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The Ten Best Indianapolis Colts Games of All Time
These games were selected based upon the quality of the actual game, and not soley on its significance to the team. Defeating the Bears in Super Bowl XLI was the most significant win in franchise history, but it really wasn’t that great of a game to watch. We understand that this list is weighted heavily in favor of the Manning era, but let's face it, that is how it should be.
1. New England Patriots 2007 Playoffs Colts 38 Patriots 34
A tremendous game that will go down for all time as one of the great NFL games, let alone Colts games. This is simply the greatest game in Indy Colts history. From Manning putting up 32 in the second half to Brady’s INT to Marlin Jackson, no Colts fan will ever forget where they were when the boys in blue sealed the deal and headed on to the Super Bowl
Hero: Peyton Manning. This game was a referendum on him as a player, and he came through in the biggest of ways.
Factoid: Demond called, dejected, at halftime from the Dome and wanted to know if he should leave and come home. Deshawn wisely urged him to stay for at least one drive into the 2nd half.
2. At Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2003 Colts 38 Buccaneers 35 (OT)
I suppose almost everyone at least threatened to turn this one off at some point during the night. The Colts trailed 21-0 at the half and by 21 at 35-14 with just 5:09 left to go in the game. Then something weird started to happen. Brad Pyatt ripped off a long kickoff return. The Colts pounded it in for a quick score. An onside kick actually worked. Manning hit Harrison on 4th down for another score. Tampa ran an offensive possession as if they were on crack, garnering a bizarre personal foul call to stop the clock before the two minute warning. Then, with the game on the line, Manning and Harrison hooked up yet again for 52 yards to set up a short TD run. The Horse survived an OT possession by the Bucs, and then Manning went to work carving them up on 3rd down, moving the ball into Vanderjagt field goal range. Like most big kicks he had with the Colts, Vandy shanked it. However, the officials stepped in with a ‘leaping’ penalty on the Bucs to give Vandy a second try. This time he slammed it off the upright and home for one of the most improbable comebacks of all time.
Heroes: Manning and Harrison. Harrison was called out by a 'miked up' Keyshawn Johnson in the first half. By the end of the game, Keyshawn was on the bench nursing a hammy and Marvin was triumphant with 176 yards rec and 2 scores. Manning was as clutch as they come down the stretch and seemed to be willing the team to victory.
Factoid: The game was Dungy’s return to Tampa and his birthday. It was also nearly ruined by my visiting mother-in-law who proclaimed the ‘Colts will come back’. It was sort of one of those Pollyanna-ish expressions by non-fans that drive the die-hards crazy. Then when they did come back, she said the next day, “Well, I knew they would”. I wanted to die.
3. San Diego Chargers 2004 Colts 34 Chargers 31 (OT)
Played the day after Christmas in 2004, this game had plenty of significance and drama. The Colts and Chargers were playing to settle the 3 seed in the AFC playoffs, and Peyton Manning was stuck on 47 touchdown passes, one short of the single season mark held by Dan Marino. The Chargers started strong and Manning threw a pick near the goal line. When LT scored to put the Chargers up 15 early in the fourth, things looked bleak. Dom Rhodes answered the bell and ran back the ensuing kickoff for an 88 yard touchdown. The teams traded empty possessions (including a missed FG by Vandy), and Indy took over with 3:42 to play and three timeouts. Faced with a 4 and 4 almost immediately, Manning then took off his blue and white jersey to reveal that he is in fact Superman. He waved the punt unit off the field and promptly converted the 4th down with a pass to Reggie Wayne. He marched the team down field finally hitting Brandon Stokely for the record breaking pass on a post route the two made up at the line of scrimmage. Still down two, the Colts tied the game on a conversion by Edge, and when they won the toss in OT, everyone in the building knew the Chargers would never see the ball. A scant four plays later, Vanderjagt converted the game winner.
Hero: Duh. Manning owned that game. The pass to Wayne on 4th down was ballsy, and the strike to Stokely was amazing. I leaped in the air as the ball left Manning’s hand, because everyone in the Dome could see Stokely was totally uncovered.
Factoid: I attended this game with my parents-in-law. My father-in-law is a huge Chargers fan and drove me a little crazy that day. He cheered every random play (All Right! Gain of 4!). This made the comeback all the sweeter.
4. At Dallas Cowboys 1996 Colts 25 Cowboys 24
The ’96 Colts were a seriously great team who were destroyed by injuries. Their amazing come-from-behind-on-the-road-vs-the-defending-Super-Bowl-Champions-and-apparently-a-ton-of-hyphens was truly one of the great games in franchise history. The Harbaugh-led Colts started the game with a long crushing drive that lasted nearly 11 minutes, but ended with a field goal thanks to a horrible offensive pass interference call on Ken Dilger. The Cowboys then ripped off 21 straight points and the Colts were given up for dead. Harbaugh led a pair of field goal producing drives that pulled Indy to 21-9 at the half. The Colts put together a pair of touch downs to pull ahead 22-21. Dallas got a long field goal to go up 24-22 with 13 odd minutes left in the 4th quarter. Carey Blanchard banged home the eventual game winner with 51 seconds left, but that left almost enough time for Hall of Famer Troy Aikman to bring back Dallas. They made it to the Indy 40 and tried a 57 yard field goal to win it at the gun. Chris Boniol’s try was dead on, but hit the cross bar and bounced harmlessly away. The Colts had pulled a major stunner, and looked prime to roll early in ’96.
Hero: Blanchard. He hit 4 field goals including the game winner. He accounted for 13 of the 25 Colt points.
Factoid: Even though I attended college only two hours from Indianapolis, there were no Colts fans on campus. As I watched the game in the commons with other students, there were more Dallas fans than Colts fans. This is one of the single biggest changes over the past 10 years. Colts fans can be found in all corners of Indiana now.
5. At Denver Broncos 2002 Colts 23 Broncos 20 (OT)
This game was always ignored by those who questioned the Colts ability to win on the road in bad weather. On a snowy Sunday night in November, the Colts and Broncos played a classic back and forth game that marked one of the last times that Mike Vanderjagt was clutch. Denver jumped to 13-3 lead in the 3rd quarter, but the Colts responded with a pair of lightning quick touchdown drives. After another Denver score midway through the fourth put the Colts down three, they failed on a couple of attempts to even up the game. When Manning and the offense took over at the 20 with 1:40 to play, they still needed a field goal. Manning worked the ball down field, to put the team in range for a 54 yard try with just seconds on the clock. Vandy came out onto the snow covered field and buried the tying kick. The Colts won the toss in OT and marched down field stalling out around the 34. Vanderjagt came on again and 51 yards later, he delivered the Colts an incredible OT win.
Hero: Mike Vanderjagt. He’s an ass, but on that night he was great. He hit 3 FGs, including 2 from beyond 50 yards to tie and win the game. For a kicker, it doesn’t get better than that.
Factoid: Dungy was originally going to punt in OT, but Justin Snow convinced him to let Vandy try again. In this game (the 11th of the season), Harrison went over 100 catches for the year. He would later go on to break the record for most receptions in a season.
6. At Miami Dolphins 1999 Colts 37 Dolphins 34
After the debacle that was the first Dolphins/Colts game of the season, the Colts were hungry for revenge and their first division title since 1987. The Colts jumped out to an early 17-3 lead thanks in part to an insane run by Edgerrin James. The Dolphins battled back and the game was largely back and forth all day with the Colts staying just a step ahead. With just seconds to go, Marino put the Fins in position for a Mare field goal to tie the game. Manning got the ball with 29 seconds to play and two time outs. After a couple of quick strikes and timeouts, Vanderjagt banged home a massive 53 yarder at the gun to win the game. This game featured a young Manning out dueling an aging Marino and was an instant classic
Hero: Edge was sick in the first half of this game. He finished with 131 yards rushing and 2 TDs. Manning’s drive was clutch as was Vandy’s kick.
Factoid: Chad Cota made a rare play in this game when he recovered a fumble. Realizing that he was surrounded only by Colts, he stood up, and walked untouched 20 yards into the end zone for a first quarter TD.
7. Green Bay Packers 1997 Colts 41 Packers 38
During one of the worst Colts seasons ever (one so bad that it sewed up the number 1 pick and Peyton Manning), an 0-10 Colts team faced off against the defending champion Green Bay Packers. The crowd was at least 40% Packer fans, and the game seemed to start according to script. The Pack was up 14-3 when Paul Justin, a forgotten connector between the Harbaugh and Manning eras, drove the Horse down field for a score. Then things got crazy. A pair of Favre turnovers (fumble and INT) were both returned for scores, the second on a nifty lateral from Blackman to Classic Colt Jason Belser. The Colts inexplicably led 24-14. The Pack roared back with two straight touchdowns to make the score 28-24. A Blanchard FG made the score 28-27 AT THE HALF. The Colts and Packers traded FGs into the early fourth quarter, before a Lamont Warren touchdown and a 2 point conversion with just over 6 minutes to go gave the Colts a 7 point lead. Favre responded very quickly to tie the game. Justin then moved the Colts downfield and picked up a key first down to Dilger at the one yard line with 1:22 left. The Colts then smartly killed the clock and Blanchard banged home the game winning FG as time expired. The devastated Packer fans left the dome with chants of, “If you can’t beat us, you’ll never win the Super Bowl!” ringing in their cheese coated ears.
Hero: Paul Justin 24 of 30 for 340 with a TD and a 2 pt conversion. Totally unexpected, but he had the best day of his career.
Factoid: This was the Colts third consecutive win over the defending Super Bowl champs (49ers, Cowboys, Packers). The Packers wouldn’t lose again until the Super Bowl. Mike Holmgren decided to let Terrell Davis walk into the end zone for the go ahead touch down because he was afraid the Broncos would run out the clock like Indy did. Also, I brought a friend from college to this game who was a guy who sort of lived a charmed life. He seemed to skate by on luck. All the guys at school became convinced that the Colts would win just because he went to the game. Sure enough, his presence touched off the upset of the year.
8. At Denver Broncos 2006 Colts 34 Broncos 31
Last team with the ball wins sounds like a cliché, but it summed up so many games the 2006 Colts played. This late afternoon classic was no exception. The Broncos had the lead at the half, 14-6. The Colts went on a long drive to start the second half, and then converted a short field after recovering a Jake Plummer fumble for a 20-14 lead. The infamous run defense then almost took over for the Colts. They gave up a rushing score at the end of the 3rd quarter and trailed again 21-20. Vinatieri nailed a long FG, but the Broncos rammed the ball down the field for a 28-23 lead with less than 7 to play. Manning and Wayne responded by completely abusing a young Denver corner and with 3:56 to play, the Colts took a 31-28 lead after a 2 point conversion. Gilbert Gardner struck back by abandoning his hole and letting Denver rip off a 48 yard run. Fortunately, the defense stiffened, and Denver settled for a long field goal and a tie with just 1:49 to play. 1:49 is waaaay to long to give #18 however, and unfortunately for the Denver, Darrent Williams was still on the field. Manning calmly moved the Colts down field to set up a game winning field goal try from Adam Vinatieri with just two seconds on the clock. By the time the dust had settled, the Colts were 7-0 for the second straight season.
Hero: Reggie Wayne and Peyton Manning. Manning was unstoppable and Denver knew it. Wayne finished with 10 catches for 138 and 3 scores. The third touchdown to Wayne was a thing of beauty.
Factoid: Heading into the game the Denver defense had been nearly impenetrable allowing only 44 points through 6 games. Denver had specifically designed their defense to beat Manning and the Colts.
9. At Kansas City Chiefs 2004 Playoffs Colts 38 Chiefs 31
This classic matchup in the AFC divisional round pitted two blistering offenses against each other. The Colts marched into Arrowhead as underdogs, but were carrying momentum from their blowout of the Denver Broncos a week prior (Manning's first playoff win). Very little defense was played all day as each team mounted long drive after long drive. Priest Holmes was his usual dominating self as he ran for 176 yards and two scores. Despite his best efforts the Colts were in control most of the game, and a 19 yard touchdown pass to a young Reggie Wayne put the Colts up 14 points near the end of the third quarter. Dante Hall answered right back with a 92 yard kickoff return for a score. The teams would trade touchdowns in the fourth quarter and the Colts were able to hang on for a breathtaking win.
Hero: Peyton Manning was nearly flawless as he threw for 304 yds and 3 touchdowns. This game will go down as one of his most impressive playoff performance given the hostile crowd of nearly 80,000.
Factoid: This game lived up to its billing on its way to becoming the first NFL playoff game that featured no punts.
10. Buffalo Bills 1988 Colts 17 Bills 14
Going into the last game of the 1988 season, the Colts desperately needed a win and a Cleveland loss to make the playoffs. A quarterback controversy had been brewing all year between Jack Trudeau and Gary Hogeboom, and in the last game of the season, one faction had its revenge. With the Colts trailing 14-3 in the fourth quarter, Trudeau got hurt and Hogeboom replaced him. He threw two touchdown passes to seal up a comeback win. Simultaneously, Houston was beating Cleveland in Cleveland 23-7. The playoffs seemed assured. Unfortunately, as we filed out of the dome the crowd was informed that the Oilers had collapsed and Cleveland won 28-23 scoring the last 21 points of the game. We were all depressed, but the game itself was great.
Hero: Gary Hogeboom. His late game drives gave the Colts a chance.
Factoid: My dad claimed this was the only time in his life that he rooted for a player to get injured. Starting in the 3rd quarter, he shouted “get hurt! Get hurt!” every time Trudeau dropped back to pass. He claimed an injury was our only chance. He was right.
Washington Redskins 1990 Colts 35 Redskins 28
A Saturday night classic in Jeff George’s Rookie year. The game was decided on a 4th quarter INT return for a touchdown.
San Francisco 49ers 1995 Colts 18 49ers 17
A huge 4th down, goal-line stop just before halftime propelled the Colts to a great win over the defending champs on a last second Blanchard FG.
At New York Jets 2006 Colts 31 Jets 28
Manning was at his best, leading 2 drives in the final minutes to give the Colts the lead and then the win. Ended on a crazy multi-lateral play by the Jets
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