INDIANAPOLIS – Records and trying to predict Colts-Browns games on paper can be thrown out the window when these teams meet in league play.
The Colts have won the past five meetings with Cleveland dating back to 1999, but each game has been decided by seven points or less.
The Colts have won each of those contests to forge a five-game winning streak in a series that dates back to 1956. The overall series record (including post-season) stands 15-14 in Cleveland's favor, and the near-squared series total reflects how closely the last five battles have been.
Colts 29, Browns 28 – December 26, 1999 (Cleveland Browns Stadium)
Dating back all the way to the Jim Mora era, the Colts-Browns series has helped to take the fingernails off their respective fan bases. Indianapolis visited Cleveland in the Browns' first year of their re-birth, and the Colts invaded that day with a 12-2 record and on a 10-game winning streak. The newly-reborn Browns had two wins but gave Indianapolis all it could handle. K-Mike Vanderjagt hit a 21-yard field goal with four seconds left to lift the Colts to victory, 29-28.
The Browns took a two-possession lead heading into the fourth quarter before the Colts made their comeback. Down 28-19, an Edgerrin James two-yard touchdown run with 9:54 remaining brought the Colts within two and led to the climatic finish.
Second-year quarterback Peyton Manning led an 11-play, 54-yard drive that set up the game-winning field goal. The kick helped the Colts overcome 7-0, 14-7, 21-13 and 28-19 deficits on a 10-degree day with 25-mile per hour winds. Rookie quarterback Tim Couch was inactive and veteran Ty Detmer directed the Browns.
James scored all three of the Colts' touchdowns that afternoon and wide receiver Marvin Harrison caught 14 passes for 130 yards. Manning hit 27-of-43 passes for 276 yards.
Colts 28, Browns 23 – December 15, 2002 (Cleveland Browns Stadium)
Three years later, almost to the day, the Colts once again found themselves down nine points, in the fourth quarter and on the road against the Browns. The temperature (38 degrees) and winds (10-20 mph) were a bit more forgiving, but the afternoon was harrowing.
The Colts were down, 16-0, at halftime but out-scored the Browns, 28-7, in the second half to give head coach Tony Dungy's squad the victory.
Harrison's nine catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns (25 and three yards) paced the Colts, with running back James Mungro chipping in the other two scores (29 and three yards) for a 28-23 win. Mungro's 29-yard scoring run on a delayed draw play came on the first possession of the second half, and it happened on a fourth-and-three situation with a 16-point deficit. Cleveland eventually built the lead back to 23-14 before Indianapolis scored the final 14 points.
It was the defense that sealed the victory, however. Cleveland's final possession with 2:52 left started at the Indianapolis 48-yard line. Cleveland moved inside the 10 in the final seconds, and the Colts forced two incompletions from the five-yard line to take possession with 31 seconds remaining.
The victory proved to be vital for the Colts. Indianapolis was 8-5 entering the game, and it would go on to a 10-6 mark and a playoff appearance in Dungy's inaugural season.
Colts 9, Browns 6 – September 7, 2003 (Cleveland Browns Stadium)
The opening game of the 2003 season proved to be a kicker's dream as Vanderjagt booted three field goals, including a 45-yard game-winner with only one second remaining, for a 9-6 victory at Cleveland.
From their own eight-yard line, Manning and the Colts went on an 11-play, 65-yard drive with 2:39 left to give the Colts their fifth straight win on opening day.
A pair of Nick Harper interceptions paced the defense, which limited the Browns to two field goals on drives when they had reached first-and-goal opportunities at the Colts' one- and three-yard lines in the first and fourth quarters, respectively.
The win was a springboard for 5-0 start to the season for the Colts. Indianapolis posted a 12-4 mark and advanced to the AFC Championship game in Dungy's second season.
Colts 13, Browns 6 – September 25, 2005 (RCA Dome)
The lone home game during the five-game winning streak versus the Browns proved to be a record-setting day for the Colts.
Manning was 19-of-23 for 228 yards, pushing him past the 30,000-yard passing mark in just his 115th game. Harrison's 53 reception yards moved his career total from Manning to 9,568, placing them first among quarterback-receiver combinations in NFL history.
The defense continued its stellar play to start the 2005 campaign allowing only six points after giving up just seven and three points respectively in its first two victories.
Defensive end Dwight Freeney had three sacks against the Browns and helped a defense that gave up only 29 points in the first five games of the 2005 season. Cleveland executed its game plan of ball and clock control almost to perfection. Cleveland maintained possession for 31:38 and limited Indianapolis to eight possessions. The Browns had one possession after cutting the margin to 13-6 but had to punt. Indianapolis drained the final 7:40 off the clock to earn the win.
Indianapolis became only the 6th post World War II-era team to open the season by holding three consecutive opponents in single digits. Indianapolis opened 3-0 under Dungy for the second time in four seasons, and it would win 13 games to start the season.
Colts 10, Browns 6 – November 30, 2008 (Cleveland Browns Stadium)
Finishing off a perfect 5-0 month of November, the defense once again made a statement in this series.
A Freeney sack forced a fumble, which defensive end Robert Mathis returned 37 yards with 9:37 remaining for the only touchdown on the day. Mathis also chipped in a pair of his own sacks, and the win marked the first time since 2003 the Colts won a game without scoring an offensive touchdown.
Cleveland earned 3-0 and 6-3 leads on Phil Dawson field goals. The Browns stopped the Colts at the Cleveland one-yard line late in the second quarter, then picked off Manning to end the half. Manning was intercepted again in the third quarter and the teams traded missed field goals before the fumble return.
The victory was one of nine in a row for the Colts to end the regular season, and the four-point win marked the fifth consecutive game Indianapolis had won by fewer than six points. The winning streak started after the club opened 3-4.
Colts head coach Jim Caldwell has been a part of the Indianapolis staff for all but one of those five victories over the Browns, and he expects another 60-minute battle on Sunday.
"It's just one of those situations where they've played us very well, played us tough," Caldwell said. "They've kept us from getting points on the board, and it's always been just a hard-fought game for whatever reason. (These are) two teams that are certainly looking forward to a win, fighting and scratching for every inch they can get."