Monday, December 30, 2013

Kansas City vs. Indianapolis in the Postseason

The Chiefs and Colts both finished 11-5 and will play on Saturday afternoon to open the wild card round of the NFL playoffs.

It will be the fourth playoff meeting between them and as you may have expected, those were the only KC-Indy matchups in any of the Big Four postseasons. There hasn't been an Indianapolis opponent for baseball's Royals. The NBA's Kings and Pacers spent all but three seasons in separate conferences with no Finals pairing. On the ice, two short-lived 1970s hockey teams played in different leagues (the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA and the NHL's Kansas City Scouts, who later became the New Jersey Devils after a brief stay in Colorado).

The Chiefs are trying to snap a postseason losing streak that has reached seven games, an NFL record. The Lions also have an active seven-game losing streak in the playoffs, dating back to the 1991 season. Kansas City last won a playoff game on January 16, 1994, so long ago that it was in the Astrodome against the Houston Oilers with Joe Montana at quarterback. 

Three of the seven losses have been to Indianapolis. Let's take a closer look at each Colts-Chiefs playoff contest.

1995 Divisional Round

Marty Schottenheimer's Chiefs were a perfect 8-0 at home, although six of the wins came by seven points or fewer. Nevertheless, Derrick Thomas and a fierce defense powered KC to a 13-3 mark that secured a bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The AFC was very crowded around .500 with three teams (including the Colts) at 9-7, three more at 8-8 and two at 7-9. Indianapolis was the fifth seed and despite missing injured running back Marshall Faulk, they scored a 35-20 Wild Card win at San Diego to advance to Kansas City. It was the franchise's first playoff victory since 1971, when the Colts still played in Baltimore.

Arrowhead Stadium has always been a tough place to play, but it might have been at its most challenging on January 7th, 1996. With a kickoff temperature of 11 degrees, a bitter wind-chill factor of minus-9, and a sellout crowd in support of an opponent that was four games better in the regular season, the Colts seemed to have little chance.

The Chiefs scored first as the opening quarter drew to a close. Steve Bono hit Lake Dawson with a 20-yard strike for a touchdown and 7-0 lead. But Indianapolis responded in a big way with an 18-play, 77-yard drive that ate up 8:40 thanks to five third-down conversions and one on fourth down. The Colts evened the score on Jim Harbaugh's 5-yard pass to Floyd Turner. Both teams missed an opportunity to take the lead before halftime. Cary Blanchard missed a 47-yard field goal in the final minute, which opened the door for Kansas City. However, Lin Elliot's 35-yard attempt clanged off the upright to keep it a 7-7 game.

One of Bono's three interceptions set up a chip-shot field goal from Blanchard that gave the visitors a surprising 10-7 third-quarter lead. Elliot had a chance to tie the game with just over 10 minutes left, but his 39-yard attempt was no good. Two more Bono picks led to his being benched in favor of Rich Gannon. On the final drive, he moved the Kansas City offense to the 25-yard line with 42 seconds left, setting up one more try for Elliot from 42 yards out. He missed wide left for an 0-for-3 day and the Colts pulled off the shocking 10-7 upset.

Video: 1995 Colts ( videos don't allow embedding)

It was nothing but disappointment and what-ifs for Kansas City, but for the upstart Colts it was on to the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh. The Steelers led 20-16 in the final moments, but Jim Harbaugh had one more trick up his sleeve. He drove Indy to the 29-yard line setting up one play that would decide the conference title.

Phil Simms and Dick Enberg briefly thought Aaron Bailey caught it, but alas, one of football's best Cinderella runs ended on one of the most exciting near-misses in sports history.

2003 Divisional Round

The 1995 game was a 10-7 defensive struggle, but this one was a 38-31 shootout in which there was not a single punt in the entire game.

The 12-4 Colts, led by Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne obliterated the Broncos 41-10 in the opening round to set up the game at Arrowhead. The Chiefs rode Priest Holmes, Trent Green, Tony Gonzalez and the rest of the league's highest-scoring offense to a 9-0 start on their way to a 13-3 mark.

The game lived up to its billing as the first five possessions resulted in points. Manning was superhuman, with three touchdown drives of 70+ yards. Meanwhile Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil settled for two short field goal tries, one made and one missed by Morten Anderson, making it 21-10 Indianapolis at intermission.

Holmes opened up the second half with a 48-yard run deep into Colts territory, but David Macklin stripped the ball and Indy took over before turning the miscue into three points. With the game slipping away at 24-10, Holmes powered a Kansas City touchdown drive. But it took only seven plays for Manning to respond, the last a 19-yard score to Reggie Wayne that made it a two-score game again. The Chiefs weren't dead yet, as Dante Hall did this on the ensuing kickoff:

That gave the Chiefs new life, but Manning was relentless. A methodical 10-play, 81-yard drive culminated with a 1-yard TD plunge by James that pushed the lead to 38-24. Green cut the lead in half again with a 17-play drive, but it required nearly seven minutes. With only 4:16 to play, the pourous Chiefs defense had little margin for error. James picked up a couple of first downs to grind the clock and the Colts earned an exciting 38-31 victory.

The Colts were riding high after two dominant offensive performances, but they ran into one of the NFL's all-time great teams in the AFC title game. Ty Law intercepted Manning three times as the Patriots won 24-14 on their way to the Super Bowl. It was the 14th consecutive win for New England during their astounding and record-setting 21-game undefeated run.

2006 Wild Card Round

Another year, another 12-4 record for Tony Dungy, Peyton Manning and the Colts. It was the fourth of seven consecutive seasons with at least 12 victories, but 2006 would be the sweetest for Indianapolis.

As the third seed in the AFC, they drew the 9-7 Chiefs, who snuck into the playoffs in Week 17 with win and losses by the Titans, Bengals and Broncos. The first two games featured on our list were in Kansas City, but this one would be in the comfortable confines of the RCA Dome.

It was a slow start for the Colts, who could only muster field goals on their two first quarter drives. KC's offense did nothing, but they caught a break when Ty Law, now a Chief, picked off Manning and ran it back to the 9. But Lawrence Tynes missed a 23-yard field goal and the shutout continued. (Would he ever make a clutch kick in his life?)

Manning would throw another pick, this one inside the 5-yard line, to squander a scoring chance. But he'd make up for it by completing three passes to set up Adam Vinatieri's 50-yard field goal that ended the first half and gave Indy a 9-0 lead. Law would intercept Manning again in the third quarter, but the Chiefs offense went three-and-out once again before giving it back to Peyton for a 12-play, 89-yard touchdown drive.

With 2:38 remaining in the third quarter and trailing 16-0, Kansas City picked up its first first down of the afternoon. Their eighth drive of the game was a successful one, as a Trent Green-to-Tony Gonzalez TD and subsequent two-point conversion cut it to a one-score game. The hopes would be short-lived. Manning opened the fourth quarter with another touchdown march that put the game away.

The Colts only won 23-8, but in yardage they outgained Kansas City 435-126. It was only the sixth playoff game since at least 1940 to have one team gain 300 more yards than their opponent. Average margin of victory of the first five games: 38.6

Rk Tm Year Date Time LTime Opp W# G# Day Result OT Rush Pass Tot TO
1 SDG 1963 1964-01-05 BOS 15 15 Sun W 51-10 243 106 349 1
2 DAL 1975 1976-01-04 4:00 1:00 @ RAM 16 16 Sun W 37-7 173 150 323 2
3 PIT 1976 1976-12-19 2:00 1:00 @ BAL 15 15 Sun W 40-14 154 202 356 1
4 JAX 1999 2000-01-15 12:30 12:30 MIA 0 17 Sat W 62-7 236 153 389 5
5 NYG 2000 2001-01-14 12:30 12:30 MIN 0 18 Sun W 41-0 84 320 404 3
6 IND 2006 2007-01-06 4:30 4:30 KAN 0 17 Sat W 23-8 144 165 309 0
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/10/2013.

After a road win in the divisional round over Baltimore, the Colts returned home to face their old nemesis, Tom Brady and the Patriots. New England raced out to a 21 -3 lead, but Manning quickly tied the game before the two legendary quarterbacks traded scores in a duel for the ages. Manning put the Colts ahead in the final minute and Brady pushed the Patriots to midfield before getting picked off. The Colts finally slayed the Pats and advanced to the Super Bowl. It was a bit anticlimactic in rainy Miami as Indy beat the Bears 29-17, but Manning and the Colts finally earned that ring.

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