Manning, of course, advanced to his first Super Bowl.
The Colts are now a near-lock to win their first Super Bowl in 36 years.
Manning threw for 349 yards and led the Colts to 38 points, 32 in the second half
Most egregious of all:
I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the best playoff game that I have ever seen.
To recap, the Colts, under immense pressure, were down 21-3 by the middle of the second quarter. I was about to turn off the TV and do some work, disgusted with Peyton Manning and wondering if there was an ounce of urgency in his body at this stage. He proved me wrong. He led the sputtering Colts to a field goal at the end of the half. Then, he led two quick scoring drives at the start of the second half to tie the game at 21, punctuated by a brilliant catch on a two-point conversion by Marvin Harrison. The Patriots' armour was starting to wear down, though I'm not sure why Phil Simms, Jim Nantz and myself (the only three present) were so impressed with the comeback. Manning isn't exactly your grandmother when it comes to playing quarterback. He won two MVPs throwing touchdown passes, not batting practice to the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians.
The large, physical defense which perennially manhandled the Colts and all other teams dating back to Super Bowl XXXVI, won over a similar Rams team, can be worn down by a smaller, faster team. Typically, smaller teams don't get the opportunity. When the Colts were able to hang on to the ball for almost an entire quarter, at one point running 29 plays out of 30 in the game, they were able to take the sting out of the New England pass-rushers.
From there, the drama started. Brady and Manning, both playing at their best, exchanged a touchdown and field goal apiece, tying the game at 31 with five minutes to go. When Stephen Gostkowski kicked a field goal to put the Patriots ahead with 3:49 to go, I thought that it was over for the second time (the first being in the second quarter). When the Colts gained six yards on the next drive, I thought the game was over. I didn't think that the Patriots would relinquish the ball; the Colts defense was good, but it wasn't that good. However, the Colts managed to get the ball back with just over two minutes to go.
What followed was the drive that changed Manning's career and is one of the best that I have ever seen. From his own 20, Manning passed to Reggie Wayne for 11 yards and two plays later connected with little-used tight end Bryan Fletcher (18 catches all year) on a beautiful 32-yard pass over the middle. The next play nearly killed me. Manning hit Wayne, who caught the ball and turned to run but, as the Colts are wont to do, fumbled the ball. The ball went straight up and not only did Wayne, guided by the Lord Himself, managed to retrieve it, but the Colts gained another 15 yards on a personal foul against Manning. Now at the 11, nothing less than a touchdown would do against Tom Brady's Patriots. Two runs brought the Colts to the three-yard line and a third down. This was it, this was the play and the Colts had the temerity to call on Joseph Addai, who burst into the endzone to let my heart beat again.
I let out a primal roar and jumped into the air, actually hurting my ankle. My God, that felt good. I haven't felt that good about a single play in a football game since Brett Favre's pass on 4th and 6 in Super Bowl XXXII was broken up, clinching a championship for the Broncos some nine years ago. That Brady was intercepted on the ensuing drive made it a little sweeter, I liked seeing him make a mistake, I probably liked it too much. What made this game so good was the stage, the AFC Championship game between the two best teams over the last several years, and the story of Peyton Manning's ineptitude in the playoffs and Bill Belichick's mastery. All that is now forgotten, all that matters now is that Manning is going to the Super Bowl. As for me, I really need to have a little more faith.