This Sunday the rivalry between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts enters a new phase. Over the last decade the battles between the two teams and their quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were epic, with many of them sure to go down in NFL history as all-time greats.
Let's take a look back and rank the top 10 Patriots-Colts games of the last decade.
What better place to start than in 2001 with the first-ever meeting between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Now this picture is actually from the second meeting that happened in Indy, a game also won by the Patriots, 38-17, but it was the initial meeting in Foxboro that was a true preview of the results to come down the road.
Indianapolis entered the game with the NFL's highest-scoring offense, yet Peyton Manning was picked off three times, including two that were returned for touchdowns. Antowain Smith rushed for 94 yards and had two touchdowns in a surprising Patriots victory, where Tom Brady was held without a touchdown.
It might be hard for Patriots fans to remember the good old days of depending on defense and the ground game, with Brady just playing it safe, but as we saw in this game it was an effective formula for winning football games.
This game was a preview of things to come until 2005 for Manning and the Colts.
This was the game that finally turned the tide for Peyton Manning and the Colts, who were 0-7 against the Patriots coming into it. It was an all-around domination by the Colts with Edgerrin James rushing for 104 yards and both Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne having over 100 yards receiving.
The Patriots were unable to get anything going on offense, having just three possessions in the first half that resulted in a touchdown, a punt and a fumble. This illustrates what a total domination the Colts offense put together, clearly showing how much the Patriots missed Rodney Harrison on the back end who had been lost for the season in Week 3 vs. the Steelers.
The Colts changed the course of the rivalry with an exclamation point, and things would never be the same when Belichick faced Manning.
The Patriots unveiled their second Super Bowl banner in the 2004 opener against the Colts, whom they had beaten in the AFC Championship, and this game was one of the most back and forth of all in the rivalry.
The Colts put up nearly 450 yards of offense behind Edgerrin James' 142 rushing yards, but it wasn't enough as Tom Brady threw for 335 yards and three touchdowns.
Yet again it was Willie McGinest who came through in the clutch.
With the Colts driving to potentially win the game with a touchdown, McGinest sacked Peyton Manning on third down, for a loss of 13 yards, backing the Colts field goal up from a 35-yarder to a 48-yarder. Vanderjagt missed, and the Patriots started the 2004 season with their 16th straight win.
The final game of the Patriots-Colts rivalry with Peyton Manning comes in at No. 8 and it was a classic that featured many of the same characteristics as previous great ones.
The Colts entered the game having taken five of the last six from the Patriots as the series shifted back to Foxboro. As was the case in many of these previous matchups the Patriots had a big lead, up 31-14 in the fourth quarter, before the Colts started staging a furious comeback that everyone should've been expecting.
The Patriots flashed the inability to close out games that would continue to haunt them in the coming seasons with the offense going three and out on back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter, leaving the door open for Indy.
Manning responded with two touchdown drives and looked poised to steal the game as they drove down the field with time running out.
But it was the Patriots James Sanders who came through in the clutch, picking off Manning on the 4-yard line with just 31 seconds left to seal the game for the Patriots.
If you had to write the standard script for the Patriots-Colts games of the last decade it would be the Patriots jump out to a lead, the Colts claw their way back and then the game is decided right at the end.
This game was the one that started the trend with the Patriots running out to a sizable lead, up 31-10 in the third quarter before Manning and Colts got hot and started scoring at will, outscoring New England 28-7 in the final quarter and a half.
What truly made this game memorable though was the very end with the Patriots stopping the Colts four straight times inside the 1-yard line to preserve the win. It was Willie McGinest who came up with the biggest play of all, stopping Edgerrin James in the backfield on fourth down.
It was goal-line stands like this one that show what the dynasty Patriots were all about, and the biggest difference between the teams of the early part of the decade and the ones who couldn't make that final play like the 2006 and 2009 teams.
This was a rare kind of victory in this rivalry for the Patriots for a couple reasons.
First, it was in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis where just 10 months earlier the Patriots had lost the AFC Championship, and a place where they would never win again.
And second, it was the Pats this time that staged the furious comeback.
Both teams entered the game undefeated in a game hyped as the midseason Super Bowl, and with 9:42 left to play the Colts were up 20-10.
Then Tom Brady hit Randy Moss on a 55-yard bomb that led to a touchdown, and the Pats defense then forced a punt setting up a 33-yard bomb from Brady to Donte Stallworth with Kevin Faulk getting into the end zone the next play.
Just like that the Patriots took a 24-20 lead in less than seven minutes of game time. But the Patriots defense needed to stop Peyton Manning, and came through with Jarvis Green forcing a Manning fumble that sealed it.
The Patriots went from down 10, to kneeling in the victory formation in eight minutes of game time. This was arguably the most impressive win for the 2007 undefeated Patriots team.
Arguably the most infamous game in Bill Belichick's Patriot reign, 2009's battle between the Patriots and Colts spawned national media attention and a firestorm of criticism. Yet again the Patriots jumped out to a big lead and the Colts slowly chipped away at it until it all came down to the end.
In this one the Patriots took a 24-14 lead into the locker room at halftime.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Patriots scored early in the fourth to take a commanding 31-14 lead. As if on cue, that's when the Colts started rolling.
First came a five-play, 79-yard touchdown drive to cut the lead to 31-21.
The Patriots punted on their next possession, but the Colts gave it right back with an interception. That resulted in a Patriots field goal putting the lead back to 34-21 with 4:12 left to play.
On the ensuing possession it took just 1:49 for the Colts to go 79 yards in six plays for another touchdown, cutting the lead to 34-28.
The Patriots got the ball back with 2:23 left at their own 20 needing only one first down to close out the Colts.
The play calls:
—1st-and-10: Draw to Kevin Faulk; no gain
—2nd-and-10: Brady pass to Welker for eight yards
—3rd-and-2: Brady incomplete, intended for Welker
This set the stage for one of the most controversial moments in NFL history.
With a six point lead on their own 28-yard line Bill Belichick decided to go for it on fourth down instead of punting it back to Peyton Manning and the Colts offense.
—4th-and-2: Brady complete to Kevin Faulk for one yard.
Colts ball. It took them just two plays to go 27 yards to the Patriots' 1-yard line, and two plays after that they scored and kicked the extra point to seal a 35-34 win.
There are plenty of Patriots-Colts games that have more meaning, specifically the playoff games, but no game was more memorable or controversial than the 4th-and-2 game.
Peyton Manning entered the 2003 AFC Championship having been perfect in his previous two playoff games with eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. The Colts were the media darlings and seemingly unstoppable on offense.
But the Patriots put an end to that by picking off Manning four times, including three by Ty Law, and sacking him four times.
If you're looking for a game that defined the Patriots' dynasty this one would have to be considered.
The Patriots were physical with the Colts receivers, prompting enough complaints that offseason to have the NFL change the downfield contact rules for defensive backs and receivers.
The Patriots were balanced on offense behind 100 yards rushing from Antowain Smith and an average 237 passing yards from Tom Brady that featured only one touchdown and five Adam Vinatieri field goals.
It wasn't a glamorous win for the Patriots, just the kind of balanced, workman-like effort based on great defense and complementary offense that was the trademark of the dynasty Pats.
This game, along with the following week's AFC Championship victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, were really the culmination of the Patriots' AFC dominance in the early 2000s. At this point the Patriots had beaten the unstoppable Peyton Manning-led Colts offense three straight times, but this time it seemed like the tide would finally turn in Indianapolis' favor.
The Colts entered this game having scored 522 points during the regular season. They had not punted in their last two games, and were an elite offense firing on all cylinders as the entered Foxboro in the divisional round.
The Patriots were missing Richard Seymour, Ty Law and Tyrone Pool and were starting rookies like Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson and off-the-street free agents like Randall Gay in the secondary.
All in all it appeared the stage was set for what looked to be a Colts domination and redemption, but the result was the exact opposite.
The Patriots controlled the clock for 38 minutes behind the hard running of Corey Dillon (144 yards) and the accuracy and mistake-free play of Tom Brady (18-of-27, 144 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT).
Peyton and the unstoppable Colts offense failed to throw a touchdown for the first time that season, and for the second year in a row had their season ended on the snowy field in Foxboro.
There is no better example of how dominant the Patriots could be on defense, regardless of the personnel, than this game. After this they really began to morph into the "old and slow" defense that would have to be overhauled in a few years, but there's no question this was the peak of the Patriots defense.
Peyton Manning and the Colts were two years removed from the last time Tom Brady and the Patriots had ended their season, but this time the game was in Indianapolis.
In many ways this game was the last championship gasp for the depleted Patriots dynasty defense, and really the Patriots as a whole were a shell of the team that had won the Super Bowl just two seasons prior, yet that didn't stop the patchwork Pats from fighting like champions right down to the end.
Yet again, the Patriots sprinted out to a 21-3 lead but there was little doubt given this history of these two teams that it would still go down to the end.
After trailing 21-6 at halftime, Manning led the Colts to touchdown drives on their first two possessions of the second half, including a two-point conversion that tied the game at 21.
But the Patriots would not go away quietly.
Ellis Hobbs returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to set up a Jabar Gaffney touchdown to put the Pats back up 28-21 as the fourth quarter started.
The Colts would answer that touchdown with one of their own on their next possession. The teams then traded field goals, with the Patriots adding another field goal to go ahead 34-31 with just 3:49 left.
The teams then traded punts as Manning took the field down three points with 2:17 left at his own 20-yard line with a trip to the Super Bowl hanging in the balance.
The Colts got down to the Pats' 11-yard line in just five plays, as the Patriots reached down deep and stuffed them on two straight runs.
Third-and-2 at the New England 3-yard line. So many times in the rivalry the Patriots came through in these big moments, usually on the broad shoulders of Willie McGinest, but this time things were different.
Joseph Addai took the handoff up the middle and walked into the end zone, putting the Colts ahead after the extra point, 38-34.
Tom Brady still had :54 seconds left, and he went down swinging like he always will, completing passes of 19 and 15 yards to get to the Colts 45 with :24 seconds left.
But it just wasn't meant to be for the Patriots this time. Brady's next pass was intercepted by Marlin Jackson. Game over. The Colts were going to the Super Bowl.
There were many great games in the Patriots-Colts rivalry from the last decade, but given the stakes, the history, the comeback and the back-and-forth nature late in the game, none can top the 2006 AFC Championship.