INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts and Packers have a series that dates back to 1953, but one that has not been contested on a regular basis since the 1970 NFL Merger and the Colts’ move to Indianapolis in 1984.
Sunday’s contest in Lucas Oil Stadium will be just the 11th since the Colts moved to the AFC for the 1970 season, and just the eighth in the last 29 years.
Sunday’s non-traditional series battle features two of the most storied NFL franchises, teams that boast two of the most recognizable logos in all of sports.
Indianapolis will be playing the game under a difficult circumstance as Head Coach Chuck Pagano will be away from the team while battling leukemia. The Colts are 1-2, while Green Bay is 2-2, and the Colts look to keep a spotless record in Indianapolis against the Packers.
Indianapolis beat Green Bay in the Hoosier Dome in 1985, 37-10, but the matchups here in 1997 and 2004 sparked even greater memories for Colts fans.
Colts 41, Packers 38 – November 16, 1997 – On paper this was not supposed to be the result.
A winless Colts team was taking on an 8-2 Green Bay team that would end up winning the NFC Championship.
But like is seen each week in the NFL, there are reasons for the games to be played.
A pair of running back Dorsey Levens touchdowns gave the Packers an early 14-3 lead. He scored on a three-yard toss from quarterback Brett Favre not even two minutes into the game, then burst 52 yards for a rushing score seven minutes later. Though kicker Cary Blanchard connected on a 42-yard field goal between those scores, things looked like they had during the previous 10 games for the Colts.
The Colts then answered the Levens score with Marvin Harrison hauling in a 17-yard touchdown from quarterback Paul Justin to bring Indianapolis to within 14-9 with 2:23 left in an active first period. A two-point Justin pass failed.
It was that touchdown that sparked the Colts’ defense.
Just 10 seconds into the second quarter, defensive end Al Fontenot picked up a Favre fumble caused by Monty Montgomery and rumbled 33 yards to give the Colts their first lead of the afternoon. This time Justin completed the two-point conversion to give the Colts a 17-14 lead.
Two possessions later, safety Robert Blackmon intercepted a Favre pass and pitched the ball back to fellow defensive back Jason Belser. Belser took the lateral 50 yards to give the Colts a 24-14 with 8:36 to play in the second quarter.
The two defensive scores came in handy for the Colts because Green Bay responded quickly.
The Packers added two second-quarter touchdowns to re-gain the lead, 28-24, with 1:02 left in the half. Levens scored on a one-yard run to cap an 81-yard march, then wide receiver Antonio Freeman tallied on a 16-yard Favre scoring pass after a sack-fumble of Justin.
Justin, playing in the absence of Jim Harbaugh, righted himself and led the offense on a 54-yard drive in seven plays. The drive was finished off by a Cary Blanchard field goal at the halftime gun. Green Bay led, 28-27.
It was an extremely quiet third quarter for both teams. This was the only frame where the teams combined for less than 21 points.
Blanchard’s 35-yard field goal with 3:08 left were the only points scored in the period and gave the Colts a 30-28 lead heading into the final 15 minutes. The outcome would take up every one of those 15 minutes.
Packers’ kicker Ryan Longwell re-gained the lead for Green Bay with an 18-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. A suddenly-staunch Colts defense held Green Bay to the field goal despite six offensive snaps inside the five-yard line.
Justin and the Colts would not be down for long as the offense marched 75 yards in nine plays, finished off by running back Lamont Warren punching it in from three yards out.
Harrison caught the two-point conversion from Justin, and the Colts led, 38-31, with 6:28 remaining.
Favre needed just three plays to tie the score again for the first time since it was 0-0. He hit Freeman for a 26-yard touchdown to end the quick march.
Tied at 38 with 5:09 to go, the Colts would put together arguably their most impressive drive of the season.
Needing to control the ball and play keep-away from the Packers’ potent attack, Justin led the Colts on a 72-yard drive to the Green Bay three. He hit tight end Ken Dilger for 27 yards to start the drive, then teamed with Harrison for 18 more yards. On third-and-10 from the Green Bay 30, he found wide receiver Sean Dawkins for 10 yards and a first down. On second-and-19 from the Green Bay 29 with 1:50 left, Justin found Dilger for 28 yards. Green Bay took its second time out. Justin took a knee on first down, and Green Bay spent its last time out. Justin hit the line for no gain on second down and took a knee on third down as the Green Bay defense retreated into the end zone both times urging the Colts to score. Indianapolis took its last time out with three seconds left, and Blanchard converted a 20-yard field goal at the gun to win the game, 41-38.
The Colts’ first win came in a game where Green Bay averaged 10.0 yards per offensive snap. Two defensive scores and a goal-line stand helped create the win for the Colts. Indianapolis led in yards, 467-441, while the teams produced 46 first downs. Leven (103) and Marshall Faulk (116) topped 100 rushing yards. Favre (363) and Justin (340) topped 300 passing yards, while Dilger (96) and Harrison (98) topped Colts receivers.
The Colts won two more games to finish 3-13, while Green Bay advanced to Super Bowl XXXII before losing to Denver in the final seconds.
Colts 45, Packers 31 – September 26, 2004 – It was a matchup that had hype surrounding an early-season game which would be hard to achieve.
Two of the NFL’s finest quarterbacks would square off for what would be their lone career meeting in Indianapolis.
The game would live up to all the hype and even more with Peyton Manning and Brett Favre combining for 753 yards passing, nine touchdowns and zero interceptions at the RCA Dome as the Colts prevailed, 45-31.
The game started off with touchdowns on the first five possessions, none of which were shorter than 28 yards.
Manning got things started with a 36-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver
Favre got his first action on the following possession and did not disappoint with a 36-yard touchdown to wide receiver Javon Walker. The Packers’ nine-play, 82-yard drive took 4:36.
With the score tied at seven, both offenses sped things up even more.
In just four plays, Manning hit wide receiver Marvin Harrison for a 28-yard touchdown to finish off a 60-yard drive in just 1:40.
Walker and Favre tied the game at 14 with a 79-yard touchdown on the Packers’ first play from scrimmage following the Harrison score.
The fifth and final touchdown of the first quarter came via Brandon Stokley hauling in a 34-yard catch from Manning. Indianapolis had yet to rush the ball from scrimmage.
Finally, a defense got a stop as the Colts forced a three-and-out.
Manning did not take any break from his air assault, as he hit Stokley again, this time for a 27-yard touchdown. Indianapolis had a 28-14 lead 1:17 into the second quarter.
The Packers stopped the momentum briefly with a Ryan Longwell field, but the Colts would have one more answer before intermission.
The Colts bounced back from their lone non-scoring drive of the half to execute another touchdown march.
Manning found running back James Mungro for a one-yard touchdown to complete a first half that ended with the Colts leading, 35-17.
The first half stats for Favre and Manning read like video game-type numbers.
Favre was 14-of-20 for 205 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Manning was 23-of-31 for 320 yards and five touchdowns.
Stokley, Walker, and Wayne all had at least six catches and more than 100 yards receiving in the opening two quarters.
Any chance for a let down in the second half did not look like it was going to happen as Favre found Walker again on Green Bay’s first possession.
Walker caught his third touchdown of the afternoon on a 12-yard reception to bring the Packers within 35-24.
After nine scores on the game’s first 14 possessions, the two offenses finally slowed down following the Walker score.
Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt hit a 45-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to push the Indianapolis lead back to two touchdowns, 38-24.
Favre threw his final touchdown of the afternoon on the next possession, hitting wide receiver Donald Driver on a 27-yard reception.
Up 38-31, the Colts followed with a pair of three-and-outs sandwiched around a Green Bay punt.
The Packers got the ball back with 8:19 remaining looking to tie the game for the first time since the opening quarter.
On Walker’s 11th catch of the afternoon, Colts cornerback Jason David forced a fumble which cornerback Nick Harper eventually recovered.
With 6:07 left, the Colts burned clock and added to their seven-point lead.
Running back Edgerrin James scored the first Colts touchdown since the second quarter on a one-yard run with 1:49 left, pushing the Indianapolis lead to 45-31.
The defense once again made a final stand as linebacker David Thornton picked off Packers quarterback Doug Pederson with 23 seconds remaining to seal the victory.
Manning finished the day 28-of-40 for 393 yards and five touchdowns.
Wayne led the receivers with 11 catches for 184 yards and a touchdown. Stokley followed closely with eight grabs for 110 yards and two scores.
It was an offensive festival, but the difference came from the pair of fourth quarter takeaways by the Colts defense.
How similar were the stats?
First Downs: Colts 26, Packers 24
Total Net Yards: Packers 459, Colts 453
Time of Possession: Packers 31:08, Colts 28:52
Forever identified as a “defensive-minded” coach, Tony Dungy’s squad threw on its first 22 plays from scrimmage.