Peyton Manning's Hell Toss Diminishes Comeback In Cordial Patriots-Colts Rivalry

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Peyton Manning's Hell Toss Diminishes Comeback In Cordial Patriots-Colts Rivalry
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The rivalry, which defined the significations of the NFL over the last decade, sort of reminds us of a bittersweet, warmhearted meeting with limited drama and endless action-packed scenes that leave us breathless as the final minutes trickle down.

For nearly 10 years, as we embraced a rivalry without bad blood, the Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots has never been verified as a typical rivalry, nothing like Alien vs. Predator, Batman vs. Joker, Disney Princesses vs. Villains, King Kong vs. Godzilla or even Kendall vs. Greenlee from All My Children. And because we live in an insatiable society, we have relished the birth of a rivalry in the most endearing sport on our continent, anxious to witness Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady.

The beauty of what has emerged into an annual contest is that usually a blunder materializes near the end of a mesmerizing masterpiece, an epic event hyped intensely to attract our consciousness on a compelling Sunday. In considering a renewed masterpiece, the latest installment in football history is noteworthy for a pair of high-profile franchises.

This time, especially in the final moments, resembled last season’s date at the Colts’ $720-million Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. As in the last meeting, it felt like a playoff atmosphere on a bone-chilling evening in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

That said, the comparisons of Bill Belichick’s fourth and two blunder with Peyton’s Hell Toss mostly describes one of the most inexplicable rivalries in the history of football. As anticipated, it was vividly one of the most thrilling games this season, circling two premier pocket passers with unreal resumes while quarterbacking their teams charmingly to triumph.

And normally, in sports, teams hate opposing teams, but there is no real animosity between the Colts and Patriots, just as there is with the Red Sox and Yankees or Lakers and Celtics.

It's a collision course in football worth rooting for, but maybe it's too cordial and sweet for which both star quarterbacks are classy in the greatest of duels, well-respected for representing humility and civility.

It's fair to suggest that Brady is defined as the villain for such a bombastic nature, arrogantly wearing his pompous facial expressions or uttering his sardonic comments via radio airwaves or even during press conferences, a pretentious trait which doesn't settle too well with disgusted fans.

The difference from the last engagement is that Brady outdueled Manning in a yearly bout. While on the verge of stringing together another breathtaking comeback, the Colts, after trailing by 17 early in the fourth quarter, were victimized by Manning's Hell Toss, the latest blunder in a notable duel. With a minute left, he walked off distraught and furious, wearing an irritable scowl by the time he stood on the sideline following one of the most embarrassing miscues of his monumental career.

He is, without question, the star of the Colts and has been verified as the endearing icon at the most laborious position on turf. This year, of course, Belichick trusted in his uninspired and inexperienced defense to hinder Manning and the Colts stout passing attack. Amid his prime, as long as he's a Colt, he can lead Indianapolis to their second championship in five seasons, if he doesn't replicate his miscues when much is at stake. 

Quite simply, he might have a shot at redemption as both the Colts and Patriots are on path to play in a rematch possibly in the AFC Championship Game. For once, in his lifetime, he wasn't savvy or wise with possession on the Patriots 24 in position to tie it 31-31 on an Adam Vinatieri field goal or either win it on a sensational game-winning connection with one of his reliable receivers in Jacob Tamme or Reggie Wayne, since wide receiver Austin Collie was forced to leave the game with an apparent aggravation of his concussion.

The annual Quarterback clash, the friendly meeting, of course, almost went in the favor of Manning. Next thing, he clumsily hurled a late interception directly into the quick hands of James Sanders for the Patriots to secure a dramatic 31-28 lead in a convincing fashion. It didn't matter that just last season he was praised as the greatest quarterback ever, installing hope in a small town where football is top priority, ever since the Colts arrived overnight in 1984 and became known as the Indianapolis Colts, not the Baltimore Colts.

Months later, he exposes his flaws, even when he is considered the beneficiary of a humbled franchise. Whatever happens, Patriots-Colts is a showdown like no other and a lopsided deficit quickly metamorphosed into a wild finish, but ended all so miserably on a night when Manning hadn't played like a four-time MVP.

His struggles favored the Patriots, a team riding at 8-2, tied for the best record in the NFL, while the Colts are forced to recover in a hurry at 6-4 with two straight road losses. Each contest ending so poorly on late-game picks by Manning to prevent believable comebacks.

This time, a sequel was written, recalling horrendous memories of Belichick's fatuous decision to go for it on fourth-and-two from his own 28. This time, it was called Manning's Hell Toss, a poor decision that cost the Colts a winnable game. It seemed he tried to pass the ball to Pierre Garcon, his intended receiver, on a deep throw. Right then and there, Sanders read the play and showed off his leaping ability to reel in the interception for the glaring play of the game.

"I was thinking touchdown there," Manning said, shaking his head in disappointment. "I just got my body twisted around a bit. I'm not sure what happened there."

So was he being greedy?

No, he was aiming for the win.

Not to sound like an overstatement, but people are downplaying the mental toughness and immediate impact Patriots running back Danny Woodhead, a 5-foot-8 running back from Division II Chadron State, has had on such a remarkable season.

He alleviates much of the pressure off Brady, who now has plenty of time in the pocket to find a receiver. 

His rushing ability widens the passing attack, diagrammed perfectly on Brady's well-executed passing capacity. For much of the game, the Patriots controlled the momentum, leading 21-14 at the half and added to a large deficit when they had a 31-14 lead. In his lifetime, Brady has improved to 8-4 against Manning, including 2-1 in the postseason. On the opposite side of things, Manning has fallen to 6-10 all time against the Patriots, and more staggering, he has thrown 23 interceptions along with averaging 36 touchdown passes. Their last six meetings have been decided by 22 points.

As the perfectionist faltered in the critical moment, he almost had it.

"We were in an uptempo mode the last seven minutes," Manning said. "We almost scored three touchdowns. But you're playing against the clock."

Maybe Brady was ranked as the top quarterback in prior sporting magazines for holding the edge over Manning. It's just too bad that a near-beautiful comeback diminished in the final minutes of a friendly rivalry which will never produce a tremendous amount of blood.          

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