INDIANAPOLIS – The 1998 season yielded a 3-13 record for the Indianapolis Colts.
With it brought the promise of better days ahead. Bill Polian was in his first season as the team's president. The first draft choice he made for Indianapolis was starting under center – quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning was a cornerstone of Polian's plan to return the Colts to football prominence.
There certainly were other components, too, as the team traveled to Baltimore for the first time to meet the Ravens. It would be an emotional outing on many fronts, but the young playing roster, led by veteran Head Coach Jim Mora (in his first year with the Colts), was intent only on playing to its ability level and seeing what could happen.
Indianapolis was 2-9 heading into the match on November 29. Five weeks earlier on the other coast, Indianapolis had given a peek at its soon-to-be illustrious offensive attack in falling at San Francisco, 34-31.
That day, Manning threw three touchdown passes to third-year wide receiver Marvin Harrison, while fifth-year running back Marshall Faulk rambled for 103 rushing yards and a long touchdown. It was a bitter, closely-contested loss to a 49ers team that went 12-4. The Colts left the Bay Area knowing it was onto something.
The Colts now visited Baltimore hoping to build on its youthful surge. Indianapolis would do so in a game that provided more evidence of future success, but ended in the same result with almost the same score. Indianapolis fell, 38-31, but great promise was evident, and the horizon was not far off.
Indianapolis took the field on a 69-degree, sunny day in front of 69,898 rabid Ravens backers aiming to help deliver a victory. The offensive fireworks started on the first drive when kicker Mike Vanderjagt booted a 53-yard field goal. Baltimore responded by returning the kickoff to the Colts' 30-yard line, and kicker Matt Stover nailed a 43-yarder to tie a game that was only six minutes old.
The Colts would zip to a 17-3 lead on their next two drives, with Faulk headlining the effort. The New Orleans tandem of Manning and Faulk collaborated on a 34-yard passing play for the first score to end an 82-yard march that included 24 additional scrimmage yards for the back. Faulk would punctuate the next drive on its second play with a 68-yard touchdown burst. The Colts led by 14 points with approximately two minutes left in the period.
Baltimore thwarted another scoring threat by blocking a 52-yard Vanderjagt field goal attempt early in the second quarter, and Ravens quarterback Jim Harbaugh tossed a scoring pass to cut the gap to 17-10.
Indianapolis pushed the count to 24-10 with 51 seconds remaining in the half when Manning hit wide receiver Torrance Small on a seven-yard score to end a 13-play, 77-yard drive. The Ravens softened the hit by returning the kickoff past midfield, and Stover hit a 48-yard kick at the gun.
Indianapolis had 339 net yards at the break, compared to Baltimore's 99. Faulk had 115 rushing yards on nine attempts, while Small had 112 yards on six receptions and Manning was 16-for-22 for 240 yards and two scores.
To open up the second half, the teams traded punts before Ravens running back Priest Holmes scored on a two-yard touchdown run midway through the quarter. Harbaugh teamed with wide receiver Floyd Turner, a former Colts passing tandem, on a two-point pass to cut the lead to 24-21.
Manning answered with his third passing touchdown of the game on the following drive, as wide receiver Jerome Pathon scored on a five-yard reception.
However, that would be the final scoring for the Colts. Baltimore scored 17 fourth-quarter points to grab the lead. Harbaugh and Floyd teamed on a scoring pass, while a Holmes scoring run and a Stover field goal gave the Ravens a 38-31 lead with 2:49 remaining.
What Manning would do many times in future seasons was in the incubation stage on this day. He marched the Colts goal-ward with one timeout remaining. Four completions and a two-yard keeper got Indianapolis to the Baltimore 24-yard line. After hitting Faulk twice already for 21 yards on the drive, a third try netted an interception and Baltimore ran out the clock.
It was the second of five losses that season where Indianapolis could not protect a double-digit lead.
It was a historic day for the Colts offense, as it outgained the Ravens, 540-314. The 540 yards of total offense was the most for the club since 1967. Faulk set a club record with 267 scrimmage yards, a mark that stands to this day. He rushed 17 times for 192 yards and a 68-yard touchdown, while catching seven passes for 75 yards and the 34-yard score. (Faulk would account for 43.5 of the club's net yards for the season, still a franchise record).
Manning directed the Colts on three scoring drives of 77 yards and was 27-of-42 passing for 357 yards and three touchdowns. Harrison left on the game's fifth play with a shoulder separation that would cost him the rest of the season. Small filled in with nine catches for 153 yards and a touchdown.
The 300-yard passing, 100-yard rushing, and 100-yard receiving trio marked only the fourth time in club history that was accomplished in a game, a feat Manning would help produce again nine more times in the next 12 seasons.
When the Colts invaded Baltimore on November 22, 2009, it was the club's sixth venture to visit the Ravens. Indianapolis possessed a 9-0 mark, and it would be battling a 5-4 Ravens team it eventually would meet again.
The Colts beat the Ravens at their own game, with their defense paving the way in a 17-15 win.
In what looked like it could be an impressive day for the offense, Manning led the Colts on a seven-play, 87-yard drive to start the game. The drive was highlighted by Manning and wide receiver Pierre Garcon connecting on a 66-yard completion that carried the offense to the Baltimore six-yard line. Two plays later, tight end Dallas Clark scored on a three-yard touchdown reception for a seven-point cushion.
The Ravens would answer the Manning touchdown with two field goals from Billy Cundiff. The first one came from 46 yards after a methodical 13-play drive. Baltimore swiped a Manning pass on the ensuing play and Cundiff hit a 44-yarder with four minutes left in the period.
Baltimore picked Manning off again midway through the second quarter, and Cundiff hit a 38-yard boot after the Ravens stalled at the Colts' 20-yard line.
The 9-6 lead was erased three minutes later when running back Joseph Addai scored on a five-yard rush 1:23 before intermission. It was an 80-yard drive that Addai started with a 21-yard run. His scoring play came on a shifty run where he eluded tacklers near the goal-line. Baltimore would cut the count to 14-12 with two seconds left before halftime. Cundiff hit a 36-yarder after the Indianapolis defense held in the red zone.
A scoreless third quarter saw Indianapolis lose a fumble at the Baltimore one-yard line. The Ravens drove the ball from their four to the Indianapolis 10-yard line, where the Colts stuffed a third-and-one rush before Cundiff was wide right on a 30-yard field goal attempt.
Baltimore forced a three-and-out and drove from its 33 to the Indianapolis one-yard line. Defensive tackle Dan Muir and linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Session stopped three successive plunges before Cundiff kicked his fifth field goal of the game from 20 yards out with 4:48 elapsed in the fourth quarter. Cundiff tied the Ravens record with his fifth boot, now sharing that mark with Matt Stover, who was playing for Indianapolis and was not finished for the day.
Down by one, Stover answered with a 25-yard field goal with 7:02 remaining as the Colts took a 17-15 lead that would last. The lead lasted only because of Indianapolis heroics.
Quarterback Joe Flacco led the Ravens inside the Indianapolis red zone again. On third-and-seven from the 14-yard line, Brackett intercepted a Flacco pass with 2:42 remaining.
The Colts tried to run out the remaining time and gained a first down. Baltimore spent its three time outs, and Indianapolis punted with 28 seconds left.
This time the special teams made the play as linebacker Freddie Keiaho recovered an Ed Reed fumbled return near midfield. Indianapolis drained the remaining 11 seconds and secured a 10-0 start to the season.
The Colts got contributions from Garcon (six catches for 108 yards) and tight end Tom Santi (six catches for 80 yards). Reggie Wayne had seven receptions for 89 yards, while Addai rushed for 74 yards. Manning was 22-of-31 for 299 yards and one touchdown.
The game was very evenly-matched with both teams having 20 first downs and the Colts outgaining the Ravens, 375-354. It was the Colts' ability to not settle for field goals, which made the difference. Two touchdowns more than matched four Baltimore red zone ventures where it could not find the end zone.
Clark's lone catch of the day was a noteworthy one. It set a new franchise tight end record at 321 receptions, and Clark eclipsed former Colt and Hall-of-Famer John Mackey with the reception.
Indianapolis extended its franchise record with a 19th consecutive regular-season victory, two games behind the all-time record (21, New England, 2006-08). The Colts would go on to post four more wins to set the league record with 23 consecutive victories.
Head Coach Jim Caldwell joined Wally Lemm (Houston, 1961; St. Louis, 1962) for the most consecutive wins to start a career. He also became the only coach ever to start 10-0 when succeeding a head coach who won 100 games (139, Tony Dungy).
The Colts became the first team to produce two 10-0 starts in a five-year span. Indianapolis (2005, 2009) joined then 10 other franchises since the 1970 NFL Merger to produce a 10-0 start, and it marked then the 21st 10-0 in NFL history.
The Colts became the first NFL team to win four consecutive games in the same season by a total margin of 10-or-fewer points. Four straight wins by Indianapolis after trailing at any point in the fourth quarter also set a new NFL record. Indianapolis would pull another fourth-quarter rally the next week at Houston to push that streak to five straight such wins.
Indianapolis would post a 14-2 mark and earn the AFC's top playoff seed. Baltimore finished 9-7 by winning four of its last six games. The Ravens earned the sixth playoff seed, advancing to Lucas Oil Stadium for a January 16, 2010 meeting with the Colts. Indianapolis was able to take a 20-3 victory before beating the New York Jets a week later and reaching Super Bowl XLIV.