January 21, 2011

2007: Colts Come from Behind to Defeat Patriots for AFC Championship

In the first four seasons under Head Coach Tony Dungy, the Indianapolis Colts had reached the postseason. However, they had yet to advance to the Super Bowl, and in two of those years it had been losses to the New England Patriots that had brought them up short. The Patriots, led by Head Coach Bill Belichick, had proceeded to win championships in both of those postseasons. On January 21, 2007 the two teams met in the AFC Championship game at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, with New England looking to advance to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in six years, and the Colts seeking to finally get past them.

The key to the Colts offense was QB Peyton Manning (pictured above), as had been the case since his rookie season in 1998. He led the NFL in passing (101.0 rating) and touchdown passes (31) in 2006, and was second in passing yards (4397) and third in completion percentage (65.0). With the departure of RB Edgerrin James to the Cardinals, Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes combined for 1722 yards on the ground and 76 pass receptions. Pro Bowl wide receivers Marvin Harrison (95 catches, 1366 yards) and Reggie Wayne (86 receptions for 1310 yards) were outstanding, as usual. However, the defense had great difficulty against the run and the team slumped during the second half of the season as a result, losing four of the last seven games. Still, they won the AFC South for the fourth straight year with a 12-4 record and defeated the Chiefs and Ravens to get to the conference title game.

New England had a star quarterback as well, Tom Brady, who had taken over for the injured Drew Bledsoe during the 2001 season and had proceeded to lead the Patriots to ten straight postseason victories (including three Super Bowls) before finally suffering a loss in the Divisional round following the ’05 season. Despite a lack of quality receivers, Brady still threw for 3529 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2006. Veteran RB Corey Dillon and rookie Lawrence Maroney ran for a total of 1557 yards. The defense featured the outstanding line of ends Richard Seymour and Ty Warren and NT Vince Wilfork, a capable linebacking corps, and CB Asante Samuel, with his 10 interceptions.

There were 57,433 fans in attendance under the dome, and the home crowd made plenty of noise during key points in the contest. Things began quietly on the field, however, as the teams traded punts to start the game. On their second possession, the Patriots opened with Brady completing an 18-yard pass to WR Reche Caldwell and, on fourth-and-one at the Indianapolis 48, Dillon took off on a 35-yard run to the 13 yard line. Three plays later, Maroney fumbled, the ball rolled into the end zone, and G Logan Mankins fell on it for a touchdown.

The Colts responded with a long, 14-play drive in which Manning completed six passes. Ex-Patriot Adam Vinatieri kicked a 42-yard field goal to narrow New England’s lead to 7-3.

The Patriots started off the second quarter by finishing a 72-yard possession with a seven-yard run by Dillon. Two plays after the ensuing kickoff, Manning was intercepted by Samuel (pictured at left), who returned it 39 yards for a TD. The Patriots were ahead by 21-3 and it seemed as though they would once again prevail over the Colts. Indianapolis scored once again before the half, on a 26-yard Vinatieri field goal, and the tally was 21-6 at the intermission.

The Colts received the second half kickoff and proceeded to drive 76 yards in 14 plays that culminated in a one-yard touchdown run by Manning. Following a three-and-out possession by the Patriots, the Colts drove to another score as Manning completed a 25-yard pass to TE Dallas Clark and Rhodes had a 19-yard run. A pass interference call on New England CB Ellis Hobbs moved the ball to the one, and from there Manning tossed a TD pass to OT Dan Klecko on a tackle-eligible play. The Colts went for a two-point conversion and succeeded on a Manning pass to Harrison, tying the score at 21-21.

The Patriots came right back as Hobbs, making up for the big penalty, returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to the Indianapolis 21 yard line. Following a one-yard loss on a run by Maroney, Brady completed a 17-yard pass to WR Jabar Gaffney and three plays later threw to Gaffney again for a six-yard touchdown to put New England back in front at 28-21.

In a drive that extended into the fourth quarter, the Colts went 67 yards in seven plays, featuring a Manning-to-Clark pass play that covered 23 yards down to the New England nine. On second-and-goal from the one, Rhodes got the ball but fumbled and C Jeff Saturday recovered in the end zone for a Colts touchdown – the third lineman to score a TD in the game, with Mankins having scored in the same manner in the first quarter for the Patriots and Klecko catching the scoring pass for Indianapolis. In any event, following the successful extra point, the back-and-forth game was again tied at 28-28.

Both teams went three-and-out on their next possessions. With just over ten minutes remaining in regulation, Brady fired completions of 16 yards to Caldwell, 14 yards to Gaffney, and seven to WR Troy Brown as the Patriots reached the Indianapolis 13 yard line. The drive sputtered at the 10 and Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 28-yard field goal to give New England the lead at 31-28.

Once again the Colts responded in kind, as on the first play of their next possession Manning completed a pass to Clark that covered 52 yards to the Patriots’ 25. Four plays later, Vinatieri connected on a 36-yard field goal to once more knot the score at 31-31.

Hobbs returned the kickoff 41 yards and Brady threw to TE Daniel Graham for a 25-yard gain down to the Indianapolis 25. Gostkowski booted a 43-yard field goal, and with the clock now down to 3:49, the Patriots were back in front at 34-31.

Manning threw three incomplete passes on the next possession and the Colts punted. The Patriots reached nearly to midfield and had to punt it back. Taking over at the 20 yard line with 2:17 to play, Manning threw to Wayne for 11 yards and then, after an incomplete pass, connected with TE Bryan Fletcher for 32 yards to the New England 37. A 14-yard completion to Wayne received additional yardage due to a roughing-the-passer penalty, and following the two-minute warning, Addai ran the ball three straight times, the last for a three-yard touchdown (pictured below).

With the successful PAT, the Colts were up by four points, but the Patriots got the ball back with 54 seconds on the clock and two timeouts left. Following an incompletion, Brady was successful on passes of 19 yards to TE Ben Watson and 15 to RB Heath Evans to get the ball into Colts territory. But DB Marlin Jackson intercepted a pass intended for Brown to snuff out the threat and preserve the 38-34 win for Indianapolis.

The Colts outgained New England (455 yards to 319) and had more first downs (32 to 17). Both teams suffered just one turnover apiece. The Patriots sacked Manning three times, while Brady was dumped just once, but were penalized eight times, to four flags thrown on the Colts.

Peyton Manning completed 27 of 47 passes for 349 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Dallas Clark (pictured below) caught 6 passes for 137 yards while Reggie Wayne grabbed 5 for 68 and Marvin Harrison had a relatively quiet day at 4 receptions for 41 yards. Dominic Rhodes led the Indianapolis runners with 69 yards on 14 carries and Joseph Addai contributed 56 yards and the winning TD on his 14 attempts.

For the Patriots, Tom Brady (pictured below left) was successful on 21 of 34 passes for 232 yards, also with a TD and an interception. Ben Watson caught 5 passes for 48 yards to lead the receivers, while Reche Caldwell had 46 yards on his 4 receptions. Corey Dillon was the leading rusher with 48 yards on seven carries.

“I'm so proud of the way our guys fought,” said Tony Dungy afterward. “I'm very happy for Peyton. He was very, very calm. He had to bring us from behind three or four times. It's just fitting. Our team went the hard way the whole year.”

The Colts went on to defeat the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl, finally reaching the NFL summit. New England would retool in the offseason and come back stronger.