What was being billed as the ‘rivalry of the decade’ by NBC between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts was played Sunday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The billing did not disappoint viewers as a shootout ensued and eventually saw one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history, with the Colts shocking the Patriots 35-34.
It is fair to call this the ‘rivalry of the decade,’ given that four of the last eight championships have been won by these two teams, along with four of the eight MVP awards going to either Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.
These are the only two teams this decade to have at least a .700 winning percentage, and it seems that every year their regular season meeting was a precursor to the eventual playoff meeting.
This year was no exception. The Colts came into the game 8-0, having won 17 straight regular season games going back to last year.
The Patriots were 6-2 and had outscored their previous three opponents 121-24. A win for New England would have put them one game back of the Colts and create the possibility of home field advantage in the playoffs.
After some initial feeling out by both offenses, Indianapolis went down the field and scored, making it 7-0.
The Patriots answered right away and tied the score. For the next two and a half quarters, New England thoroughly outplayed the Colts in just about every facet of the game.
They moved the ball at will on offense, and the defense made Indy punt four times in the first 22 minutes of the game.
With a 24-14 lead in the second half, New England had a few chances to put the game away. Tom Brady threw an interception in the end zone early in the third quarter, and later starting tailback Laurence Maroney fumbled inside the opposing one-yard line.
However, the Patriots defense continued to keep Peyton Manning and the Colts offense in check and held a 31-14 lead with just over 14 minutes left.
Suddenly, everything seemed different. It appeared that the Pats secondary went into prevent defense, which is supposed to allow the underneath passes, as long as the team does not score quickly.
Yet, it has been proven over and over that the prevent defense does only one thing: prevent you from winning.
Manning took advantage of the prevent defense and found his rhythm.
The Colts scored twice with a couple of drives that took a combined four minutes, without using any timeouts. The Colts cut the deficit to 34-28.
New England had the ball first and 10 at their own 20, with just over two minutes remaining. After three plays, the Patriots found themselves facing a fourth and two at the 28.
The typical way to play this would be to punt the ball away and force Manning to go about 70 yards for the winning score. However, he had just shown that he could do that twice.
Therefore, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick decided to put faith in his offense to pick up the two yards, effectively ending the game.
Halfback Kevin Faulk ran a two-yard curl and turned to catch the pass. He appeared to bobble the ball around for a split-second before reeling it in.
The officials spotted the ball a half-yard short of the first down and New England was out of timeou