INDIANAPOLIS – Over the past decade, the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints have had two of the most productive offenses in the NFL. Those respective units were partly responsible for the teams advancing to Super Bowl XLIV after the 2009 regular season.
Prior to that last meeting, Indianapolis and New Orleans played early in the 2003 season and to open the 2007 season. On both of those occasions, the Colts' offense hummed in high gear and did it on a prime-time stage.
The Colts won both of those series meetings, 55-21 in the Louisiana Superdome on September 28, 2003 and 41-10 in the RCA Dome on September 6, 2007.
The Colts visited the Saints hoping to conclude a perfect month of September in week four of the 2003 season.
Missing four regular starters and heading into a hostile environment on Sunday Night Football proved to be nothing but minor blips on the radar for Indianapolis.
The Colts struck early and often against the Saints by building a two-touchdown lead less than 10 minutes into the game.
Linebacker Jim Nelson picked off the first of his two interceptions on the opening series of the game setting up the Colts at the New Orleans 23-yard line. Three plays after the Nelson interception, quarterback Peyton Manning hit running back Ricky Williams for a 17-yard touchdown pass to get the scoring started.
The Colts forced a three-and-out and Manning once again went to the air, this time finding wide receiver Marvin Harrison for a 14-yard touchdown. A sharp Manning hit five-of-six passes for 62 yards on the march.
After a Saints fake field goal was sniffed out by Colts defensive back Cory Bird, the teams traded punts.
It took all of 14 seconds for Manning and Harrison to hook up for a 79-yard touchdown pass making the score 21-0. Harrison caught Manning's pass on a crossing pattern at the Indianapolis 39-yard line at full stride. The fleet receiver navigated untouched by a couple of defenders to complete the scoring play.
The Saints cut the deficit to 24-10 at halftime but any chance for a comeback was thwarted quickly in the third quarter.
Kicker Mike Vanderjagt opened up the period by hitting a 42-yard field goal, his second of the game. On the Saints' ensuing play from scrimmage, linebacker Marcus Washington forced and recovered a fumble to give the Colts possession at the New Orleans 12-yard line.
Two plays following the turnover, Manning found running back Dominic Rhodes for a 12-yard touchdown pass to push the lead back to 24 points at 34-10. It was Manning's fourth touchdown pass, tying a personal-best he had accomplished three previous times. The New Orleans native, whose father starred for the Saints, would not be finished.
Saints kicker John Carney answered with a field goal, but Manning struck for two more scores in the third quarter. One was a 32-yarder to Harrison, his third of the night, and he followed that with an 11-yard toss to tight end Dallas Clark. The play to Clark set the club's new career mark for most touchdown passes in a game. Manning surpassed the previous club records of Gary Cuozzo (1965) and Gary Hogeboom (1987).
The Colts had the ball for more than 10 minutes in the third quarter while scoring 24 points. A 14-point halftime lead ballooned to 48-13.
Putting the exclamation point on an historic night was defensive end Dwight Freeney. The Pro Bowl defensive end forced a fumble by New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks. Freeney scooped up the fumble and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
Linebacker David Thornton led the Colts defense with 15 tackles as the unit forced four turnovers, all of which led to touchdowns.
Perhaps the most astonishing statistic from the 55-21 victory was Manning's passing line. He hit 20-of-25 passing for 314 yards and six touchdowns, giving him more touchdowns than incompletions. He finished the night with a perfect 158.3 passer rating. This marked the third time in Manning's career he had a perfect rating. Manning hit Harrison six times for 158 yards and three scores.
The 55 points set a club road record for scoring, and it tied the fourth-highest single-game scoring output in franchise history. It also set the then record for most points on Sunday Night Football, a record the club also owned on Monday Night Football with a 55-23 win over Denver in 1988.
The 2007 meeting between the clubs was a memorable meeting for Indianapolis as well. The Colts were celebrating their victory in Super Bowl XLI with the opening of the 2007 regular season.
The pre-game festivities included the official in-stadium unveiling of the Super Bowl XLI banner, but a match with a difficult opponent was the main event.
This was the first time the teams had faced each other since the 2003 night in New Orleans. While the Colts' final point total was high, the first half gave no indication of what would happen over the final 30 minutes.
The Colts struck first when Manning and Harrison connected for a 27-yard touchdown with 1:42 remaining in the first quarter.
However, former Colt Jason David picked up wide receiver Reggie Wayne's second quarter fumble and returned it 55 yards to even the score at seven.
After the Colts went three-and-out, Saints kicker Olindo Mare gave New Orleans a 10-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
Those would be the last points New Orleans would score all night, and the Colts responded before the half was over.
Kicker Adam Vinatieri booted a 33-yard field goal with 49 seconds left in the first half. In knotting the score, 10-10, it gave the Colts some much needed momentum heading into intermission.
The Colts defense held New Orleans without a first down to start the second half, and then an eight-play, 71-yard drive was capped off by running back Joseph Addai's two-yard touchdown run five minutes into the period.
A three-and-out by the defense led to another touchdown drive. Manning and the offense coverer 69 yards in just four plays, with Wayne hauling in a 29-yard touchdown pass.
On the following series with the Saints facing a third-and-14 from their own 45-yard line, linebacker Freddie Keiaho picked off quarterback Drew Brees.
Vinatieri would hit his second field goal of the night for a 27-10 lead just seconds into the fourth quarter. Indianapolis forced another Saints three-and-out, and the Colts would put the game out of reach with Manning finding Wayne again, this time for a 46-yard touchdown to make the score 34-10 with 10:11 remaining.
The defense only allowed three points and did not permit a score in the last 36 minutes. Safety Matt Giordano ended the evening's scoring when he returned a Brees interception 83 yards for a touchdown with 55 seconds left.
Wayne paced the Colts with seven receptions for 115 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Addai led a balanced attack for the Colts by rushing for 118 yards and 5.1 average on 23 attempts.
A complete team effort led to a 31-point win, which was the largest margin of victory in club history for opening day.