-2.) 2009 Week 10 - Patriots 34 @ Colts 35
Update: I'm not all that pleased looking back at what I wrote the day following the 4th and 2 Game, easily the most memorable regular season game in Peyton Manning's career, if not in the last 15 years of the NFL. This was at the blog's infancy - it just so happens my #3 and #2 game came during the first NFL season where I was writing. I don't know if anything has made me feel older than to go back and re-post something I wrote nearly 7 years ago.
Some of this does not hold. The Patriots have won a Super Bowl since this game. Manning never did with the Colts. The Colts actually haven't beaten the Patriots since, losing their last game with Manning in Foxboro after Peyton nearly led another 31-14 comeback - that time without the aid of a 4th and 2 stop.
This game represents so many things, but mostly how over time during the Manning vs. Patriots rivalry, the mental edge completely switched. Early on, it was Manning getting fooled by Belichick and overall the Patriots being in their heads. That completely switched by 2009. Belichick was completely in awe of Manning, incapable of thinking clearly knowing he was not dealing with an ordinary player. I still believe the only QB who would make Belichick desperate enough to go for it on 4th and 2 is and was Peyton Manning.
History will always look back at this era as the Brady / Manning era, and it pleases me knowing that not only will Manning retire with the edge head-to-head in the playoffs, but will also have come out on top in their most memorable regular season meeting.
As for the game, I don't think I was ever more excited, to the point of absolute sleeplessness that night, about a result. The Colts had a great 8-0 start to the season, but for three quarters all that was meaningless. The Patriots rolled up and down the field. Brady to Moss looked unstoppable. But games are never over with Peyton Manning. Slowly the Colts and Manning reeled them in, got the fortunate break, and masterly finished it off with the pass from Manning to Wayne. It was a tremendous game, the first great one in Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts and Patriots; Manning vs. Brady. They met once a year every year outside of each one's respective injuries. They played other good ones, but this was the true classic.
It was a game that inspired so much, one that made me realize the depths of Manning's mastery; the turning tides in a legendary rivalry, the limitless brazen brass balls of Bill Belichick, and the wonder of sports. It also gave me my first opportunity to write a long-form reactionary post - and for better or worse, I present The War of 18-12:
However, this is not all about Bill Belichick's decision. Not at all. This is more about the Colts getting outplayed for three quarters, looking like paper tigers, and then DOMINATING the Pats in the fouth quarter.
That said, I feel compelled to start with the 4th and 2 decision. It was an extremely risky decision, but one that was mathematically defendable. This was their scenario: punt and let the Colts drive 70 yards in two minutes and win the game, or go for it and either win the game or give it back to Manning at the 29 with two minutes to go. Now, the chances of the Pats winning (either making the two yards or stopping the Colts) are basically the same either way in a vaccuum, taking away the account of who they were playing and game scenario. The math states that converting a 4th and 2 is done roughly 63% of the time. Adding that to the chances of the Pats stopping the Colts if they do not convert the fourth down, which is roughly 40%, gives the chances of the Pats winning by going for it at a clean 77%. The Chances that the Colts drive 70 yards for the touchdown are roughly 30%, so the Pats have a better chance of winning going for it. That said, that does not adjust for the fact that the opposing QB is Peyton Manning, or that the Colts defense was winning nearly every important play in the fourth quarter. Anyway, it is a debatable call, but definitely not a brilliant move or a idiotic one. It was a risky one, and one that would have either coronated Belichick as the ballsiest coach of all time or the loser in the greatest football-related version of Russian Roullette.
Now, let's get to the actual game. Leaving the game, the general public's perception was "Pats Dominated", "Colts were lucky", "Belichick cost his team the game." This is complete bullshit. Complete. The Pats dominated a one and a half quarter portion of this game starting from the middle of the first through the end of the half. Their drives in this portion netted them touchdown, field goal, touchdown, touchdown and Indy's drive netted them Punt, Punt, Punt, touchdown (I'll throw in that touchdown just to make the amount of drives even). The Pats got 273 yards and the Colts got 91. Now, that is Florida vs Alaska A&M type domination but was just one and a half quarter. Here was the end of the third through the end of the game: Pats: touchdown (after the long Welker punt return), punt, field goal, downs. Here is Indy's drives in the same part of that game: touchdown, interception, touchdown, touchdown. In that part of the game the Pats got 54 yards and the Colts got 153. Pretty much equal domination. People always seem to overrate the team that jumps out to a big lead and underrate the team that made the comeback. Just becuase the Pats outscored the Colts in one stretch 24-7, does not mean the Colts cannot outscore them similarily. The Pats did not outplay the Colts for the entire game. Also, the Colts were not lucky. They probably score on that drive even if the Pats punted it to them. Finally, Belichick's decision was not the reason the Colts won, it was the reason the Pats did not win easily. Also, many of the big plays by the Pats early were schematic problems by the Colts, as they played a deep zone against Moss, instead of manning him up with safety shadow help like they did in 2007 when they held those Pats to 24. They can correct those problems. We all know that the arrogant Pats would not simply play ball-control, clock-draining offense and still try to pour on, and they were held to 10 points in the second half, when the Colts made the defensive adjustments.
The game was a total domination in the fourth quarter by the Colts and a total breakdown by the Patriots. The Patriots were simply outplayed for the entirety of the fourth quarter. The Patriots managed two first downs in the fourth quarter, and the Colts scored three touchdowns, spanning 153 yards in a total of five minutes and forty seconds. Contrary to popular belief, the Pats were not playing prevent for either of the first two touchdown drives. Manning made adjustments to what Belichick was doing, which was essentially doubling Clark and Wayne and forcing Garcon and Collie to beat them, and then Belichick had no answers. The only negative play was the interception which was a result of lack of communication. As for the Pats offense, what people failed to remember due to Belichick's boner, was their inability to gain yards when it mattered. Four times Brady threw on third or fourth down in that quarter, and he was 0-4. The Pats ran the ball six times for three (yes, THREE!!!) yards in the fourth quarter. The Colts defense dominated them. The Pats are one of the better teams at playing smart, clock-draining football in the fourth quarter (remember the 07 Title game against San Diego when they ran out the last 9 minutes of the game), but were simply awful. Even when the Colts handed them a short field, they went 5 and out, and kicked a field goal. It was awful. The Colts dominated when it mattered, in the fourth quarter. The reason the Colts were totally outplayed early on was schematic, and of course the Pats playing exceptional defensively and Moss playing like Moss. The reason the Colts dominated was great adjustments by the offense (again), and the defense changing schemes and dominating an awful Pats running game and suddenly plodding passing game. The Pats blew it, the Colts earned it. The Colts dominated them in the fourth quarter, and as anybody will tell you, that is the quarter that matters in a close game.
Now, this is where I will start to wax poetic about the rivalry at this point.
It is absolutely stunning how the dynamic of this rivalry has completely changed in the past four years. From 2001-2004, and mostly in 2003-2004, the Pats were the team that had the no-name defense, with street defensive backs like Randall Gay and a young Asante Samuel, and Jarvis Green, and the quadro of stout, smart linebackers. The Colts were the flashy team with high-powered offense and a defense that was fine against the Dolphins or the Titans but could not hold up against the big boys. The games, at least the regular season games in 2003-2004, played out to a diametric opposite of Sunday Night's. In both meetings the Colts "outplayed" the Pats, coming one yard away from winning the 2003 game, before Willie McGinest stoning Edgerrin James on the one yard line (if anything personified those Pats teams, and how the physically and mentally intimidated the Colts, it was that McGinest tackle and the play in the 2004 Divisional when Tedy Bruschi literally ripped the ball out of the hands of Dominic Rhodes). Then, a year later in the 2004 game, the Pats were outplayed, except Manning threw an interception in the red zone and James fumbled at the 2 yard line (much like Maroney did), and missed a 48 yard field goal to send it into overtime. Now, all the Colts fans, including myself, thought "they got lucky, the Colts were two plays away, they will win come playoff time." Then, come playoff time, it did not happen. Belichick's defense was in Manning's head. Our defense was helpless against Brady. Each time we played, regardless of how the stats played out, how the game played out, when we looked at the scoreboard, the Colts had fewer points than the Patriots. It was a matter of life, we could roll against the Bengals, and the Bears, but when we needed to man-up and fight, the Colts wanted to fence, the Pats wanted to box.
It is crazy how it has changed. The Pats are now the high-flying team, with the insanely good receivers and the QB with all the stats. They are now the team whose defense could shut down the Titans and the Bucs, but are just average against good offensive teams. The Colts are a team missing many offensive and defensive starters, but have Manning. They play next-man-up to a Patriot level on defense. They are now the smarter, more focused, more tough football team. The Colts are the team now who execute in crunch time. Save for the 2007 game, where the Pats came back valiantly from 10 down in the fourth quarter, which can be contrasted with the 2003 game when the Colts nearly came back from a 21 defecit in the last 20 minutes as the exception to the norm, the Colts have dominated since 2005. For all the "Manning can't beat the Pats" stories that circulated the media-world much like swine-flu is supposed to infiltrate the human-world, there should be similar "Brady can't beat the Colts" headlines now. It was not Manning, but the Colts that could not mentally play smart in late, close games, and now it is the Pats, not Brady. Much like Belichick was clearly in Manning's head in 2003 and 2004, Manning is now in Belichick's head. Belichick can say what he wants, but if the team they were playing was 30 other teams, he punts on 4th and 2. It might be respect, it might be abject fear, but it is really both. Manning has owned Belichick in late game situations, save for that 2007 game. Remember, Manning came within one yard of leading the Colts back from a 31-10 deficit with 20 minutes left in 2003, and then overcame a 21-3 deficit in the 2006 Title Game. Now, he has done the trifecta, coming back from a 34-17 4th quarter deficit. Belichick now knows that games are NEVER over against Peyton. Never. He supposedly preached "60 Minutes" till the cocks crowed after the 2006 meltdown, but it is stunning that it happened again, and although the stakes were certainly greater than, the order of diffuculty of the comeback was more this time. These teams may very well meet again in the playoffs, but I am sure that Manning and the Colts have the mental edge.
In 2003 and 2004, we entered those playoff games with an offensive arrogance, "we cannot be stopped... pffft Patriots defense". We entered those games with the knowledge that we were centimeters away from winning the earlier game. We were slaughtered like lambs in those playoff games (although it must be said that the 2003 Title game was amazing, since even though there was really shoddy officiating, and we handed the Pats 5 turnovers and a safety, Manning had the ball with the opportunity to tie the game in the fourth quarter). This is now the opposite. Pats fans can console themselves in their perceived domination, the can console themselves that they nearly beat the Colts, that they should have, would have. They can enter their game off thier 31-20 beating of Cincy or whatever it may be. They will not win. We have the mental edge. The players know it. If the Pats would win a game against the Colts, it would have been this one, with Gonzalez and Hayden out, with Garcon playing one of his worst games, with Manning throwing two picks of uncharacteristic natures, and with the defense playing a scheme so irrational that it deservedly lended us to spotting them a 24-7 advantage. Yet, at the end of the day, the same team was ahead. The same team pulled out the game. The same team won every critical fourth down battle, stopped the high-powered Pats offense when it mattered late, and took advantage of mistakes and stuck a stake in the Pats home-field advantage aspirations. I could have written those last five sentences and switched "Pats" with "Colts" and I could have been describing a 2003 game, when there was, as we know now, a mental edge that the Pats just had. It has all changed, and it is so sweet. Now, the Pats want to fence, and we want to box.