During the Peyton Manning era, the Colts experienced a lot of great games. We watched one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time raise the level of play around him and pummel the AFC as a whole. From 1999 to 2010 the Colts had just one season where they won fewer than 10 games. They dominated the AFC South and had 11 playoff appearances in that time.
However, over the first eight years of Manning’s career they had not been able to put together a team that could get to the Super Bowl. The early 2000’s were solidly in the grip of the brutal Patriots defense. Their running game and defensive prowess paired with Tom Brady at the helm proved to be a continual stumbling block for the Colts during that time.
Losses to the Patriots in the 2003 AFC Championship, and the 2004 divisional round, as well as losses to them in 3 out of 4 meetings during the 2003-2006 regular seasons had fans frustrated and feeling as though Manning’s brilliance was going to be wasted on teams that were never quite good enough.
Despite beating the Patriots by a score in the regular season, Colts fans felt a sense of foreboding heading into the matchup, a home game played at the RCA Dome. The Colts defense ranked dead last in the league against the run, and that weakness was one everyone expected Bill Belichick to exploit.
That was exactly what happened. In the first quarter, the Patriots drove 75-yards. The Patriots fumbled the handoff at the 4-yard line, and after bouncing almost impossibly past 6 Colts defenders, Logan Mankins managed to cover the ball in the end zone for the first score of the game.
The Colts answered with a 56-yard drive, but settled for an Adam Vinatieri field goal. Manning was getting hit, Colts receivers couldn’t get open, and the offense couldn’t get going. The Patriots went for it twice on fourth down in the first half, yielding 35 and 27-yard gains respectively. The Colts defense simply could not get the stops they needed, and the offense was being suffocated.
To make matter worse, after the Patriots had taken a 14-3 lead, Peyton Manning threw a crushing interception to Asante Samuel that he took 39 yards for a touchdown. By the end of the first half, the Colts had managed only one more field goal, bringing the score to 21-6, and leaving fans with an all-too-familiar pit in their stomachs.
However, Peyton Manning and the Colts were not ready to roll over. They started off the second half by methodically moving down the field with a combination of excellent running by Dominic Rhodes and strikes through the air from Manning to Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. 76 yards and 6:47 minutes later, Manning quarterback-sneaked the ball into the end zone for a touchdown.
After the Colts’ defense forced a 3-and-out, the offense again marched down the field 76 yards, aided by a 25-yard pass to tight end Dallas Clark to kick the drive off, and a 19-yard run by Dominic Rhodes. A 1-yard pass to Dan Klecko got the touchdown, and a back-shoulder fade to Marvin Harrison netted the 2-point conversion, tying the game at 21.
The momentum in their favor, the RCA Dome was rocking, but Ellis Hobbs’ 80-yard kick return put a damper on the mood. Five plays later, the Patriots were in the end zone again and had taken the lead as the third quarter neared a close.
On the ensuing drive, Dominic Rhodes took over, catching passes of 10 and 13 yards, and rushing for 9 and 4 yards to get the Colts to the New England 2-yard line. Then, the kind of disaster that can haunt you; Eric Alexander’s helmet hit the football popping it loose from Rhodes’ grasp right on the doorstep of tying the game. In a crazy turn, and for the second time in the game, an offensive lineman picked up the ball for a score. This time, it was Jeff Saturday.
After consecutive punts by the Patriots and Colts, the Patriots were on the move again. A couple big gains on passes to Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney had them rolling. An illegal shift by Gaffney and a stop by Rob Morris and Cato June stalled the drive and forced the Patriots to settle for a field goal.
The Colts answered with a field goal of their own, and the Patriots responded again in kind. Finally, with just 2:17 left in the game and trailing by 4 points, Peyton Manning had the ball back in his hands with one last chance to go down the field and win the game.
Colts fans had seen Manning do this so many times before, and yet against the Patriots, it somehow seemed like this might be insurmountable. It was almost as if the team was cursed to always fall just short.
An out to the left to Reggie Wayne got them moving with a first down. A 32-yard deep strike to TE Bryan Fletcher took them to the New England 37. On the next play, a 14-yard pass to Wayne saw him nearly fumble the ball before snatching it back in. Tony Dungy dialed up three consecutive run plays to bleed the clock and Joseph Addai finally managed to punch the ball in for a score, giving the Colts the lead for the first time all game.
Now, however, the Colts had to give the ball back to the Patriots with a minute left and hope that their defense could hold. When you’ve given up 34 points, that is no certainty. Completions of 19-yards to Ben Watson and 15-yards to Heath Evans had the Patriots all the way to the Colts’ 45-yard line and they took their second timeout with 24 seconds to play. The tension was palpable. It looked like the Patriots were going to carve their way through the Colts defense and win the game, despite all the Colts’ efforts.
But Marlin Jackson had other ideas. When Tom Brady went back to Ben Watson over the middle of the field, Jackson jumped the route, made the pick, and the crowd lost it. The game was over. The Colts had done what at times seemed impossible. They had vanquished the Patriots and made it to the Super Bowl. They would go on to win it, but this night was almost sweeter. It was truly a game to remember in Colts history.
Stampede Blue Staff Stories
Chris Blystone: I was working at Circuit City as a delivery driver and lived in a small apartment with two other friends. We hadn’t been in the apartment very long, and one of my roommates had purchased a 50” rear projection television that was full HD so that we could get the best possible view of the playoffs.
We had packed our little living room with probably 15-20 people to watch the game, all Colts fans of varying levels of devotion. I remember on so many plays I thought, well, that’s it, this is all over. The Patriots were such a dark specter on my football watching during that time that I could barely have envisioned a scenario where the Colts managed to break through.
That moment when Joseph Addai broke through and we all lost was something special, but I remember this borderline cold sweat that washed over us when the ball went back to New England with a minute left. When Marlin Jackson made the interception it was possibly one of the sweetest moments I can recall in football. We lost our minds and ran outside screaming. Our neighbors came out and I thought they were going to complain but they were freaking out too and had come out to celebrate. It was glorious.
Brett Mock: I remember heading to Sahm’s Bar and Grille off of 96th St on the north side of Indianapolis after work. I was working at Fry’s electronics at the time. There were Colts and, regrettably, Patriots fans sitting around the bar throughout the game. You can imagine how insufferable the Patriots fans were during the first half.
My favorite memory from the game is when Marlin Jackson intercepted Tom Brady. The Colts fans erupted and I leapt to my feet to celebrate. As I did, I turned toward the door and saw one of my best friends — not a sports fan — walking into the bar. Without thinking I spear tackled him to the ground in the entryway, leaving him with a pretty nasty bruise on his hip from the cell phone he had in a chuckle holster on his side.
He quickly realized how serious I was about the Colts and to never walk in unexpectedly during a game without knowing what is going on.
Zach Hicks: My story is probably going to be much different from most of the other writers on this site. I believe I was only 9 years old at the time and I was just really starting to get into football. My favorite player in the entire league was Peyton Manning mainly due to his skill but also due to the fact that we share the same birthday (because what else does a kid look for in his favorite player?).
I remember going into that game thinking there is no way the Colts would win, especially with that historically bad run defense. That same run defense that gave up 375(!) rushing yards to the Jaguars in the season finale. Plus Brady and Belichick were just too good and there is no way they would lose.
When Marlin Jackson picked off Brady at the end of that game, I completely lost it. I didn’t even like the team back then but to see my favorite player in all of football finally beat Tom Brady was so amazing. I think a week or so later my parents got me my first ever jersey, a blue #18 of my favorite player. Ever since then I’ve tried to watch every Colts game, every season.
Jared Malott: I’ll be really honest and say that I don’t actually know where I was for the duration of that particular evening. I was in the Marine Corps at the time and frequented the Hooters in Jacksonville, North Carolina when I was back at Camp LeJeune to do my football watching (ahem). However, due to the volume of alcohol I was regularly consuming during that particular time-frame, I could have actually been AT the game in the RCA Dome live and wouldn’t be able to tell you either way. Some say I’m still recovering from that game. Aren’t we all?