INDIANAPOLIS – A Colts team sitting at 7-0 and coming off a bye week showed no sluggish signs on Monday Night Football with a 40-21 victory over the New England Patriots on November 7, 2005.
Heading into Foxborough, the Colts had lost their six previous games to the Patriots, including consecutive road playoff losses to end the two previous seasons.
Indianapolis approached the prime-time outing with aspirations to reverse those past outcomes. The aspirations were met as the Colts would not punt the ball until the final of nine possessions of the evening.
Dominic Rhodes got things rolling for the Colts with a 37-yard kickoff return to start the game. From there, quarterback Peyton Manning hit wide receiver Marvin Harrison for a 48-yard gain on the second play of scrimmage. Indianapolis was inside the Patriots' 10-yard line less than two minutes into the game.
Three plays later Harrison hauled in a one-yard touchdown catch to provide an early 7-0 margin.
The Patriots answered with a touchdown of their own when quarterback Tom Brady found wide receiver Deion Branch for a 16-yard score, tying the game at seven with nine minutes elapsed in the game.
The Colts would then grind out a 17-play, 68-yard drive that was capped off by running back Edgerrin James scoring on a two-yard run to regain the lead for the visitors. The drive consumed 9:02 off the clock. Ten of the 17 plays were James rushes, including a fourth-and-one, two-yard burst at the New England 46-yard line early in the drive. James accounted for 35 rushing yards on the march.
After the Colts defense forced a three-and-out on the next series, the teams traded turnovers on ensuing possessions before the scoring continued.
Safety Bob Sanders kept the Patriots off the board when he forced a Corey Dillon fumble at the Colts 18-yard line, which cornerback Jason David returned to the 27-yard line.
From there the Colts and their two-minute offense went 73 yards in nine plays, capped off on a third-and-goal touchdown catch by wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
The 10-yard score ended the 1:58 drive and left the Patriots a mere 14 seconds for the rest of the half. The Colts held a 21-7 lead at intermission.
Following halftime, the Colts defense once again forced a three-and-out, allowing the offense a chance to strike again.
The Colts drove 60 yards on 11 plays to take a 28-7 lead. Indianapolis probed on the ground seven times on the march, with the final play being a four-yard run by Rhodes 6:24 into the period.
The Patriots returned fire on their next possession by driving 73 yards. Brady hit tight end Daniel Graham on a 31-yard strike to make the count 28-14 with 5:46 left in the third quarter. A failed onside kick and a resulting penalty placed the Colts on the New England 22-yard line, and kicker Mike Vanderjagt hit a 35-yard field goal for a 17-point Indianapolis lead. New England lost the ball on downs moments later at the Indianapolis 43 and the club would maneuver to the Patriots' two-yard line before Vanderjagt hit a 20-yard field goal one minute into the fourth quarter for a 34-14 Colts lead.
New England tightened matters less than four minutes later when Brady teamed with wide receiver Troy Brown on a 19-yard scoring pass.
However, the Colts finished off the scoring with a seven-play, 74-yard drive when Manning found Harrison again for a touchdown catch, this time a 30-yard grab that was challenged and upheld as a score. New England's final possession ended on a sack by defensive end Robert Mathis, his eighth straight game with a takedown.
Manning finished the day 28-for-37 for 321 yards and three touchdowns. Harrison and Wayne both had nine catches for 128 and 124 yards, respectively. Harrison topped Wayne in scoring receptions, 2-1.
James paced the running game with 104 yards to go along with his touchdown. Defensively, the Colts forced three fumbles and held the Patriots to just 34 yards on 14 rushes. The Colts were an impressive 12-for-17 on third down conversions and outgained the Patriots, 453-288. Brady operated with efficiency, hitting 22-of-33 passes for 265 yards and three scores.
The win marked the first time the club ever started 8-0, and it was the first win in New England since 1995.
The teams would win their respective divisions, Indianapolis at 14-2 and New England at 10-6. Both clubs fell in the Divisional Playoffs to end a two-year streak of meeting in post-season action.
Almost a year to the day after beating the Patriots, 40-21, the Colts headed back to Gillette Stadium with another perfect record.
This time the 7-0 Colts and the 6-1 Patriots squared off in prime-time on Sunday Night Football on November 5, 2006.
In a very even match-up statistically, it would be the Colts defense that would make the difference against Brady and the Patriots.
Setting up the Colts' first offensive touchdown was safety Antoine Bethea, who picked off Brady in the end zone on the game's opening possession.
The Colts turned the takeaway into points when Harrison caught a five-yard touchdown pass from Manning, giving Harrison a new club record with his 114th career touchdown. Harrison broke the club touchdown mark of Lenny Moore that stood since 1967. The play ended a 68-yard march that was spurred on by an acrobatic Harrison catch for 44 yards on a third-and-15 play early in the drive. Safety Rodney Harrison exited the game on the play with an injury. Harrison had four receptions for 66 yards for Indianapolis on the drive.
The teams then went on a scoring spree on the next four possessions.
Corey Dillon scored on a one-yard touchdown run on the next drive, tying the score at seven in the first minute of the second quarter. It was a 68-drive that included a fourth-down conversion at the Indianapolis 19-yard line.
Rookie running back Joseph Addai would answer Dillon's score less than five minutes later with a touchdown run of his own to regain the lead, 14-7. Addai's two-yard score came after Manning teamed with Wayne on completions of 18, 16 and 33 yards on the drive.
The veteran Dillon would not be stopped, though. He tied the game, 14-14, with a four-yard run on the Patriots' next possession. The score came with 4:14 remaining until halftime. New England kept the ball on the ground on nine of the drive's 11 plays.
Kicker Adam Vinatieri, now with the Colts, gave Indianapolis a 17-14 lead with 1:46 left in the half when he booted a 23-yard field goal. Indianapolis had returned the kickoff following the previous score 70 yards to the Patriots' 29. Two incompletions from the New England five-yard line preceded Vinatieri's kick. The lead was preserved when Sanders picked off Brady at the Indianapolis three-yard line with 16 seconds left in the half.
The third quarter started off sluggishly for both teams. Indianapolis missed a field goal on its opening possession, only to have New England lose a fumble at its 31-yard line. The Colts suffered a sack before punting, then forced a New England punt.
Starting at his 26 with 9:31 remaining in the quarter, Manning threw seven passes on an eight-play drive, with his last one finding Harrison for a four-yard touchdown. The marvelously-talented Harrison tipped the ball to himself before dragging both feet inbounds as he reached for the reception. The scoring play remained one of the signature receptions of his career, and it provided Indianapolis with a 24-14 advantage.
Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski answered with a 49-yard field goal, keeping the game at one possession, 24-17. New England recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff return, but the Colts defense held in the red zone before Gostkowski misfired from 36 yards out with 1:22 left in the quarter.
Manning and Brady traded interceptions in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter before Indianapolis struck again. Vinatieri hit a 31-yard field goal with 4:43 elapsed in the period, but Gostkowski answered with a 26-yarder with six minutes left in the game. The score stood at 27-20 as a result of the field goal. Indianapolis forced the kick with two defensive efforts from its eight-yard line.
Vinatieri missed a 46-yard field goal with 1:55 go in the game, and the Patriots took over down by seven points. Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson hauled in a 25-yard reception on the first play of the drive, but Colts linebacker Cato June picked off his second pass of the game on the next play to preserve the win. Indianapolis drained the final 1:18 off the clock.
Both teams had 24 first downs. Indianapolis had a 354-349 edge in net yards. New England held the ball eight more seconds than the Colts, but five takeaways (four interceptions, one fumble recovery) helped spell the difference for Indianapolis.
The win pushed the Colts' record to 8-0, marking only the second time in NFL history that a team started two straight seasons with at least eight wins (Green Bay 1929-31).
The teams marched on to matching 12-4 records before meeting in the AFC Championship game in the RCA Dome on January 21, 2007. Indianapolis won that battle, 38-34, advancing to Super Bowl XLI, where the Colts beat Chicago, 29-17, for a world championship.