INDIANAPOLIS –When the Colts and Patriots failed to meet in the regular season, it was the first time the league series had not been contested since 2002.
That matter changed when San Diego's victory Sunday put Indianapolis in New England for a divisional match Saturday at 8:15 p.m.
This means a streak remains intact – the Colts and Patriots have met every season in some form since 2003.
This is the fourth time the franchises have met in the playoffs, with the 2004 season's affair being in this round, while those in 2003 and 2006 determined the conference champion. The victors in all three of those games eventually won the Super Bowl.
"It kind of (feels like a division game)," said Antoine Bethea last year. "It seems like we play them every year. Both teams respect each other. It's always a fun game."
As hosts, the Patriots beat Indianapolis last November, 59-24, in a game where many faces had departed the rivalry.
The Patriots and Colts lost in last year's playoffs, and now Chuck Pagano and Bill Belichick match wits again in the playoffs.
"This is a team that's well-coached, that's had a real good season," said Belichick of the Colts. "They beat some of the best teams in the league – in both the AFC and NFC. They've just been impressive."
Belichick beat Baltimore in the 2012 AFC Championship game, 23-20, and days later Pagano moved from Ravens defensive coordinator to the Colts' sidelines. Under Pagano, Belichick sees a different Colts defense compared to the past.
"It's quite a bit different," said Belichick. "You see the elements of the Baltimore system there with their mix of coverages and pressures.
"They have a good balance of attacking with multiple coverages, multiple type blitzers – linebacker blitzes, secondary blitzes, zone coverages, man coverages. They mix it up and do a good job keeping the offense off balance. They don't just sit in one thing."
Belichick defended Andrew Luck last year when the Patriots returned two of three interceptions for scores in addition to Luck having 334 passing yards and three touchdowns.
"He's done all the things that he has the talent to do," said Belichick. "He's a smart guy. He works hard, he's tough. He can make plays with his feet and his arm, scramble plays, designed plays, plays that play out kind of the way they're drawn up. He can improvise and make plays on his own.
"He's established himself as a very poised and talented player that can do a lot of things to beat you."
Belichick noted the up-tempo style Indianapolis used frequently down the stretch and often against Kansas City, saying it has led to an explosive attack and one that puts pressure on defenses.
T.Y. Hilton is coming off a 13-reception, 224-yard performance that featured a 64-yard scoring reception that was the deciding play in an 89-point night.
Hilton shattered franchise playoff receiving records set by Raymond Berry and Reggie Wayne and had 100 yards and two touchdowns last year against New England.
"T.Y. Hilton has stepped up for them big time and given them a ton of production," said Belichick. "He's, as we saw, a go-to guy. He had a couple hundred yards (against Kansas City), but he's shown up all year. He has been a big factor, but they've gotten production all the way around."
Saturday's playoff game means the series has returned to prime-time viewing. The games in 2003 and 2011 were the only afternoon affairs over the last 11 years in this series, one that has included 13 overall meetings.
America has watched as these franchises have battled. Only three active Colts – Robert Mathis, Antoine Bethea and Adam Vinatieri – remain from the last playoff encounter between the teams. That was the Colts' 38-34 comeback win after the 2006 season.
It was Vinatieri who authored a prime moment for the Patriots after the 2001 season with his two field goals in the snow against Oakland in the 'Tuck Game.'
The first from 45 yards tied the game in the final minute, then he decided matters in overtime with a 23-yarder.
To some, that was the night prime-time divisional playoff games were born. They have thrived since, and both teams hope the past holds form with the winner eventually owning the Lombardi Trophy.