"You don't want to get into a shootout with this type of team," Tully Banta-Cain said. "They can play from ahead and behind. They can put points on the board before you know it. We had a comfortable lead but it wasn't really comfortable because they came right back."
The Patriots jumped out to a 21-3 lead and led 21-6 at intermission. The second half belonged to the Colts, however, as they moved the ball at will on a helpless Patriots defense. The 18-point deficit the Colts erased was the greatest comeback in conference championship game history.
"Coming out of the half, we were very lazy on defense and they just kept driving and driving on us," Ellis Hobbs said. "In the first half, we just beat their heads in. Then we came out flat and just basically let them in the game again. It's kind of like a boxing match. You keep punching, keep punching at them, and we didn't punch hard enough."
With the Patriots leading 34-31 late in the game, Manning led the Colts on the most important drive of his football life. Three Manning completions in less than 20 seconds put the Colts on the verge of taking the lead. Joseph Addai walked into the end zone untouched to put Indianapolis up 38-34 with 1:00 to go in the game. The only problem the Colts had is 1:00 is an eternity when Tom Brady is quarterbacking the other team.
|Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning prays on the bench during the New England Patriots final drive in the AFC Championship games Sunday Jan. 22, 2007 in Indianapolis. "I said a little prayer on that last drive," Manning said. "I don't know if you're supposed to pray for stuff like that, but I said a little prayer." The Colts defeated the Patriots 38-34 and will play the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI on Sunday, Feb. 4 in Miami. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)|
Much to no one's surprise, Brady led the Patriots to the Colts 45-yard line with 24 seconds remaining in the game. Like he had done so many times in the past, it appeared Brady might pull another rabbit out of the hat and trump his counterpart in blue and white. It was not to be. This day belonged to Manning and the Colts. Marlin Jackson picked off a Brady pass intended for tight end Ben Watson to seal the victory and send Indianapolis to its first Super Bowl appearance since the franchise moved from Baltimore.
After the game, an exhausted Manning was afraid he had left Brady a little too much time on the clock.
"I was happy that we scored but then I looked up at the clock and saw there was a minute left," he said. "It was one of those games that was going back and forth and it felt like the last team to have the ball would win. You never want to be in that position, having Tom with the ball and a chance to win it at the end. We all know how much success he has in those situations but luckily our defense stepped up and made a great play."
The teams traded punches in the fourth quarter in what turned out to be an emotional roller coaster. Every time the Patriots took the lead, Manning led the Colts right back down the field. He finished the game with 349 yards through the air, as the Colts racked up 455 yards of offense against a stingy Patriots defense.
"It was a tale of two halves, really," Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "We had a little bit of momentum going into halftime. Give credit to them. They made some great adjustments and were able to do a lot of things on us in the second half. It seemed like both defenses were doing what they could to make a stop, especially in the fourth quarter, and they got their stop to win the game."
The Colts head to the Super Bowl to take on the Chicago Bears. Meanwhile, the Patriots' season is over and they begin to look ahead to 2007. While the loss stings, many would say New England overachieved this year by coming up just 1:00 short of playing in the Super Bowl. With two first-round draft picks and plenty of money to spend in free agency, the Patriots should be right back in the mix for another title next season.