Watching all of the different national media outlets all week long, all I heard is that it was Peyton Manning's time. It is time for him to 'get the monkey off of his back' and make it to the big game that he has seemed to miss the past years. On ESPN alone 6 out of the 7 'prognosticators' predicted the Patriots to lose to the high flying Colts.
The National Football League could not have scripted this game any better for the AFC Championship game. How about Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy trying to get to the big game and having to do it through their bitter rivals, the New England Patriots?. How about the side drama of Adam Viniateri going against his former mates in a dome where he is almost flawless? How about another heavily favored game against the Patriots to see if the 'boy wonder', Tom Brady can pull another rabbit out of his hat?
Well as I write this in anticipation for a well-fought and high paced game on the 'track' they call the RCA dome, my only hope was to see a good game.
A good game is what I got.
This game started off with a bang with the Patriots jumping out to an 18 point lead off of good defense and heads up plays. The offensive unit looked almost to expose the regular season 'porous' rushing defense of the Colts. The offense was clicking and the running game was in full force during the majority of the first half of the game.
They made quick strikes and took the lead but, as Patriots fans know oh too well, no lead is comfortable with the vaunted offense of the Colts.
As the second quarter drew to a close, it looked a lot like the Patriots defensive unit was wearing down with each play. Peyton Manning went into a hurry up offense and beat the defense down with running plays and short plays to their talented tight end Dallas Clark.
Entering the second half of the ball game the Colts came out on all cylinders running off fifteen points coming back to tie the game. In methodic and Colt-like precision they made the comeback.
When the Patriots were looking like they were on their heels, Ellis Hobbs ran a kickoff back 80 yards to set up another Brady clutch score in the back of the end zone to his newly found 'go-to' receiver Jabar Gaffney.
Then after taking the seven point lead the Colts then drove with ease to score a touchdown on a fumble recovery in the endzone. Sidenote: How is it with the offensive machines on the field, three of the touchdowns tonight were scored by Lineman? Logan Mankins, Ex-Patriot Dan Klecko and Jeff Saturday all had their moments in the spotlight.
After tying the game the Patriots needed a clock killing drive but went three and out and put the exhausted defensive unit back out on the field against this explosive Colt unit. Pulling out no stops, they stop the Colts to three and out and get the ball back with good field position. They drove the ball but got stopped after a crucial dropped pass by Reche Caldwell, his second one of the game. So they had to settle for a 28 yard field goal to take the three point lead with just over eight minutes left in the game.
The Colts then drove the ball down for an 'automatic' 36 yard field goal for Ex-patriot great kicker, Adam Viniateri.
You could just tell that this game is going to come down to the final gun. You could just feel it with the momentum shifts. Back and forth they go.
One of the early game balls for this game has to go to Ellis Hobbs and his returns on special teams to give the Patriots good field position on the final drives.
Four minutes and twenty seconds to go in the game and the Patriots are stopped and have to settle for a forty yard to settle for a successful 45 yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.
Now the true stage is set. Manning has owned the Pats in the second half and it is 'now or never' with 3:49 left in the game. The pressure is on and the drama is building in this game if we haven't already peaked. The defense comes through. They stop the high flyin' Colts for a well needed three and out and a punt.
Then they punt it to Troy Brown and who returns the punt to the New England 40 yard line. And after you think that the Patriots will run the ball to run the clock down, they pass it to Reche Caldwell who stays in bounds and then another pass to Benjamin Watson who also stays in bounds to bring the chains to 3rd down and about four yards.
Here we go ... a HUGE down. Can they get a first down? No they can't. Tom Brady was almost picked off by the safety Bob Sanders. So the Patriots are forced to punt. Now the exhausted and reeling defensive unit must come through for the Patriots.
They get a quick out pattern to Reggie Wayne with 2:12 left in the game for a first down. Second pass attempt incomplete broken up by replacement linebacker Alexander. Then, Manning fires a laser down field and along with a costly personal foul of roughing the passer against the Patriots, sets up the first and ten for the Colts on the eleven.
Maybe it is time for Manning to get that 'monkey off of his back'. Maybe it is time for the stats master to come through in the clutch finally. And then Joseph Addai ran for a touchdown through a hole a mack truck could have made it through. Then Brady was intercepted on the drive trying to make a comeback.
It now looks as if the Patriots are going to go home while Peyton and the Colts move on to Miami to play against the Chicago Bears. This game also brings the Patriots with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at the helm to a hefty 12-2 record in the playoffs together.
I can honestly say, it was one heck of a run this year for our New England Patriots. On to the off-season we go. Hats off to Peyton Manning and the Colts for a well-played game and hats off to our Patriots for a well played game also!
I guess the 'prognosticators' were correct!