.
Unfortunately, the 2007 playoffs came with another painful loss. This time, the Colts went one and done at home against, what amounted to, Billy Volek and the Chargers. Many fans (including myself) will always remember this game as the one where Marvin Harrison came back and gave up a costly fumble in the Red Zone.
The 2008 season was very different. Dungy announced he would leave at season's end, and the Colts opened Lucas Oil Stadium. Of course, they opened the stadium with a loss to the Bears followed by another home loss to the Jaguars.
By Week 8, the Colts were 3-4 and in trouble. Then, with no running game to speak of, Manning put the Colts on his back. They reeled off nine wins to end the season 12-4, good enough for second in the AFC South (behind the Kerry Collins led Titans) and a playoff spot.
The lack of a running game came back to bite them in the playoffs, though, as the Colts couldn't convert any important short yardage situations against the Chargers. For the second straight year, the Colts were knocked out of the playoffs in one-and-done style against San Diego.
The final year of the 2000s is one that I have somewhat blocked out of my memory.
The 2009 season was an interesting one. Jim Caldwell was now the coach, but it didn't look like the offense had the same firepower. Sure Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark were there. But who else? Austin Collie? Pierre Garcon? These were not the star names Colts fans had grown accustomed to.
It didn't matter.
The team had some kind of magic about it. They ran up a 14-0 record, including another incredible comeback over New England, and seemed poised to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl. Then something happened, and I can't quite remember what.
In the playoffs the Colts met the Ravens in a game I know I was worried about. They didn't play well, but got the job done. As fate would have it, the Colts would meet the Jets in the title game. After a sluggish first half, Manning again went to work and torched the Jets secondary. The Colts were headed to the Super Bowl again, and again it was in Miami.
The Super Bowl got off to a fast start, and the Colts were rolling. I like to tell myself that's the point where the game ended. And that this and this didn't happen (PSA: Only watch if you want to feel sad and angry).
And that brings us to the end of the 2000s. It was a decade that saw the Colts dominate the NFL, winning 12 or more games almost every season. However, most Colts fans will remember it as a decade of missed chances and great disappointment.
Still, the Colts got a Super Bowl out of it. And anything with a Super Bowl isn't all bad!