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On This Date in Sports January 21, 2007: Slaying the Monster

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Indianapolis Colts rally to beat the New England Patriots 38-34 in the AFC Championship Game at the RCA Dome. The Patriots looking to go their fourth Super Bowl in six years jumped out to a 21-3 lead in the first half. It was the first time in three playoff meetings that Peyton Manning beat Tom Brady in the playoffs; Joseph Addai’s touchdown with one minute left was the difference. The 18-point comeback was the largest comeback ever in a Conference Championship Game.

The New England Patriots, in winning three Super Bowl titles, had become the ultimate nemesis to the Indianapolis Colts, as the debate over who was the best quarterback raged between Tom Brady, who had all the success in the playoffs, and Peyton Manning. They had record-breaking numbers in the regular season. This was the third playoff meeting between the Colts and Patriots in four years. The Patriots had won both of the previous meetings in New England, winning the 2003 AFC Championship 24-14 and the Divisional Playoffs 20-3 a year later.

The 2006 AFC Championship Game was the rare occasion where neither of the top two seeds won their divisional playoff game, meaning both the Colts and Patriots needed to win two playoff games, including one on the road to advance. The New England Patriots, coached by Bill Belichick, finished with the fourth seed in 2006, posting a record of 12-4. In the Wild Card round, the Patriots beat the New York Jets 37-16 and the top-seeded San Diego Chargers 24-21 in the Divisional Round. The Indianapolis Colts, coached by Tony Dungy, also finished 12-4 but struggled late in the season after beating the Patriots in Gillette Stadium. In the Wild Card Round, the Colts beat the Kansas City Chiefs 23-8 and the Baltimore Ravens 15-6 in the Divisional Round.

Thanks to their regular season within Foxboro, the Colts had the AFC Championship Game at home in the RCA Dome. The Colts were looking to erase years of playoff disappointment and reach the Super Bowl for the first time in 36 years. The Patriots got on the board first when Logan Mankins recovered Tom Brady’s fumble in the end zone. The Colts answered on the ensuing drive with a 42-yard field goal by former Patriot Adam Vinatieri. The Patriots took control of the game in the second quarter, scoring twice in 50 seconds. First, Corey Dillon scored on a seven-yard run. Then Asante Samuel returned a Peyton Manning interception 39-yard for a score to make it 21-3. Late in the second quarter, Vinatieri added a second field goal from 26 yards to make the score 21-6 at the half. 

The Colts got the ball first in the second half, as Peyton Manning completed a 70-yard drive with a one-yard sneak. They would tie the game on the Colts' next possession as Manning completed a one-yard pass to Dan Klecko and hit Marvin Harrison on a two-point conversion. From here, the game would go back and forth. The Patriots regained the lead as Tom Brady connected with Jabar Gaffney on a six-yard pass. In the fourth quarter, the Colts would answer on a one-yard run by Dominic Rhodes to tie the game 28-28. After neither team scored on their next possession, the Patriots took a 31-28 lead on a 28-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. The Colts responded as Manning connected with Dallas Clark on a 52-yard pass to set up a 36-yard field goal by Vinatieri. Gostkowski responded with a 43-yard field goal to give New England a 34-31 lead with 3:53 left. Things began looking bleak for the Colts as they went three and out. 

The Patriots could not close things out as the Colts got the ball back on the 20-yard line with 2:17 left. Peyton Manning got the Indianapolis drive going with a 32-yard pass to Bryan Fletcher. A big play at the two-minute warnings saw the Colts get down to the 11-yard line, as Manning connected with Reggie Wayne on a 12-yard pass, as they got 15-yard tacked on due to a roughing the passer penalty. A minute later, Joseph Addai scored from the three to give the Colts the lead for the first time. Now trailing 38-34, Tom Brady looked to answer and got the Patriots across midfield. However, with 24 seconds left, Marlin Jackson picked off Brady, sealing the Colts win. The Colts would defeat the Chicago Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI.