INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts and Bills first met when the 1970 Merger paired the teams in the AFC East.
Prior to then, the clubs were in separate leagues, but they became biannual combatants for 32 years. Divisional realignment in 2002 separated the clubs again, with the Colts moving to the AFC South, and Sunday’s series renewal is only the fourth meeting since then.
Buffalo is in year three of the Chan Gailey era and hopes to make a playoff push over the six remaining games. Buffalo visits Indianapolis with a 4-6 record, and it will find the Colts standing firmly at 6-4.
The Colts are one of six AFC teams with six or more victories, and they are coming off a loss in New England with the aim of keeping the winning ways at home intact. The Colts are 4-1 in Lucas Oil Stadium, and Buffalo will be making its first regular-season appearance in the venue. The Bills were the opening-night preseason opponent for the Colts on August 24, 2008.
Both franchises have had extended runs of greatness. Buffalo’s came in the 1990s when they were paired against the Colts in the same division. Indianapolis started its extended winning tradition in 1999, and both franchises are etched in the record books for accomplishments.
Buffalo and Indianapolis are two of the league’s 12 franchises to earn 100 or more wins in a decade. Buffalo was 103-57 in the 1990s, earning four Super Bowl appearances. Indianapolis was 115-45 from 2000-09, the winningest NFL regular-season decade ever. The Colts won one of two Super Bowl appearances.
The series flashback deals with two Colts victories during that run, the first game of 1999 that ushered in a great era, plus a 2006 meeting as the Colts earned an historic NFL feat.
Colts 31, Bills 14 – September 12, 1999 – Buffalo came to Indianapolis as playoff participants in seven of the past nine seasons and with the intent of extending its winning pattern over the Colts.
As the Bills entered the RCA Dome for the 1999 opener, they had captured 14 of the past 18 series meetings. What awaited was a Colts team that likely had no inkling of the extended success that was ahead.
The Colts were coming off a 3-13 finish in 1998, while the Bills were playoff participants that year at 10-6.
The times were changing for the Colts, and it was evident on the first scrimmage play when cornerback Tyrone Poole leveled running back Thurman Thomas on a pass attempt, knocking the Pro Bowl performer out with a lacerated kidney.
An offense that featured Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Marcus Pollard, Ken Dilger, Tarik Glenn and Adam Meadows (Jeff Saturday was a first-year reserve) took the field along with a rookie back named Edgerrin James.
The offense that would rattle off more than 5,000 net yards for the first of 13 straight seasons while scoring 400-plus points 10 times in that span tallied on its second possession when James scored on a one-yard run.
The prolific attack produced one of its first-ever big plays on the march when wide receiver E.G. Green hauled in a 50-yard pass from Manning just prior to the first of James’ 75 career scores for Indianapolis.
The Bills got on the board with a Steve Christie 36-yard field goal in the second quarter, and they were threatening again when former Buffalo cornerback Jeff Burris picked off Doug Flutie deep in Indianapolis territory.
Manning led the offense on a seven-play, 65-yard drive, teaming with wide receiver Marvin Harrison for a five-yard touchdown.
A Christie 29-yard field goal with 18 seconds left in the half concluded the scoring. It came after another red-zone Colts defensive stop.
Midway through the third quarter, the Colts seized control when James burst for runs of 40 and 16 yards before Harrison hauled in a 24-yard scoring reception from Manning. It was a three-play, 90-yard blitz for a 21-6 lead. The trio was off to a seven-season run of highlights, and they earned the nickname, “The Triplets,” after the 1999 season.
Flutie answered with a six-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Andre Reed, but that would prove to be the final points for the Bills.
Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt hit a 35-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter and from there, the Indianapolis defense sealed the victory.
Indianapolis forced back-to-back punts before Colts cornerback Tony Blevins intercepted Flutie and returned the pick 74 yards for a touchdown with 3:20 remaining.
With the 31-14 win, the Colts ended a seven-game opening day losing streak to fellow AFC East teams. It was only the second 17 -point win for the Colts in the division during the decade.
James had 26 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut. James joined Alan Ameche (1955), Randy McMillan (1981) and Marshall Faulk (1994) as Colts rushers with 100-yard rookie debuts.
Green (five catches for 124 yards) and Harrison (eight catches for 121 yards) had 100-yard receiving days, and their accomplishments marked then the third game in club history where the team had two receivers and a rusher top 100 yards.
The 47 yards rushing by the Bills were the second-fewest that Buffalo had in its 58 meetings with Indianapolis.
Colts defensive end Chad Bratzke had three sacks as the defense had five total, along with two interceptions.
Buffalo’s season was not done. The teams met in the finale in Orchard Park. The Colts were 13-2, while the Bills were 10-5, and the January 2, 2000 date marked the start of a new decade.
Buffalo earned a 31-6 victory, and Indianapolis linebacker Cornelius Bennett was injured in the process. It was a crippling blow to the club.
The teams nearly met in the Divisional Playoffs in Indianapolis, but Buffalo was upset at Tennessee, 22-16, in the Wild Card Playoffs on the “home-run throwback.” The Titans win sent them to Indianapolis, where Tennessee pulled a 19-16 Divisional Playoffs victory and advanced to Super Bowl XXXIV.
Colts 17, Bills 16 – November 12, 2006 – The teams met in the ninth week of the 2006 season, with the Colts opening the year with eight straight wins.
Indianapolis had a taste for drama to that point by winning six of its games by seven points or less. It was another nail-biting win for the Colts on this day as they set an NFL record with back-to-back 9-0 starts to a season.
The Bills got things started with a 14-play, 61-yard drive that took 8:08 off the clock and ended with a 22-yard field goal by kicker Rian Lindell.
It was a relatively quiet first quarter from a scoring standpoint, but things would pick up considerably in the second quarter.
Manning put the Colts on the board early in the period, connecting with
After a three-and-out by the Indianapolis defense, kicker
Indianapolis forced a quick three-and-out and with two time outs remaining took over at its nine-yard line with 1:43 to play.
Looking for a late-half score, the Colts aggressively drove into Bills territory. Manning hit consecutive completions of 11, 13, 13, four and seven yards to four different receivers. A sixth straight completion to a fifth different target was fumbled, and Bills cornerback Terrence McGee returned it 68 yards for a touchdown with 31 seconds left.
The Colts broke the halftime tie with a nine-play, 74-yard drive to open the third quarter. Rookie running back Joseph Addai scored on a five-yard touchdown.
McGee followed with an 88-yard kickoff return, but the Bills had to settle for another Lindell field goal. It cut the lead to 17-13 with 8:47 to go in the third quarter.
Lindell added another field goal early in the fourth quarter, a 43-yarder, and the outcome of the game hung in the balance for the next four minutes.
Running back Dominic Rhodes fumbled on the following possession, giving Buffalo possession at the Colts’ 41-yard line.
Buffalo moved to the 15, but the defense stuffed a rush and produced a sack. After three straight makes, Lindell’s 41-yard field goal attempt went wide right with 6:22 to go.
The Colts were able to milk the remaining time off the clock behind the legs of Addai (six rushes, 39 yards) and a pair of completions from Manning.
Indianapolis did not face a single third down on the 10-play 47-yard drive to preserve the 17-16 victory.
Addai (13 rushes, 78 yards) and Rhodes (14 rushes, 72 yards) had productive afternoons on the ground. The Colts defense had four sacks, two from defensive end
The historic win allowed the Colts to match 2005’s 9-0 start, the only such consecutive streaks in NFL history. Manning was 27-of-39 for 236 yards, moving into 9th-place in NFL career touchdowns.
The Colts lost the next week at Dallas and then lost three of their next four.
Indianapolis appeared vulnerable after losing to each divisional team in the process, but the club righted itself with a four-game playoff run that ended with a victory in Super Bowl XLI, 29-17 over Chicago.