The Kansas City Chiefs were back in the playoffs and hosting a postseason game for the first time in six years as they faced the Indianapolis Colts on January 11, 2004 in an AFC Divisional Playoff game. In their third season under Head Coach Dick Vermeil, the Chiefs won their first nine games on the way to a 13-3 record and first place in the AFC West. QB Trent Green passed for 4039 yards and 24 TDs and RB Priest Holmes scored a then-record 27 touchdowns while rushing for 1420 yards and gaining 2110 yards from scrimmage. TE Tony Gonzalez was, like Holmes, a consensus first-team All-Pro who caught 71 passes for 916 yards and 10 TDs, although the wide receivers were capable but unexceptional. WR Dante Hall received All-NFL recognition for his outstanding kick returning, in one stretch returning kicks for touchdowns in four straight games. The defense was an area of concern, however, ranking just 29th overall in the league and twice yielding 45 points in late-season losses.
The Colts were in the playoffs for the second straight year with Head Coach Tony Dungy at the helm and the fourth time in five seasons. The key to success was sixth-year QB Peyton Manning (pictured above), a consensus MVP and first-team All-Pro after passing for 4267 yards and 29 TDs with only 10 interceptions. WR Marvin Harrison gained a Pro Bowl selection and both Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley were productive. RB Edgerrin James missed three games with a back injury but still rushed for 1259 yards and caught 51 passes. The defense was less impressive but respectable. Indianapolis topped the AFC South with a 12-4 tally and handily won their Wild Card playoff game the week before by a 41-10 score over Denver without punting once.
There were 79,159 fans in attendance at Arrowhead Stadium. The Colts took the opening kickoff and advanced 70 yards in 10 plays. Peyton Manning completed a pass to Marvin Harrison for 13 yards in a third-and-nine situation and Edgerrin James (pictured below) had a 15-yard run along the way. A Manning throw to WR Brandon Stokley was completed for a 29-yard touchdown and Mike Vanderjagt added the extra point.
Kansas City responded with a drive that included seven carries by Priest Holmes for 52 yards and Trent Green threw to Tony Gonzalez for 16 yards. But after getting first-and-goal at the Indianapolis six, the Chiefs were unable to reach the end zone and Morten Andersen kicked a 22-yard field goal to make it a 7-3 score.
The Colts came back with a six-play, 76-yard series. Manning passed twice to Harrison for gains of 13 and 38 yards and James ran around end for 13 yards in between, as well as 11 yards for a TD. Vanderjagt’s point after put the visitors in front by 14-3.
A 46-yard kickoff return by Dante Hall was nullified by a holding penalty, but in a series that extended into the second quarter, the Chiefs advanced 77 yards in 12 plays. Green completed five passes, including tosses to WR Eddie Kennison for 25 yards and WR Marc Boerigter for 21 to reach Indianapolis territory. Green ran for nine yards on a third-and-five play and a throw to WR Johnnie Morton picked up 14 yards to the seven. Hall caught a pass from Green for a nine-yard touchdown and, with Andersen’s extra point, the score was narrowed to 14-10.
Still, the Chiefs couldn’t stop the Colts, who drove 71 yards in nine plays. James had an 18-yard run and Manning completed four passes, including to WR Reggie Wayne for 17 yards, TE Marcus Pollard for 21, and RB Tom Lopienski for a two-yard TD. It was the only time that the rookie Lopienski touched the ball in his two-year NFL career and Vanderjagt’s PAT put the Colts up by 11 points at 21-10 with 4:34 remaining in the first half.
Starting from their 31 following the kickoff, the Chiefs gained 22 yards right away on a pass from Green to Gonzalez and two more throws to the tight end picked up eight and nine yards, although a longer completion was nullified by offensive pass interference. The possession stalled at the Indianapolis 13 and Kansas City came up empty when the normally-reliable Andersen missed on a 31-yard field goal attempt. The score remained unchanged at halftime.
The Chiefs had the ball first in the third quarter, but Holmes fumbled at the end of a 48-yard run and CB David Macklin recovered for the Colts at the Indianapolis 22. With James and RB Dominic Rhodes running effectively and Manning completing passes of 11 yards to Stokley and nine to Wayne, the visitors moved into KC territory and, after LB Shawn Barber stopped James for a loss of five yards on third down, Vanderjagt kicked a 45-yard field goal to increase the Indianapolis margin to 24-10.
The Chiefs, benefiting from a 27-yard kickoff return by Hall that had them starting from their 45, drove 55 yards in eight plays, six of them runs by Holmes (pictured at right), the first of which picked up 24 yards and the last reached the end zone from a yard out for a touchdown. Andersen’s conversion made it a seven-point game.
The Colts went largely to the air on their next series as Manning completed five passes, three of them to Wayne, including the last that was for a 19-yard TD. Vanderjagt kicked the extra point, but it was a seven-point game once more shortly thereafter when Hall returned the ensuing kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown. Andersen added the PAT and the score was 31-24.
The game entered the fourth quarter and the Colts remained unstoppable on offense. Manning converted a third-and-three situation with a pass to Wayne for 17 yards and followed up with a throw to Harrison for a gain of 27 to the KC 30. Manning completed three more passes to get the ball inside the ten, and James finished the drive off with a one-yard carry for a TD. Vanderjagt again converted to put the visitors up by 38-24.
A long series by the Chiefs followed. Starting from their 24, Kansas City picked up a first down thanks to defensive holding on a third-and-six play and converted a fourth-and-six situation with a pass from Green to Kennison for 19 yards. Green had four more completions as the Chiefs chipped away. Facing fourth-and-five at the Indianapolis seven, Green again connected with Kennison for six yards to get a first-and-goal at the one, and from there Holmes went up the middle for a touchdown. Andersen’s extra point once more made it a one-touchdown contest.
The clock was down to 4:16 remaining in regulation as the Colts again took over on offense. Manning threw to James for 16 yards and a first down, and James ran for another first down to keep the ball away from the Chiefs as the time ticked away. Rhodes was stopped for one yard on a fourth-and-three play, but the ball was at the Kansas City 27 and there were just eight seconds left to play. Green completed one last inconsequential pass and Indianapolis came away the winner by a final score of 38-31.
For the first time in NFL playoff history neither team punted and, equally unprecedented, the Colts managed to play two consecutive postseason games without punting. The teams combined for 842 total yards, with the Colts gaining 434 to Kansas City’s 408 and also leading in first downs (27 to 24) and time of possession (32:13 to 27:47). The Chiefs gained 196 yards of their total on the ground, while Indianapolis had 292 net passing yards. There was only one sack, which was by the Chiefs, and one turnover, also by Kansas City.
Peyton Manning completed 22 of 30 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns, with none intercepted. Edgerrin James ran for 125 yards and two TDs on 26 carries. Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne each had 6 catches, for 98 and 83 yards, respectively, and Wayne scored once.
For the Chiefs, Trent Green was successful on 18 of 30 throws for 212 yards and a TD with no interceptions. Priest Holmes had 176 rushing yards on 24 attempts that included two touchdowns and also pulled in five passes for 32 more yards. Tony Gonzalez gained 55 yards on his four pass receptions and Eddie Kennison contributed 50 yards on three catches. Dante Hall (pictured at right), in addition to two receptions for 19 yards and a TD, had 208 yards on seven kickoff returns that also included a touchdown.
“I am hot right now, we’re hot as an offense,” said Peyton Manning.
The Indianapolis offense was cooled off in the AFC Championship game the following week in a 24-14 loss to New England. The Chiefs fell back to 7-9 in 2004 and, while they rebounded to 10-6 in Dick Vermeil’s last year before retiring, did not reach the postseason again until 2006.