In what may go down as one of the best AFC Championship Games in recent years, the Colts -- trailing 21-3 in the second quarter -- removed a giant monkey off their collective backs as they rallied for 32 second-half points in handing the New England Patriots a 38-34 loss Sunday evening at the RCA Dome.
The 18-point comeback was the greatest in AFC-NFC conference championship history since 1970.
Joseph Addai's three-yard run with one minute remaining in the fourth quarter provided the game-winning points, but it took an interception by second-year cornerback Marlin Jackson of a Tom Brady pass with 16 seconds left to finally seal the deal.
In a matchup of two of the game's best quarterbacks, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning outdueled Brady a as he hit on 27-of-47 passes for 349 yards and a touchdown. The New England signal caller proved to be just as tough, completing 21-of-34 passes for 232 yards and touchdown.
"I don't get into monkeys or vindication. I don't play that card," Manning said. "This is just a culmination of all the hard work that we've done since last spring. We just slowly chipped away at the lead and made some plays. We certainly wanted to score a touchdown (late in the fourth quarter), but we didn't want to score too fast. We didn't want to give Tom Brady the ball back. When he's got the ball with a couple of time outs left, well, you just don't want to do that. We wanted to try and take some time before we scored the touchdown.
"I just wanted to do my job (Sunday). You just hate to get down to these guys. But there's no point in hanging your head and panicking. Those are the situations that you dream about as a kid and it's really nice to be able to go out there with the game on the line and do it."
Indianapolis, which had fell short in two previous AFC title game appearances, will now take on the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI on Sunday, Feb. 4 at Miami's Dolphin Stadium.
It will be the first trip to the Super Bowl for the Colts' franchise since the then-Baltimore Colts won the 1970 AFC title and took on the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V (winning 16-13 on Jim O'Brien's 32-yard field goal). It's the first trip to the Super Bowl since the team moved to Indianapolis in 1984.
"Obviously there is a lot of emotion in that locker room. I couldn't be more proud of our guys. I am so proud of the way our guys fought. Our team went the hard way the whole year and we hung tough. I couldn't think of a better way to end this part of the year," Colts coach Tony Dungy said afterward.
Dungy will now face off against Chicago coach Lovie Smith in what will be the first meeting of African-American coaches in a Super Bowl setting. The game will pit old friends who once coached together, with Smith serving as an assistant coach for Dungy in Tampa Bay before moving on to become the defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams.
Interestingly, the two Super Bowl coaches met for dinner in downtown Indianapolis two weeks ago before the Colts' home AFC wild card game with Kansas City.
Accompanied by their wives, along with Chiefs coach Herman Edwards and his wife, they had a chance to sit down and discuss how far they had come as coaches since their time together with the Buccaneers. Edwards had been Tampa's defensive backfield coach while Smith served as the Bucs' defensive line coach for Dungy.
"We all talked about how it fun it would be for a couple of us to end up meeting in the Super Bowl," Dungy said Sunday evening. "Lovie and his wife were able to come down since (the Bears) didn't have a game that week, so he called me a few days before the (Kansas City) game and asked me if I might have a couple of extra tickets for them to use."
Smith and his wife ended up sitting in the stands at the RCA Dome, allowing the Bears coach to be a fan for a change.
Smith and Dungy are the first African-American coaches to earn trips to the Super Bowl. That in itself is enough to make the upcoming matchup between Chicago and Indianapolis noteworthy.
"When he took the job in Chicago, I said, 'I'm happy you're going to the NFC and, maybe we can, you know, play against each other,' Dungy said. "And then when we had dinner three weeks ago, we talked about that, hoping that maybe the two of us will face off against each other. So you hope it happens, but realistically, it's hard to dream of that. It's going to be great going against them. They're a tremendous team. You could see that the way they played (against New Orleans)."
--QB Peyton Manning jammed his right thumb when he hit it on the helmet of LT Tarik Glenn. He was able to play with the injury, which is not considered serious initially.
--WR Marvin Harrison suffered an eye injury when his helmet slipped down and banged against his face. Harrison was able to play without any apparent problems.
--CB Marlin Jackson registered his second interception of the season when he picked off Tom Brady's pass late in the fourth quarter to seal the game for the Colts. Both Jackson and Brady are former players at the University of Michigan.
--DT Raheem Brock had the only sack of Brady in the game. It's the first time that the Colts have sacked the Patriots quarterback in a postseason game in three meetings.
--TE Ben Utecht suffered a right knee injury in the third quarter. He did not return.
--CB Nick Harper suffered a sprained left ankle in the second quarter. He did not return.
--LB Gary Brackett was injured in the first quarter. He was able to return to the game.
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