It didn't come down to an Adam Vinatieri kick or a pressure-tester for his replacement, Stephen Gostkowski as many predicted. The story of this game was Peyton Manning once and for all defeating the Patriots in the playoffs and doing it in Brady-like fashion. The Colts QB finished with 349 yards passing (27 of 47) with a touchdown and an interception. The tandem of Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes ran for 125 yards making the second half all Indy, scoring 32 points in the final two quarters.
Tom Brady was a respectable 21 of 34 for 232 yards and a touchdown but the Patriots running game never got consistently going as the Colts defense continued its fine playoff play.
For New England, the season ends in Indy but getting that far was truly a great accomplishment for a team coming back from adversity. Even without a ring at the end of it, it was yet another amazing coaching job by Bill Belichick and play by his team.
After both teams traded punts to start the game, New England faced a fourth and 1 and a deafening crowd from the Colts 48 during their second possession of the game. The Colts defense lined up tight, defending a Brady sneak but the call was to Corey Dillon who found all kinds of room off right tackle and he rumbled 35 yards to the Colts 13. A Laurence Maroney run for 9 brought up second and 1 from the 4 where Brady kept for 1 and a first down. On the next play, the give was to Maroney again but the rookie lost the handle and the ball squirted forward. At least four Colts dove for the ball but somehow none of them came up with the recovery. Suddenly the ball rolled into the end zone where Logan Mankins picked it up for the unlikely touchdown.
Some great corner play on the part of Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs marked the first quarter. Samuel had two plays where he broke up passes intended for Marvin Harrison and Hobbs came up big, batting away a second and 20 pass from Manning to Reggie Wayne in the end zone as the quarter neared an end. Addai got 11 yards on the next play but the Colts had to settle for three on a Vinatieri 42-yarder after Manning led the 14-play drive that started at his own 20.
The second quarter got underway with the Patriots third and 1 at their own 37 and up, 7-3. Brady kept for the first down and then connected with Heath Evans on a swing pass for 10 yards to the 49. Maroney carried twice for 5 and 8 yards and things were looking good for the Patriots on this drive. But an incomplete and a Dillon run for a loss of 1 brought up third and 11. Faulk caught a screen but only for 5 yards and now Brady faced a fourth and 6 from the Colts 34.
Brady lined up and then called timeout. When play resumed there were no second thoughts on the part of he and his head coach; New England went for it and Brady found Troy Brown over the middle for the first down and more. Brown's yards after the catch brought him to the 7 where Dillon almost looked like he could have walked in for the score behind Matt Light.
That's when the playoff jitters came to haunt Manning once again. On his second play after getting the ball back, he looked to Harrison in the right flat but Samuel read it all the way. In a flash he was in front of Harrison with the ball in his hands and nothing but green between him and six points.
The interception return put New England up 21-3 with 9:25 left in the first half.
The New England defense showed no mercy, forcing Manning out of the pocket and into a slide on first down for a loss of 1 after the Colts got the ball back. On second down, Rosevelt Colvin shot through the middle for a sack of 11. After a delay penalty on Indy brought up third and 24 from the 3, Manning looked deep down the sideline to Harrison but once again, Samuel was there for the break-up.
Just a terrible call on Brown stalled the next Patriots drive that started inside Colts territory after the ensuing punt. On third and 6, Brady connected with Ben Watson for the first down but Brown was flagged for offensive pass interference when he ran into the Colts defender off the line. The call set New England back 10 yards and they never recovered, having to punt the ball back to Indy with just over three minutes remaining in the half.
Manning went into his hurry-up and starting from his 12, heated up with passes to Wayne, Harrison and Aaron Moorehead, moving swiftly down the field as the Patriots gave prevent cushion. A 12-yarder to Dallas Clark took things down to the Patriots 6 yard line with 24 seconds left. On first and goal, Dominic Rhodes was stuffed for a loss of 2. Next, Clark had a sure touchdown bang off his chest and incomplete. With 15 seconds left, Manning was running out of time. Wayne was in single coverage with Hobbs and Manning tried to lead him but the ball fell over the reach of the Colts wide receiver as a flag flew. The call was pass interference on Hobbs but after a referee conference, the flag was picked up since it was clear to at least one of the refs that Wayne tripped with no contact coming from Hobbs. The incomplete brought up fourth down and another Vinatieri field goal to close out the first half proceedings with the Patriots holding a commanding 21-6 lead.
Indy got the first crack at offense in the second half and in a drive that lasted nearly seven minutes, Manning finally put six points on the board going 76 yards in 14 plays. Running by Rhodes started things off and then Manning went to the air inside on the Patriots side of the field. The scoring play was a 1-yard Manning keep.
Just like that Indy and its crowd were back in the game. A three and out by New England further gave hope to the home team as Todd Sauerbrun boomed a 58-yard punt and the Colts had the ball back on their 24 down by only eight points.
Suddenly, it was if the Patriots defense that had played so stout in the first half, never came out of the locker room. Manning engineered a 7-play drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Dan Klecko of all people. It was a Hobbs pass interference call in the end zone, an 18-yard play, that put the ball on the 1. Indy successfully went for two and the tie, with Manning hitting Harrison for the conversion.
New England needed something, anything, to stop madness and it came on the next play. Hobbs fielded the kickoff a yard deep in the end zone. Hobbs headed out and immediately saw daylight up the right side. The speedy corner was off and not down until he was tackled at the Colts 21.
On second down, Brady hit Brown for 17 yards to the 5. Dillon lost a yard on the next play and Caldwell dropped a touchdown on second down. On third, Brady had plenty of time as the Colts flooded the end zone with coverage. Finally, Brady spotted Gaffney along the back of the end zone and fired high. Gaffney hauled it down but was hit just as one foot landed in bounds. The play on the field was ruled a touchdown as the refs determined Gaffney was pushed out of bounds. Tony Dungy challenged the play and it went into review.
The play stood and the Patriots took a 28-21 lead while the Colts lost what could be a valuable timeout in a close game.
The Colts offense was at it again as the game entered the fourth quarter. They were making things look easy with Rhodes the main man catching three passes for 11, 13 and 9 yards down to the Patriots 35. As the fourth quarter opened, it was second and 1 for Manning and he handed to Addai for 3 and the first down. Now with first and 10 from the 32, Manning lofted a beautiful pass that only Clark could catch and the tight end did just that 23 yards downfield. Two plays later from the 2, Rhodes carried, lost the ball and it was recovered in the end zone by the Colts Jeff Saturday for a touchdown, mimicking Mankins' first quarter gift.
New England played it conservative on its next possession and netted only 8 yards and a three and out. For the first time since their first possession of the game, the Colts had the ball and a chance to take the lead.
That chance was squandered as Manning tripped dropping back on second and 10 from his 22 for a loss of 7. An incomplete on third forced the punt and for the first time in what seemed like a very long time, the Patriots defense stopped the Colts offense.
Brown fielded the punt and his return and a penalty on the Colts kick team gave New England first and 10 at the Colts 43.
Brady went right to his wide receivers, hitting Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney for 16 and 14 yards down to the 13. Once there, Brown was called for an illegal shift penalty. Still, on first and 15, Caldwell was wide open for what would have been at least 10 yards but he dropped the easy catch and the drive stalled. Stephen Gostkowski gave New England a 31-28 lead on a 27-yard field goal with 7:35 left to play.
Manning wasted no time. He hit Clark down the middle seam for 48 yards the Patriots 23. New England held from there but Vinatieri's third field goal of the game knotted the score at 31 with now 5:31 left.
Another good Hobbs return of a kickoff (41 yards) gave his team first and 10 at the 46. On first down Brady lofted a pass over the Colts linebackers that Graham caught for 25 yards. Aside from an Evans third and 10 run for 4 yards, that was it, however. Gostkowski came on for a 43-yard attempt and nailed it.
Manning had 3:49 to either tie or take the lead.
Fourteen seconds later, Manning had thrown three straight incompletes and New England had the ball back in excellent position, first and 10 from its 35.
The end was in sight for the Patriots but the Colts defense wouldn't give, not even one first down, and with 2:17 left, the Colts had the ball back on their own 20.
Manning started things off with an 11-yard pass to Wayne. Two plays later, Bryan Fletcher was wide open for a 32-yard gain. Next he hit Wayne for 14 and a roughing call on Tully Banta-Cain tacked on 15 more yards. Indy was first and 10 at the 11-yard line with 1:53 on the clock.
Addai carried twice for a total of 8 yards bringing up third and 2 from the 3. The middle of the Patriots defense opened up wide for Rhodes on the next play and he was in the end zone and his team was one minute away from being in the Super Bowl with a 38-34 lead.
The Patriots had two timeouts to work with but this time there would be no magic. After getting to the Colts 45, Brady dropped back and looked down the middle. Marlin Jackson read it all the way and grabbed the game-ending pick.