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Patriots-Colts: An Instant Classic

     I thought the Patriots-Chargers divisional round clash was a great game. It had a lot of bizarre plays, an exciting ending, and plenty of star power. But yesterday’s AFC Championship was like that to the tenth power–an intense game with plenty of momentum changes, almost like an episode of “24.” The Colts’ 38-34 victory over their archrival Patriots was one for the ages, a game that any true sports fan who watched it will remember for the rest of his life.      There was an epic feeling to this game, something that no football game at any level has produced since the Texas-USC Rose Bowl a year ago. In fact, the two games are quite comparative: both featured high scoring, multiple plays that turned the game around, a star quarterback leading his team to victory, and the ending of a dynasty for the loser. Then drop in the Manning-finally-wins-the-big-one storyline, and here’s a game that could end up being legendary. Here are a few key plays from this battle:

*    Bill Belichick decides to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the 48, and Corey Dillon (who is heading down the Eddie George-Jerome Bettis end-of-career path with his lack of speed) produces a 35-yard run. At this point, it looked as if the Colts’ run defense woes had returned–and luck would be on the Patriots’ side once again.
*    New England gets another break with the Logan Mankins fumble recovery in the end zone. There were about three changes of momentum on this play alone: first off Maroney could have scored, then the Colts could have recovered easily and shut down the Pats in the red zone, then Mankins recovers the ball in a classic Patriots play. Peyton Manning isn’t looking too good on the sidelines.
*    On fourth-and-six from the 34, the Patriots go for it again–and Troy Brown produces a 27-yard catch that leads to a touchdown on the next play. At this point, the Patriots are one big play away from being dominant.
*    New England doesn’t have to wait too long to get that big play. Asante Samuel makes one of the best jumps on a ball I’ve ever seen, picking off a Manning pass and taking it in for an easy touchdown. 21-3, game over. I’m glad I picked the Patriots, anyone who didn’t is completely regretting it at this point. Oh, how things can change…
*    After the Pats harassed Manning on their next drive, they get the ball around midfield. A Brady-to-Watson pass puts them in the red zone, but nope, pass interference on Brown, it’s coming back. Brady gets sacked, they’re out of field goal range, and the Colts avoid what could have been a knockout punch.
*    After the Colts rally back to make it 21-13, two key defensive penalties on the Patriots give the Colts the ball on the 1. Manning finds Dan Klecko of all people for the score, and then rifles the two-point conversion to Marvin Harrison. A game that had looked like a disaster for Indy was suddenly turning in their favor. It was 21-all, the first of three ties in the second half.
*    Ellis Hobbs takes away a little of the Colts’ momentum by returning the ensuing kickoff 80 yards. Brady takes advantage of the field position by finding Jabar Gaffney, who makes a circus catch in the end zone. Gaffney might be the first receiver in NFL history to do absolutely nothing the first five years of his career, then in his first three playoff games look like a superstar. If the Patriots put yours truly out at receiver, I could probably catch a few touchdowns.
*    Later on, with the score tied up at 28, the Patriots have the ball first-and-ten on the 13, but then a penalty and an inexcusable drop by Reche Caldwell make them unable to score six. Gostkowski kicks a field goal, which is then answered by the Colts’ Adam Vinatieri on the next drive. Both kickers were completely automatic this postseason.
*    After another Gostkowski field goal, the Patriots force a three-and-out and get the ball back with 3:22 left on the clock. Considering the history of clutch by this team and their quarterback, it seemed incomprehensible that they could lose this game given this situation. But then a huge false start penalty knocked them back five yards, and after two short completions Brady threw it to nobody on third down.
*    In a drive that redefined Peyton Manning’s career, he dissected the Patriots defense, leading an 80-yard drive in 1:17. Colts up 38-34, Brady with the ball and a minute left, this was already a classic.
*    Brady throws a shocking interception, which stunned me and 40 million people watching. Game over, and maybe dynasty over.

    Many are already breaking down the Colts-Bears Super Bowl, which seems odd to me after a game this great and this important. There are many ramifications from this game. It could, in fact, become one of those “defining games” that changes the course of the league for the next few seasons, like the Patriots’ win over the Rams in the Super Bowl.

    The most uncertain outcome is the state of the Patriots’ dynasty. They’ll always be a good team as long as they have Brady and Belichick, but can they win the Super Bowl again? The past two seasons have ended in playoff disappointments, and it’s been clear that they need more playmakers at receiver and in the secondary. They had no answer on defense for a Colts team that hadn’t played very well in its first two playoff games on offense. This wasn’t the fault of their corners, who knocked down several potential touchdown passes and held Wayne and Harrison in check for the most part. Instead, tight end Dallas Clark burned them for 137 yards. They need better safeties, especially since Rodney Harrison cannot stay healthy. Defense, despite the fact that they set a franchise record for fewest points allowed this year, is New England’s #1 need heading into the offseason. Suddenly the tides have turned in this rivalry, and if they want to take down the Colts in the future, New England needs to reload on D.

     For Indianapolis, this game could change the entire fate of the franchise. While they haven’t won the Super Bowl yet, if they do they will become the team to beat for the next few years. They’ve been great in the regular season for about five years from now, and if they can play well in the playoffs again next year, the Colts may be the league’s next dynasty. I understand that is making a bold statement for a team that still hasn’t won a Super Bowl, but Peyton Manning has plenty of more great years left in him.

     Now, let’s see how the Patriots-Colts ranks against the best playoff games I’ve ever seen. Note that this list only includes games since I became a sports fan, which was around 1999.

  1. Titans 22, Bills 16, 2000 AFC Wild Card: The Music City Miracle. Enough said.
  2. Patriots 16, Raiders 13, 2002 AFC Divisional: This game will be forever known as the Tuck Rule, a call that allowed the Pats to stay alive, and ultimately put their dynasty in motion. Vinatieri started his clutch-kicking magic with a game-winner in the snow.
  3. Colts 38, Chiefs 31, 2004 AFC Divisional: This was a wild game in which neither team punted, a first in playoff history. Peyton Manning played flawlessly in the win as both teams had over 400 yards of total offense.
  4. 49ers 39, Giants 38, 2003 NFC Wild Card: Jeff Garcia led the 49ers on one of the biggest comebacks in playoff history. The Giants had a shot at a game-winning field goal, but couldn’t convert due to a bad snap.
  5. Panthers 29, Rams 23, 2004 NFC Divisional: This was the only double-overtime game in playoff history. A slew of crazy plays were culminated by two missed field goals from two usually automatic kickers in the first OT. But on the first play of the second overtime, Steve Smith caught a long touchdown from Jake Delhomme.
  6. Patriots 32, Panthers 29, 2004 Super Bowl: This one was almost unsufferably boring for the first quarter-and-a-half, but when it got going, it was a roller coaster ride of big play after big play. Brady led another game-winning drive and Vinatieri kicked another game-winning field goal.
  7. Steelers 21, Colts 18, 2006 AFC Divisional: Peyton Manning was blitzed to death by the Steelers for the majority of this game, but then he led a big comeback to tie it at 18. Then: the Bettis fumble, the Roethlisberger tackle, and the Vanderjagt miss.
  8. Patriots 20, Rams 17, 2002 Super Bowl: The most painful game in my life as a sports fan, but also one of the greatest upsets in league history. An unbelievable ending featured a 48-yard, game-winning field goal by Adam Vinatieri, and so began a dynasty.
  9. Colts 38, Patriots 34, 2007 AFC Championship: I believe I’ve stated my case for this one.
  10. Rams 23, Titans 16, 2000 Super Bowl: I know I’m biased for this as a Rams fan, but this was truly a classic. The Rams were one of the greatest out-of-nowhere teams ever, and jumped out to a 16-0 lead. The Titans came back, but then Kurt Warner and Isaac Bruce hooked up for a memorable 73-yard touchdown. The game ended with the greatest last play in Super Bowl history, The Tackle.

5 replies on “Patriots-Colts: An Instant Classic”

Who cares how long it is,, It was a good read..Those rankings were way too biased, though…The Steelers beating the Colts was no.1!! 🙂

To nitpick, I would replace that Colts-Chiefs game with the Packers-Seahawks the same year. The Chiefs, who only lost by a TD, were never really in that game because you just knew they couldn’t stop the Colts. It was kinda sad to watch that defense. The Seahawks game was a classic with Hasselbeck’s bold announcement of “we’re going to score” at the beginning of OT and then throwing the interception.

What is This —  Great article, but If you had become a sports fan 8 years ago (when you were less than 9 years old) than you should not rank your greatest moments when some of them were played when you don’t have any recollection of them at all when they were played that day.

And , #10 on your list should be #1, but you were too young to see it live so I don’t blame you.

Plus, way too long. I just went right to the rankings.

ok I only put games on the list that I have actually watched. The Music City Miracle is the single greatest play I have ever seen, but the 9 games ranked above it were better overall.

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