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Belichick's Greatest Hits No. 9: The Utter Destruction of Peyton Manning's Colts

Boston Globe. Getty Images.

We ended our last item on this countdown with a cliffhanger. The Patriots had just beaten both NFL co-MVPs for 2003 in the playoffs. First the Titans' Steve McNair in the Divisional round and the Colts' Peyton Manning in the Conference championship. 

That last one was particularly bothersome for Indianapolis for two reasons:

1. Manning had decimated both Denver and Kansas City in the first two rounds of the playoffs with nearly perfect performances. Combined he had close to 700 yards, with eight touchdowns, no interceptions, only one sack, and the Colts never punted. But then the Colts came to Foxboro and he threw four picks, three of them to Ty Law. And two: 

2. Colts GM Bill Polian is a colossal pussy. 

As I mentioned, (Na)Polian spent the offseason using his position on the NFL Rules Committee to change the way defenses are allowed to play pass protection. I mean, he could've used his time to acquire stronger, more physical players on both sides of the ball, instead of filling his roster with hothouse flowers who can grow and thrive in his climate-controlled dome but die at the first sight of cold weather. You know, beat Bill Belichick at his own game. But putting "an increased emphasis" on the non-contact rule took up  a lot less time and energy. 

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As fate would have it, the Pats went 14-2 again in 2004. And Indy once again tore through their early AFC playoff opponents, forcing another showdown at Gillette in the Divisional playoff.

A couple of things about this game. One, it was 25 degrees, breezy and snowy. Visible breath weather. Two, it was the last game for the original natural grass surface in Gillette, which never really survived these long playoff runs into January:

So none of the elements were as conducive to the Colts as playing in their carpeted, room temperature palace in Indianapolis. So they were going to need all the help (Na)Polian's stupid Committee could provide. 

And how did it work out? Let's compare the Colts performance the week before, a 49-24 blowout at home against Denver to how well they fared in Foxboro:

Vs. Denver:

Vs. New England:

Were you able to spot the subtle differences? Good eye!

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This is what Belichick and Romeo Crennel did to the No. 1 scoring offense in the league (by a margin of 49 points over No. 2). Quarterbacked by, once again, the league MVP and OPOTY. On the season Manning had a passer rating of 121.1, which was by far the highest in NFL history and has still only been surpassed twice since (both by Aaron Rodgers). He also broke Dan Marino's 20 year old passing touchdown record, with 49. And yet here was Manning's stat line for this one:

27-of-42, 238 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 69.3 passer rating

It shouldn't surprise anyone that these were his worst numbers on the season (not counting the Week 16 game where he attempted two passes). His previous worst game came in Week 1. Also against Belichick's and Crennel's defense. 

The Pats would need this crushing performance out of their defense, given that the offense didn't fare a hell of a lot better. Though they did play bully ball by throwing 225 pounds of Corey Dillon at Indy:

At halftime they led just 6-3. An interminable, 15-play, 8:16 minute touchdown drive in the 3rd made it 13-3. Followed by a 14-play, 7:42 minute drive in the 4th finished with a Tom Brady QB sneak from the 1 to make it a 20-3 final.

And the hero of this particular action movie was Tedy Bruschi. Both on the field, with the first play of this clip when he established his dominance by ripping the ball right out of Dominic Rhodes' hands. Proving to the world which team wanted it more:

That was one of two fumbles he recovered on the day. And Rodney Harrison matched his interception of Manning the year before with another one. And off the field, Bruschi dominated again, with a postgame interview - now scrubbed from the internet - where he gave his team and its fans a mantra they would use time and time again in the seasons to come:

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This was in all aspects one of the truly great defensive performances by a team in the modern era. For Belichick, it barely cracked his Top 10. There will be more to follow, I assure you. Just keep this game front of mind for the next time someone tells you the Dynasty was all about Brady and Belichick was just a passenger on a GOAT-driven bus. This is just another example of why this man deserves this tribute.