Colts: Revisiting Peyton Manning’s 2006 AFC Championship comeback vs Patriots

Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts after the 2006 AFC Championship (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts after the 2006 AFC Championship (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

The Indianapolis Colts vanquished the New England Patriots in the 2006 AFC Championship Game.

The Colts were the second-best team in the AFC for so long, led by the most talented quarterback in the conference (and the game) that it started to seem impossible they’d ever get over Foxborough’s hump.

After all, what more did the Colts have to add to their roster? It just seemed, no matter who inhabited the two uniforms, that things would always go this way.

Until January 21, 2007, when Tom Brady’s boys rolled up to the RCA Dome and got far too comfortable. Fortunately, they took the foot off the gas pedal with 30 minutes of game time remaining for Peyton Manning.

The Indianapolis Colts earned their Super Bowl berth against the New England Patriots.

After cutting a 21-3 deficit to 21-6 with an Adam Vinatieri field goal at the half, Peyton Manning took it upon himself in the second half to reassign the choker label directly to his counterpart.

Manning evened the score almost immediately, leading two straight touchdown drives in the third quarter, capped by a QB sneak and a one-yard toss to Dan Klecko, converting for two with a pass to Marvin Harrison.

When Tom Brady connected with Jabar Gaffney to take a 28-21 lead once again, though, it seemed the Colts would fade — until one perfectly-timed Jeff Saturday fumble recovery flipped everything once more. As Dominic Rhodes tripped along the line and nearly squeezed into the end zone, he lost the football right at the goal line. Saturday, however, fell upon it to even the score once more.

The teams traded field goals in a back-and-forth fourth, but Saturday again paved the way for Joseph Addai to burst through a line of Patriots with a minute remaining for the game-winning score. It could be done. It was done.

Indianapolis has plowed through two separate eras in the years following Manning’s breakthrough in 2006-07, and this celebrated championship will always matter a little bit more because of the embarrassment the Patriots went through on the road to Indy’s title.

Of course, they wouldn’t shed that newfound choker label for several years, gagging on their own superiority against the Giants the very next season in Super Bowl XLII, watching their feigned additional motivation fade with every Michael Strahan pressure.

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Though the Patriots would come back, that initial dynasty never felt invincible anymore, thanks to Peyton, Jeff Saturday, Bob Sanders, and Joseph Addai.