The Best Colts' Games of the Decade

Nick SouthCorrespondent IDecember 31, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - JANUARY 21:  Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates defeating the New England Patriots 38-34 in the AFC Championship Game on January 21, 2007 at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Okay, so maybe the last Indianapolis Colts game of 2009 won't make anyone's list as the team's best of the decade, but it can't overshadow the fact that it's been one helluva decade for the Colts.

A record number of wins for a franchise in a decade.

A record number of consecutive wins in the regular season.

A Super Bowl championship.

Considering the Colts only had one season with more than 10 wins in the previous decade and a half (and that came in 1999), the Colts' accomplishments are quite remarkable.

In the past 10 years, there's been several great games making it difficult to pick the 10 most memorable.

To start, here's a quick look at some honorable mentions that just missed the list followed by the list of the 10 best Colts games.

Honorable Mention

2007 Colts 41, Saints 10

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

The blowout knocks this game off the list, but the Colts kicked off their Super Bowl defense in style and ruining Jason David's homecoming.

2005 Colts 17, Cardinals 13

After the loss of Tony Dungy's son, this was an emotional win for the Colts. With starters resting, Jim Sorgi threw two touchdowns and the defense held the Cardinals at the goal line in the end for the win.

2003 Divisional Playoff Colts 38, Chiefs 31

The punters took the day off in this one as neither team needed them. Peyton Manning threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns as the Colts, surprisingly, held the lead throughout the game.

2008 Colts 24, Steelers 20

It was the most impressive win during the Colts winning streak after starting the season 3-4. The future 2008 Super Bowl champions were at home and playing well, but Dominic Rhodes' swing pass gave the Colts a late lead. Keiwan Ratliff made an excellent interception against Ben Roethlisberger to help pull the upset.

2005 Colts 40, Patriots 21

The Patriots had owned the Colts. This game was the turning point. The Colts went into New England, a place that had held playoff disappointments the previous two seasons, and came away with an impressive victory. The Patriots managed only one more win against the Colts the rest of the decade.

10. 2005: Colts 45, Rams 28

What's most impressive about the score is the fact that the Colts fell behind 17-0 in this game. But the Colts' game plan had the letters "Don't Panic" printed in large, friendly letters way before this season.

The Colts went on a 45-3 run, highlighted by a Manning to Marvin Harrison six-yard touchdown pass that set them apart as the most prolific passing combination in NFL history.

9. 2008: Colts 31, Texans 27 & 2009: Colts 35, Texans 27

I've combined these two games into one ranking because the plot line is the same. Texans get big lead. Texans make mistakes. Colts capitalize on mistakes. Texans lose again.

The 2008 contest marked the end of the Sage Rosenfels show in Houston. Manning's touchdown pass to Tom Santi looked like nothing more than a way to make the score respectable until Robert Mathis caused Rosenfels to fumble, and Gary Brackett returned the ball 68 yards for the touchdown. Rosenfels turned the ball over again, and Manning's five-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne finished the comeback.

The following year, the Texans lead 20-7 at halftime, but the Colts woke up in the second half. Two Manning touchdown passes gave the Colts a slim lead, but the game was really decided when Matt Schaub threw an interception that Clint Session returned for a touchdown, giving the Colts a 28-20 lead. The Texans last score was too late to stop the Colts' second consecutive comeback at Houston.

8. Super Bowl XLI: Colts 29, Bears 17

It may not have been the best played game. The soggy Super Bowl made for a turnover-filled affair. The Colts adjusted the best to the conditions, controlling the game with an efficient short-passing game and some solid running from Rhodes and Joseph Addai.

Outside of one early Thomas Jones run, the Colts' defense slowed the Bears' rushing attack enough to force Rex Grossman to make plays. Grossman responded by throwing two interceptions, highlighted by the game clinching interception return for a touchdown by Kelvin Hayden.

The Super Bowl win brought a lot of respect to the Colts organization. The monkey was removed from both Dungy and Manning's back, but they really had accomplished that two weeks earlier.

7. 2004: Colts 45, Packers 31

This was the game that set off Manning's record setting touchdown pace of the 2004 season. Brett Favre was determined to keep up with Manning. The teams combined for 35 points in the first quarter off five touchdown passes. By the end of the game, Favre and Manning had combined to throw for 753 yards and nine touchdowns.

Even though the Colts took command as the game wore on, the contest is a classic gunfight between Favre and Manning. For Manning, it was the first of four games in the 2004 season that he would throw at least five touchdowns.

6. 2004 Wildcard: Colts 49, Broncos 24

In 2003, the Broncos were embarrassed by the Colts in the wildcard round 41-10. In an effort to improve the holes in their passing defense, the Broncos brought in all-world cornerback Champ Bailey. However, the result was the same as Manning torched the Bronco's secondary for 458 yards.

5. 2005: Colts 45, Bengals 37

Perhaps I'm biased as this is the only Colts road game I've ever attended, but it's hard to argue about a game that had over 950 yards of offense.

Much like the shootout between Favre and Manning in 2004, this one featured Manning versus the up-and-coming Carson Palmer. The story of the week was how  Palmer and the artist formerly known as Chad Johnson had gone to Indianapolis to see how Manning and Harrison worked together. While Palmer connected with Johnson eight times for 189 yards and a score, Manning spread the ball around as both Dallas Clark and Wayne amassed over 115 yards receiving each.

In the end, the Bengals bid to dethrone the Colts came up short when they failed to recover an onside kick near the end of the game. The win moved the Colts to 10-0 and off to their best start ever, at the time.

4. 2004: Colts 34, Charger 31 (OT)

See, the Colts can beat the Chargers! Although of all the Chargers-Colts recent contests, this one actually had the potential to be a dominant Charger victory. The Chargers took a 24-9 lead after Drew Brees hit Antonio Gates for a four-yard touchdown pass. The Colts responded only to see the Chargers regain their 15-point lead after LaDainian Tomlinson's 16-yard touchdown run made it 31-16.

Rhodes sparked this particular Colts' comeback victory with an 88-yard kickoff touchdown return. Still down seven, Manning threw one of his most memorable touchdown passes, hitting Brandon Stokley on a deep post route that not only tied the game, but also gave Manning the season touchdown record. The RCA Dome may never have been louder than it was at that point. Mike Vanderjagt's field goal in overtime capped the comeback win.

This matchup is the main reason why it would be fun to see a Saints-Colts Super Bowl just to see Brees and Manning matchup again.

3. 2003: Colts 38, Buccaneers 35 (OT)

Though this wasn't Manning's first comeback win, it was the one that vaulted the Colts into the mainstream.

The game itself was pretty abysmal for the Colts early on. It seemed to be Tampa Bay's night as every bounce went their way. The most notable was Keenan McCardell's fumble return for a touchdown after a wild play where the Colts' Mike Doss had intercepted Brad Johnson only to fumble the ball away. The Colts trailed at halftime 21-0.

The Colts showed little life after that, but did eventually cut Tampa Bay's lead to 28-14. However, Ronde Barber returned a Manning interception for a score and the Bucs led 35-14 in the fourth quarter.

Then the comeback happened.

Brad Pyatt returned the kickoff 90 yards setting up a James Mungro score. Tampa Bay couldn't move the ball, so the Colts got another shot, this time scoring on a Manning-to-Harrison touchdown pass. The other Ricky Williams completed the amazing comeback with a one-yard plunge, forcing overtime.

The Colts kept things exciting in overtime. Vanderjagt badly missed his first chance to win to the game and nearly missed his second attempt that won it.

SI's Peter King called it the best regular season game of the decade. It ranks only second on my list for regular season games, but it was a thriller and really set the tone for the franchise that no lead is insurmountable. That philosophy was definitely needed for the games remaining on the list.

2. 2009: Colts 35, Patriots 34

This game will forever be known as "The Call," but it was much more than that.

For a half, the Patriots looked like the team they were in 2007. Tom Brady finally looked like his repaired knee was 100 percent, and Randy Moss simply could not be stopped. The Colts were sputtering on offense and New England built a sizable 24-7 lead.

Much like another memorable Patriots game, the Colts managed to score before the half and trailed 24-14 heading into the break.

The Patriots really lost the game in the third quarter, twice turning the ball over in the red zone as the Colts continued to struggle on offense. Brady then went back to Moss to seemingly ice the game at 31-14 at the start of the fourth quarter.

But, for some reason, that's exactly when the Colts seem to make things interesting.

Pierre Garcon, who had been suffering through a miserable game until that moment, scored on a 29-yard pass from Manning to cut the lead to 10. The Patriots managed just a field goal off a Manning interception, and the Colts responded with a quick drive for another touchdown and trailed just 34-28 with four minutes left.

And then came "The Call."

Patriot coach Bill Belichick decided not to give the ball back to Manning after seeing his defense give up a quick touchdown. New England went for it on fourth-and-two from their own 28 yard line, and Melvin Bullit's tackle saved the game.

Manning milked the clock before hitting Wayne on a quick slant with 13 seconds left, giving the Colts a very improbable 35-34 victory.

Amazing game, but not the best Colts game ever. It's not even the best Colts-Patriots game ever.

1. 2006 AFC Championship: Colts 38, Patriots 34

This game had everything. Great comeback. Victory over bitter rival. Trip to Indianapolis' first Super Bowl.

And it all looked like it wasn't going to happen when Asante Samuel returned a Manning pass for a touchdown midway through the second quarter. Down 21-3, the Colts looked like they would blow another chance to beat New England in the playoffs.

The first key to the comeback was Adam Vinatieri's field goal before halftime. While it only cut the lead to 21-6, it showed the Colts could move the ball, and they carried that momentum with them into the second half.

The Colts may have played their best half of football ever as they scored 32 points. What was unique was the ways in which the Colts scored. Manning scored on a quarterback sneak. Defensive tackle Dan Klecko caught a touchdown pass. Jeff Saturday recovered a fumble in the end zone for a score.

The Patriots produced only one touchdown in the second half as their lead slowly evaporated. After a Stephen Gostkowski field goal put New England up 34-31, the Colts got the ball with a chance to win the game. Manning drove the Colts to the New England three yard line where Saturday made the best block of his career, moving Vince Wolfork out of the way as Addai waltzed into the end zone. With a minute remaining, the Colts had their first lead of the day.

Brady's comeback fell short as he was picked off by Marlin Jackson. The Colts went to the Super Bowl. It wasn't just a great game. It it was a monumental one for the franchise, which is why I consider it the best Colts game of the decade.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.