The casts have changed, but the blue horseshoe and flying Elvis logos remain the same. The Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots meet Sunday for the 15th time since 2001, with postseason advancement at stake in one-third of those battles. John Vampatella takes us back in time to the notable clashes in Patriots vs Colts playoff history.
The Indianapolis Colts have met the New England Patriots four times in the playoffs, with all games taking place during the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era. Three of those matchups were with Peyton Manning at QB, but in last year’s Divisional Round Andrew Luck lined up under center for the Colts.
How have these two franchises stacked up over these four meetings?
January 18, 2004, AFC Championship – Patriots 24, Colts 14
The Colts entered the game with the NFL’s #2 scoring offense and the #3 offense in yards gained. Manning had thrown for 4,267 yards and 29 touchdowns, producing a passer rating of 99.0 during the 2003 season. They also had Edgerrin James, a versatile double threat at RB with 1,259 yards on the ground and another 292 in the air.
While the Patriots defeated the Colts, 38-34, in their regular season meeting, Indianapolis ‒ and first-time MVP Manning ‒ showed it could put up points on the New England defense.
The Patriots countered with the league’s #1 scoring defense, led by Willie McGinest, who had the game-winning stop in the regular-season meeting between the teams, and Ty Law, who intercepted Manning three times in the title game rematch. New England took leads of 15-0 and 21-7 before closing out the scoring with an Adam Vinatieri field goal.
The Patriots put a lot of pressure on Manning (23-of-47 for 237 yards, 1 TD), sacking him four times, and kept James in check, holding him to 78 yards and a touchdown. Offensively, Brady was not spectacular, but efficient, throwing for 237 yards on 22 completions (15 to Troy Brown and David Givens combined). Antowain Smith had a big day, running 22 times for 100 yards.
The Patriots found a way to frustrate the high-powered Colts offense and put up enough yards and points on Indy’s mediocre defense (#20 in points allowed, #11 in yards allowed) en route to their second Vince Lombardi Trophy two weeks later against Carolina.
January 16, 2005, AFC Divisional Round – Patriots 20, Colts 3
One year later, the Colts again had high hopes in the playoffs. The two teams opened the 2004 regular season on a Thursday night and the Patriots prevailed again, 27-24. During that game, New England forced many Indianapolis mistakes, as the Colts committed three turnovers.
But James rushed for 142 yards, and Manning played much better than he had in the previous playoff meeting, throwing for 256 yards and two touchdowns with only one interception. However, Brady had a huge game, throwing for 335 yards and three touchdowns as the Patriots held off a late Colts rally for the win.
The Patriots entered the playoff game fresh off their second 14-2 season in a row. Manning won his second consecutive MVP award while leading the Colts to a 12-4 campaign. Moreover, Indy had shredded the Denver Broncos in the Divisional Round, 49-24, as Manning threw for 458 yards and four touchdowns. Reggie Wayne was nearly unstoppable, catching 10 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns.
Indy had the #1 scoring offense in the NFL, and the #2 yard-producing offense. The Patriots, meanwhile, had the #2 scoring defense (#9 in yards allowed), so the battle shaped up as a case of strength vs. strength.
Once again, the New England defense came out on top in a big way.
The Patriots held Manning to just 238 yards and no touchdowns, while forcing an interception and not allowing the Colts offense to gain traction. Meanwhile, Brady and the #4 scoring offense in the league were unspectacular in the air (144 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions), but rode 144 rushing yards from newcomer Corey Dillon to grind out an impressive victory.
The Patriots seemed to have Indianapolis’s number. And they would soon have their third Super Bowl championship in four seasons, topping Philadelphia two weeks later.
January 21, 2007, AFC Championship – Colts 38, Patriots 34
Up to this point, Manning had all the awards but none of Brady’s hardware. But this game was played indoors at Indianapolis, not in frigid Foxborough. The Colts (12-4) entered the postseason as the #3 seed, knocking off Kansas City 23-8 in the Wild Card Round, and then #1 seed Baltimore 15-6 in the Divisional Round. The #4 seed Patriots (also 12-4) had beaten the Jets 37-16 in the Wild Card round and then San Diego 24-21 in the Divisional Round.
The Colts, in typical fashion, had a dynamic offense (#2 in points, #3 in yards), but a suspect defense (#23 in points, #21 in yards). But star safety Bob Sanders had returned from injury, and through their first two playoff games the defense had been incredible, allowing just 14 points. Manning, however, was off his game, with subpar performances in both outings.
New England had a very good offense (#7 in points, #11 in yards), and an excellent defense (#2 in points, #6 in yards). But with the roles of Indianapolis’s offensive and defensive units reversed from postseasons past, this playoff meeting figured to be different.
Indianapolis also beat New England 27-20 in the regular season, harassing Brady into one of his worst performances as a pro. He threw no touchdowns and was picked off four times.
The playoff game looked to be more of the same in the first half. The Patriots went up 21-3 on a pick-six by Asante Samuel, and it appeared the rout was on. Indianapolis scored what seemed like a meaningless field goal at the end of the half to cut the deficit to 21-6, but those points gave the Colts momentum heading into the second half.
Indianapolis scored two consecutive touchdowns in the third quarter to tie the game at 21, but the Patriots answered with a Jabar Gaffney TD reception to retake the lead, 28-21. But the New England defense was wilting. The Colts tied the game at 28 before the Patriots answered again, as Stephen Gostkowski put them up 31-28 on a field goal. Vinatieri, the former Patriots hero, tied the game from 36 yards out before Gostkowski hit again, this time from 43 yards away, to put the Pats up 34-31, with 3:53 left.
But Manning would not be denied on this day. He marched the Colts down the field and Joseph Addai scored from 3 yards out to give Indianapolis the 38-34 lead with just 1:02 left in the game. As the Patriots tried to mount a comeback, Brady threw a game-ending interception to seal the win for the Colts. Indianapolis went on to beat Chicago two weeks later to give Manning his only Super Bowl title.
January 11, 2014, AFC Divisional Round – Patriots 43, Colts 22
The cast of characters differed almost completely from previous meetings between these two teams. Most prominently, Indianapolis had a new signal-caller in Andrew Luck, the top pick in the 2012 NFL draft out of Stanford. His selection came less than two months after the departure of Manning, who moved on to Denver.
As a second-year player, Luck was terrific, throwing for 3,822 yards and 23 touchdowns with just nine interceptions. In his rookie season, the Patriots blew Indy out, 59-24, as Luck completed just 54% of his passes and threw three interceptions. The Colts came into this Divisional Round matchup winners of six of their last seven, including a 45-44 win over the Chiefs in the Wild Card Round with Luck throwing for 443 yards and four touchdowns.
In the regular season, the Colts defense ranked #9 in points yielded and #20 in yards allowed, while the offense finished #14 in points scored and #15 in yards gained. They were #3 in in turnover margin. The pieces were in place to challenge the banged-up Patriots, and slowing Luck and the Colts figured to be a challenge for a New England defense ranked #26 in the league.
It wasn’t. LeGarrette Blount scored four touchdowns, the Patriots raced out to a 21-7 lead, and ultimately won going away. Blount finished with 166 yards rushing and the Patriots harassed Luck into four interceptions and a 49% completion percentage. Moreover, the Colts running game never got going. Brady was his usual efficient and effective self, but it was the ground game and the defense that took control for New England.
The Patriots lost the following week in the AFC Championship Game to old nemesis Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos.
Indianapolis at New England – Sunday, Gillette Stadium
And here we are again: Colts vs. Patriots. AFC playoffs. Brady, a solid running game, and a good defense against a dynamic quarterback, a high-powered offense, and a fast but not physical defense. Most of the names have changed, but in many ways the scenario is the same.
These past contests mean very little to the players on the field for this edition of the AFC Championship, with many key contributors no longer on either team, but some of the same questions remain:
- Can the Colts stop the Patriots’ power running attack?
- Can the Patriots keep a high-scoring passing offense in check?
- Can either team put pressure on the opposing quarterback?
- Which team gets the breaks or makes the big plays?
Three Patriots blowout wins vs. one Indianapolis nail-biter victory. That seems to be a perfect setup for this week’s matchup. If history is any guide, look for the New England defense to control Indianapolis and for the Colts to have a hard time slowing down New England’s running game.
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