There haven't been too many rivalries in sports that fans have gotten see as often as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning going against each other. This marks the 17th meeting between two of the game's greatest quarterback and two of the true icons of sports in general.
Sunday's AFC Championship Game in Denver will also mark the fifth postseason meeting between the two and the fourth for the right to advance to the Super Bowl. For the record, Brady holds a decided 11-5 advantage overall while the two have split the previous four postseason matchups with Manning holding a 2-1 edge in conference title games.
So with six days of mind-numbing hype surely lying ahead, this seems like a good time to recap the playoff history of this storied rivalry.
2003 AFC Championship Game
Jan. 18, 2004 – Gillette Stadium
Patriots 24, Colts 14
The 14-2 Patriots earned the right to host the 12-4 Colts by virtue of an epic goal line stand in a November regular-season game in Indianapolis. Had Indy managed to pick up that final yard in the closing seconds, both would have finished 13-3 and this game would have taken place in the cozy confines of the RCA Dome.
Manning probably laments that lost yard more than any in his career.
The weather was picture perfect on this January afternoon – that is if you're a Patriots fan. The game was played during occasional snow flurries and unpredictable winds that wreaked havoc on Manning and the Colts all day. The game began with the Patriots converting a fourth-and-one from their own 44 during a drive that ended with a David Givenstouchdown.
The Colts mounted a long drive that looked like the perfect answer until Rodney Harrison picked off Manning in the end zone on third-and-three from the Patriots 5. The lead eventually grew to 15-0 courtesy of two Adam Vinatieri field goals and a safety off an errant punt snap.
Indy's offense was better in the second half and cut the lead to 15-7, but the Patriots responded with three more field goals and Manning would toss three more interceptions – all to Ty Law. New England advanced to Super Bowl XXXVIII with a convincing win.
2004 AFC divisional round
Jan. 16, 2005 – Gillette Stadium
Patriots 20, Colts 3
The storylines for this one were virtually the same as the prior year. This time it was a missed Mike Vanderjagt field goal that allowed New England to escape with a 27-24 victory to open the 2004 campaign in Foxborough. As a result the Colts were forced to return to their house of horrors and things were even worse this time around.
After a scoreless first quarter the Patriots took a 6-3 lead to the half with a pair of Vinatieri field goals. Despite the tight score, the fact that Manning mustered just 3 points in the first 30 minutes spelled doom for the visitors. In fact, that's all the Colts would muster on another unpleasant and dreary afternoon in Foxborough.
Manning only threw one pick – to Harrison – but couldn't get into any rhythm and Corey Dillon's 144 rushing yards allowed the Patriots to control the ball for better than 37 minutes. A pair of second-half touchdowns – one for Givens and the other by Dillon – allowed the Patriots to win going away as they eventually won their second straight Super Bowl.
2006 AFC Championship Game
Jan. 21, 2007 – RCA Dome
Colts 38, Patriots 34
With Indianapolis getting to host the Patriots in the playoffs for the first time, Manning finally got his revenge – but it wasn't easy.
In what was one of the greatest postseason games in NFL history, the Colts stormed back from a 21-3 deficit to edge the Patriots by virtue of an epic second half performance by Manning.
For about 29 minutes it looked like Manning's Patriots demons were still firmly planted in his head. Asante Samuel baffled the Colts quarterback by stepping in front of Marvin Harrison and returning an interception 39 yards for a touchdown that put the Patriots in command at 21-3. The Patriots had converted twice on fourth down during touchdown drives, and even got a touchdown when Logan Mankins recovered a fumble in the end zone.
With 2:18 left in the half the Colts faced a third-and-10 from their own 12 and the outcome seemed the change of venue had done little to change Manning's fortunes. But Indy converted with an 18-yard completion to Reggie Wayne and the Colts closed the half with a field goal and a glimmer of life.
The second half was a heavyweight slugfest as Manning and Brady traded blows until the Colts got the ball trailing 34-31 with 2:17 left and 80 standing between them and the lead. Manning hit 3 of 4 passes, the big one going for 32 yards to backup tight end Bryan Fletcher, and soon Indy was at the Patriots 11 with 1:53 left. Strangely the Patriots didn't call timeout after a 5-yard Joseph Addai run and by the time Bill Belichick did choose to stop the clock after a 3-yard Addai run there was just 1:02 left.
Addai got the call for a third straight play and went into the end zone virtually untouched, leaving the Patriots 59 seconds to mount a game-winning drive. It didn't materialize as Marlin Jackson ended the night with a pick of Brady at the Colts 35 with 16 seconds left. This time, the Colts went on to win the Super Bowl.
2013 AFC Championship Game
Jan. 19, 2014 – Sports Authority Field at Mile High
Broncos 26, Patriots 16
Again Manning had the benefit of the home field and again it made all the difference – that and the fact that Brady was dealing with an offense that was without Rob Gronkowski and therefore unable to keep up.
Denver controlled the game from the outset with Manning picking apart a Patriots secondary that lost the services of its best player, cornerback Aqib Talib, thanks to a pick by Broncos wideout Wes Welker. Talib left the game in the second quarter and did not return.
That allowed Manning to pick on Kyle Arrington and Alfonso Dennard while torching New England with 400 yards through the air. He was nearly flawless, finishing 32 of 43 for 400 yards with two touchdowns and a passer rating of 118.4. Brady couldn't keep up as the Broncos eliminated the running game and forced Brady to look for the likes of Austin Collie and Matthew Slater. Julian Edelman finished with 10 catches for 89 yards but it wasn't nearly enough as the Broncos raced to leads of 10-0, 13-3 and 23-3 before the Patriots mounted one final rally.
Trailing 26-10, the Patriots scored a touchdown with 3:07 left but Shane Vereen was stuffed on the two-point conversion attempt, leaving it a two-score game. Manning effectively ran out the clock with a 23-yard connection to Jacob Tamme and the Broncos were off to the Super Bowl.