Throwback Thursday: Colts’ improbable 2006 AFC Championship victory

Cornerback Marlin Jackson and the Indianapolis Colts defense celebrate a turnover during the AFC Championship game. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
Cornerback Marlin Jackson and the Indianapolis Colts defense celebrate a turnover during the AFC Championship game. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** /

The Patriots have just lost their legendary quarterback, Tom Brady, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It seems only right to twist the knife in Pats fans’ hearts by re-living one of their worst memories in the 21st Century.

Luckily for Colts fans, it’s one of the best. Here we go as we take a look at the Colts’ incredible victory over the Patriots in the 2006 AFC Championship game.

(All game and player statistics provided by

January 7th, 2007 – 2006 AFC Championship – Indianapolis Colts (12-4) vs New England Patriots (12-4)

The stage was set in Indianapolis for the game’s greatest rivalry: Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. The 9th installment was was the first time in 3 years that the two legends have met this late into the season. Manning’s reputation as a playoff choker was only growing. Just as fast, however, was Brady’s status as one of the league’s greatest champions.

In a rivalry dominated by the dynasty in New England, Manning and the Colts were known collectively as, “great, but”. Their biggest foe always finished on top. The Colts have yet to produce a result better than an appearance in the AFC Championship in the Manning era. On the other side, Brady and the Patriots have won 3 Super Bowls in 6 years, dating back to 2001.

The Colts bested the pesky Patriots earlier that season in a 27-20 Week 9 victory. That and a Week 9 victory the year prior were the Colts’ only two wins against Brady out of the 8 total. Things needed to change for Indianapolis if they were to prove that they too were a dynasty.

The game started slowly given both teams’ offensive proficiency. The Colts were in the top three in passing yards per game, total yards per game, and points per game. The Patriots weren’t too far behind in this category, ranking around the top ten in the aforementioned categories, all the while boasting a better run game and defense than the Colts.

After trading quick drives resulting in punts, the Patriots got on the board in an ugly fashion. Brady fumbled the ball at the goal line before it was kicked around and picked up by C Logan Mankins to open up the scoring for the Patriots. The Colts promptly took the next 7 minutes to methodically work their way down the field to kick a 42-yard field goal, courtesy of former Patriot, Adam Vinatieri.

If someone told you that the only thing two of the league’s best teams would show you at the end of the first quarter would be a couple of punts, a lucky touchdown, and a field, I doubt you’d be very impressed. All things considered, the Colts, while not having the best showing on offense up to this point, were only down 4 points through the first quarter. Little did they know, it’s the closest they’d get for a very long time.

End of the 1st quarter: Patriots – 7, Colts – 3

The second quarter opened up with a classic Patriots drive: an efficient Brady leads the offense down the field on a ten-plus play drive and a touchdown. This one an 11-play, 71-yard drive ending in no Brady incompletions, a Corey Dillon 7-yard rushing, and a 14-3 Patriots lead. Unfortunately for the Colts, this was about the best position they’d be in for a while.

Things were about to get much worse.

The Colts took the field with 10:08 remaining in the half, not knowing what was about to transpire in the next 30 seconds. After a 3-yard rush, Patriots DB Asante Samuel undercut a route intended for Marvin Harrison and returned it 39 yards for a Patriots score. The Colts got the ball right back and proceeding to go 3-and-out, all while producing -14 yards on the drive. On first down, a sack by Eric Alexander. On second down, another sack, this time by Roosevelt Colvin. A delay of game penalty put the Colts at their own 3-yard line and an incomplete pass from Manning led to yet another punt.

Another efficient drive by Brady put the Patriots on the doorstep of another successful drive, however, two offensive penalties and a Raheem Brock sack led to a Patriots punt with 3:13 remaining in the half.

Manning went 7-11 passing on the ensuing drive and put the Colts at the NE 8-yard line, but the team couldn’t punch it in and the half ended with a messy but good chip shot Vinatieri field goal. The only spark of an otherwise dismal half.

A brutal half of football had ended for the Colts. A top-tier offense in the NFL had only 6 points to show and their star QB was playing like he still hadn’t woken up from the morning. Manning had thrown for 124 yards on 13/24 passing and that interception.

The Patriots were running all over the Colts with 87 yards and a TD. Brady added an efficient 9-of12 for 100 yards through the air. The Patriots had come to play per usual, and the Colts hadn’t, also per usual.

Halftime score: Patriots – 21, Colts – 6

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The Colts received to start the second half and immediately picked things up. Manning led a bruising 6-minute drive on 5-for-6 passing for 44 yards. The run game tore up the Patriots’ front seven as Dominic Rhodes rushed 5 times for 23 yards, Joseph Addai added 8, and Manning cleaned up with a 1-yard QB sneak to get the Colts into the endzone for the first time in the game. The defense fed off of the first success of the offense by forcing New England into a 3-and-out with two Brady incompletions.

The Colts were on the move.

Manning put the offense in high gear, beginning with a beautiful ball in between the Patriots’ secondary to Dallas Clark at midfield. Rhodes burst through the line on the very next play for another 19-yard gain. The Patriots defense was starting to falter at the wrong time, as Patriots CB Ellis Hobbs was called for pass interference in the endzone on Reggie Wayne on a 19-yard attempt by Manning.

The Colts capitalized with a 1-yard pass to Tackle Dan Klecko, who lined up as a fullback and an eligible receiver on the play. Marvin Harrison caught a fade in double coverage to convert the two-point conversion attempt. Tie game.

Colts – 21, Patriots – 21. 4:00 remaining in the 3rd quarter.

The Patriots weren’t completely out of it yet. Hobbs made up his mistake with an 80-yard kickoff return to the Colts’ 21-yard line. Brady threw a strike to Jabar Gaffney over the middle for 17 yards, putting them in first down and goal to go at the 5-yard line. Gaffney caught Brady’s scrambling touchdown pass on a push-out by Colts defender Kelvin Hayden. Momentum was back with the Patriots.

The Colts came right back with two underneath throws to Rhodes for gains of 10 and 13, followed by a 9-yard run by Rhodes, as well. Now in New England territory, Manning lobbed a pinpoint sideline throw to Dallas Clark for 23 yards, putting the Colts inside the 10-yard line.

One play and one penalty later, the Colts were on the three-yard line. Rhodes took the snap and dove to the goal line, only to lose the ball. A scrum emerged where it had last been seen, with players pointing in both different directions,  before Colts offensive lineman began jumping excitedly in the endzone. C Jeff Saturday had recovered the fumble for a touchdown.

Right back at you, New England.

The teams traded punts and Brady led the Patriots on a 3-minute drive with 6 straight passes down to the Colts’ 10-yard line before settling for a 28-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal. The Colts opened up their next drive with a strike over the middle to Dallas Clark for 52 yards.

Manning couldn’t get the offense into the endzone, stalling at the 18 and kicking a 36-yard field goal. Hobbs returned the kick for 41 yards and set the Patriots up at midfield for a drive to retake the lead. A pass by Brady for 25 yards over the middle put them in prime position to score before two incompletions set up the Vinatieri Takeover to boot a 43-yard field goal. Patriots lead.

Patriots – 34, Colts 31. 3:49 remaining in the 4th quarter.

After the teams traded punts, Manning and the Colts received the ball still down 34-31 with 2:17 to play.

Broncos fans know Elway’s Drive, but to Colts fans, this is The Drive.

The Colts could tie the game with a field goal or win the game with a touchdown. Manning started the drive by completing a sideline pass to Wayne for 11 yards after getting a key block by LG Ryan Lilja to give him the extra split second. On second down at their own 31, Manning backpedaled and found WR Bryan Fletcher on the left sideline for a huge 32-yard gain.

Right before the two-minute warning, Wayne caught another ball over the middle for 14 yards before almost fumbling as he went down. A flag was called for helmet-to-helmet contact on Manning, further stretching the drive to Patriots 11-yard line. Two straight runs by Addai put the Colts at the 3-yard line, eating up nearly 50 seconds of game time in the process. Addai walked in on 3rd down for a 3-yard score, putting the Colts up by 4 with just over one minute to play and giving them their first lead in the game.

It was almost too much time for Brady at the Pats to steal the game and the hearts of the Colts once again.

Colts – 38, Patriots – 34. 1:07 remaining in the 4th quarter.

Introducing, The Stop. Directed by Marlin Jackson.

With just over a minute to play, it seemed too good to be true for the Patriots. Yes, they needed a touchdown, but Brady had perfected the late-game magic in his career. He started with a 19-yard pass underneath to Ben Watson for 19 yards on second down and immediately followed it up with a 13-yard pass to Heath Evans.

It put the Patriots in Colts territory after only three plays and 30 seconds gone. 24 seconds to play and it seemed like the Patriots might actually pull it off. On the ensuing play, Brady dropped back to throw, looking for a pass over the middle to Watson again. This time, however, CB Marlin Jackson read the throw and jumped in front.

Jackson slid to the ground, his arm raised in elation in what was one of the most memorable snapshots in franchise history.

Game over. The Colts were going to the Super Bowl.

Colts – 38, Patriots – 34. Final.

This AFC Championship game was arguably the best memory in franchise history, even better than the very next game for the Colts: their 2006 Super Bowl Championship over the Chicago Bears. For Manning’s entire career, he was known as a great player who just couldn’t get over the hump in the playoffs.

When Brady arrived in the AFC in 2001, Manning’s “choker” playoff performances were only cemented, as this unknown 6th-round pick won 3 Super Bowls in 6 years. This game showed the world the type of player Manning was. He showed he could beat the unbeatable dynasty in New England. He showed he’s one of the best clutch QBs in league history. He showed that the Colts were a legitimate force to be reckoned with. This game put the Colts on the map as a formidable team for years to come.

Without this game, the Colts wouldn’t have anything. This was the first game that really showed the rest of the league that the Colts were legitimate. No one could beat the Patriots, but the Colts showed it was possible.

Next. Don't expect Colts to make any more splashy signings. dark

Manning was just a great player before this game, but after it, he became a legend. He followed up this incredible win with a Super Bowl victory, even further cementing his and the franchise’s legacies as ones at the top of the Hall of Fame list.