In honor of the ten-year anniversary of the Indianapolis Colts winning Super Bowl XLI the team is hosting a reunion this weekend. Leading up to the halftime ceremony on Sunday, Stampede Blue will be taking a look back this week at that incredible 2006 season - continuing today with the AFC Championship win over the New England Patriots.
It was fitting that in order for the Colts to finally get to the Super Bowl, they’d need to take down the New England Patriots.
The Patriots were the dynasty of the NFL, having won three Super Bowls in four years between 2001-2004 and were looking to advance to their fourth in six years. The Colts, meanwhile, had endured several playoff exits - including two at the hands of New England. The Colts lost the 2003 AFC Championship game in Foxborough 24-14, and a year later they lost the 2004 AFC Divisional round game in New England 20-3. The Colts dominated the rest of the NFL, but the Patriots gave them fits. Entering the 2006 AFC Championship game the Colts were just 4-10 against the Patriots in the Peyton Manning era and were just 2-6 since Tom Brady took over as New England’s starter. But with that said, the Colts had won their previous two meetings with the Patriots (in the 2005 and 2006 regular seasons), and now they’d host the Patriots at the RCA Dome for the right to go to the Super Bowl. You couldn’t have written it any better, right?
Just a few minutes into the game, Colts fans would have vehemently disagreed with that claim. The Patriots took the lead midway through the first quarter in an unconventional way, as offensive lineman Logan Mankins recovered a fumble for a touchdown. Adam Vinatieri got the Colts on the board late in the first quarter with a 42-yard field goal against his former team, but on the ensuing drive the Patriots marched it down field on the Colts and scored on a seven-yard rush by Corey Dillon. All of the sudden it was 14-3 Patriots and the Colts needed to answer.
The Indianapolis offense jogged onto the field, and the drive had an inauspicious start as Dominic Rhodes carried the ball for a gain of three. Then, Peyton Manning threw right intended for Marvin Harrison and Asante Samuel jumped the pass, taking it back 39 yards for a touchdown. 21-3 Patriots midway through the second quarter. Though there were hopes that this would finally be the time the Colts would get past the Patriots, it was starting to look like every other time.
After the two teams exchanged punts the Colts embarked on a huge drive right before half, as though they started the drive backed up at their own 12 yard line they ended it with a 26-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri with just a few seconds left. On the drive Manning completed 7 of 12 passes for 82 yards, and the Colts got on the board right before halftime to cut it to a 21-6 deficit.
Throughout the playoffs up to this point, the Colts had been carried by their defense. After the offense carried them all regular season it was a stunning reversal, but if the Colts had any hope of climbing out of the massive hole they had created they would need Manning and the offense to lead the way. The drive before halftime was a promising start, but they’d need a lot more of that in the second half.
Indianapolis proved up to the task, and the second half would become one of the more thrilling in conference championship history. On the opening drive the Colts marched down the field, led by the passing of Peyton Manning and the rushing of Dominic Rhodes, and capped it off with a one-yard quarterback sneak by Manning. It was now a 21-13 Patriots lead.
The defense did their drive on the following possession and forced a quick three and out, giving the offense the ball back with the game now a one-score contest. Kick-started by a 25-yard pass to Dallas Clark and a 19-yard run by Dominic Rhodes the Colts were moving the ball, and they eventually got the ball down to the one-yard line. Manning then rolled out and hit defensive tackle Dan Klecko for a touchdown. Yes, that’s right, defensive tackle Dan Klecko. The former Patriots lineman who had won two Super Bowls with New England entered the game with just four receptions for 20 yards and a touchdown in his career, but in the biggest game of the season he scored a huge touchdown. On the two-point conversion try, Manning hit Marvin Harrison to tie the game up at 21. Suddenly, after having been down by 18 points midway through the second quarter, the Colts had tied the game up in the third quarter.
The Patriots weren’t about to quit then, however, and an 80-yard kick return on the ensuing kickoff had New England in great position, which they capitalized on a few plays later on a Tom Brady touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney on the force-out rule.
The Colts responded by moving down the field with ease on a six-play drive, capped off by... a Dominic Rhodes fumble. From the New England two yard line the Colts gave Rhodes the ball, but he lost it - only to see center Jeff Saturday recover the football in the end zone for a touchdown. In a game that had turned into a shootout between two of the best quarterbacks of all-time, each team had seen an offensive lineman recover a fumble for a touchdown. Go figure. And now the score was tied back up at 28.
Both teams exchanged punts, and then the Patriots - once again starting in Colts territory - re-took the lead 31-28 on a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. The Colts answered on their next drive with a field goal of their own, as Adam Vinatieri hit from 36-yards to once again tie it up. And then, for a third straight drive, a field goal was made as Gostkowski hit another kick to once again give the Patriots the lead, 34-31, with just under four minutes remaining.
Peyton Manning would get the ball down three with just a few minutes left, facing a drive that could send the Colts to the Super Bowl... and three straight incompletions resulted in a punt. Indy’s defense rose to the occasion on the next drive, though, stopping the Patriots and holding them to a three and out and once again giving Manning the ball.
Peyton Manning would get the ball down three with just a few minutes left, facing a drive that could send the Colts to the Super Bowl... and he responded with the biggest drive of his life. An eleven-yard pass to Reggie Wayne got things started. And then after an incompletion intended for tight end Bryan Fletcher, Manning again went to Fletcher for a 32 yard pass. Yes, Bryan Fletcher, who was Indy’s third tight end, caught a huge 32-yard pass on the biggest drive of the season. The next play, Manning hit Wayne for a 14-yard pass across the middle, though Wayne nearly lost the ball - it floated up in the air, but somehow he was able to grab it and pull it down. Tack on a roughing the passer penalty and the Colts had the ball inside the red zone. It was then, as the legend goes, that quiet Marvin Harrison spoke up: the Colts should run the football. So on three straight plays, Manning handed off to rookie Joseph Addai, and on the third he broke through for a three-yard score. Jeff Saturday cleared out the running lane with the block of his life, and the Colts led 38-34 with just 1:02 left.
The RCA Dome was electric, but it wasn’t over yet. Tom Brady had the ball, and after an incompletion he completed two in a row to move the Patriots near midfield with just over 30 seconds left. But what happened next will be forever remembered as perhaps the biggest play in Colts history: Marlin Jackson stepped in front of a Tom Brady pass over the middle and picked it off, sliding to the ground as the Colts and their fans went crazy. The Colts were finally going to the Super Bowl!
The game was an instant classic. The Colts had overcome an 18-point deficit in a thrilling battle with the Patriots, a game that featured five lead changes and three ties. The Colts never held a lead until 1:02 left in the game, but that was all that mattered. The second half was a back-and-forth battle between two great quarterbacks and two great offenses, and the Colts came out on top. It would prove to be the greatest game of Peyton Manning’s incredible career and the greatest game in Indianapolis Colts history. All the Colts needed to do was one more win, a Super Bowl matchup with the Bears, to ensure that the comeback against the Patriots would forever be remembered as such.
Coming tomorrow, we will take a look back at the Colts’ victory in the Super Bowl over the Chicago Bears.