Friday, January 16, 2015

Indianapolis vs. Boston in the Postseason

The Patriots came back from 14 points down twice to beat the Ravens on Saturday. The Colts knocked off their former franchise quarterback Peyton Manning as the Broncos looked awful in a divisional round upset. It's New England against Indianapolis in what will be the fourth consecutive AFC Championship Game for the Patriots. They are the seventh team to do this in the Super Bowl era:

1967 Raiders W vs HOU 40-7
1968 Raiders L at NYJ 27-23
1969 Raiders L vs KC 17-7
1970 Raiders L at BAL 27-17
1970 Cowboys W at SF 17-10
1971 Cowboys W vs SF 14-3
1972 Cowboys L at WAS 26-3
1973 Cowboys L vs MIN 27-10
1973 Raiders L at MIA 27-10
1974 Raiders L vs PIT 24-13
1975 Raiders L at PIT 16-10
1976 Raiders W vs PIT 24-7
1977 Raiders L at DEN 20-17
1990 Bills W vs RAI 51-3
1991 Bills W vs DEN 10-7
1992 Bills W at MIA 29-10
1993 Bills W vs KC 30-13
1992 Cowboys W at SF 30-20
1993 Cowboys W vs SF 38-21
1994 Cowboys L at SF 38-28
1995 Cowboys W vs GB 38-27
2001 Eagles L at STL 29-24
2002 Eagles L vs TB 27-10
2003 Eagles L vs CAR 14-3
2004 Eagles W vs ATL 27-10
2011 Patriots W vs BAL 23-20
2012 Patriots L vs BAL 28-13
2013 Patriots L at DEN 26-16
2014 Patriots vs IND Sunday

It is also a rematch of last year's blowout in Foxborough, so I've added it to the list of NFL playoff rematches.

I wrote about all of the previous Boston-Indy playoff meetings last year prior to the divisional round. This time I'll revisit last January's Pats-Colts playoff game, then add all that good stuff from last year.

2013 Divisional

The 11-5 Colts trailed 38-10 in the second half, but came back for a thrilling 45-44 wild card win over the Chiefs to earn a trip to Gillette Stadium to face the 12-4 Patriots.

On the third play of the game, Alfonzo Dennard picked off Andrew Luck and ran it back to the Indy 2-yard line, leading to a LeGarrette Blount touchdown (0:13 mark of these highlights, other significant plays will be timestamped as well). After a three-and-out by the Colts, New England went on a 10-play, 74-yard march capped by another 2-yard score by Blount and it was quickly 14-0 (0:46).

Luck answered with a 38-yard strike to LaVon Brazill and the Colts were still hanging in after the first at 14-7 (1:01). In the second quarter, a Tom Brady-to-Julian Edelman 27-yarder led to a third 2-yard Blount touchdown and a 21-7 lead (1:26).

After an Adam Vinatieri field goal, the Colts added a safety when a bad snap went over New England punter Ryan Allen's head (1:54). Luck couldn't capitalize on the free kick, however, because Stanley Havili dropped a pass into the hands of Dont'a Hightower for an interception (2:28).

Only down nine at the half, Indy cut the lead to six with another field goal, but Brady hit Danny Amendola for 53 yards on the first play of the next possession (2:53). After a pass interference call put the Pats near the goal line, Stevan Ridley ran it in from three yards out and added a two-point conversion to make it 29-15 (3:32).

Just like the week before, Luck's big play offense got them back in it in no time, needing only a 46-yard pass to T.Y. Hilton and a 35-yard TD to Brazill to cut the lead in half late in the third (3:43).

Indy hung around for three quarters, but the Patriots finally broke it open in the fourth. Less than two minutes into the period, Blount ran for his fourth score of the game, a 73-yarder that pushed the margin back to 14.

On the first play after the TD, Luck was picked off by Jamie Collins (5:30). Ridley ran it in five plays later and the 43-22 score held until the end of the game.

The Patriots advanced to Denver, but lost the AFC Championship Game to the Broncos 26-16.

Now let's take a look at the recaps of the other games from last year:

2003 AFC Championship Game

The high-octane Colts put up a lot of points in 2003, and they opened the postseason with a 41-10 wild card win over the Broncos before beating the Chiefs 38-31 in a game in which neither team punted. But the best team in football was the Patriots. After starting 2-2, New England ran off 12 straight wins to secure home-field advantage. They beat the Titans on a freezing Saturday night in the divisional round to set up the first Brady vs. Manning playoff game.

The Patriots opened the contest with a 13-play drive that ended with this touchdown pass from Tom Brady to David Givens.

Manning answered with a drive to the New England 5, but his pass on 3rd and 3 was intercepted by Rodney Harrison.

Brady then started another 13-play march that resulted in an Adam Vinatieri field goal. On the next play from scrimmage, Manning was picked off again, this time by Ty Law. After another long possession the Pats kicked another field goal for a 13-0 lead.

The day got longer for Indy when the snap on a punt went over Hunter Smith's head and turned into a safety. Marvin Harrison fumbled on the next Colts drive, making it four giveaways to end four first-half series for the visitors.

Edgerrin James delivered an Indianapolis touchdown on the first drive of the second half, but it took Brady only two plays to get in range for another field goal and it was 18-7 Patriots. Later down 21-7, Manning threw two more interceptions to Ty Law and although the Colts reached the end zone in the fourth quarter it wasn't enough. New England won 24-14 to earn a trip to the Super Bowl, where they'd beat the Panthers 32-29. The win over Indy was the 14th of a record 21 consecutive wins.

2004 Divisional Round

A year later the two teams met again, this time a little earlier in the divisional round. The Patriots again went 14-2 to earn a bye and home-field against the Colts. In icy conditions, both offenses struggled. New England gained 148 yards and could only muster two field goals on the first six drives of the game. Indy was worse, picking up 73 total yards before Manning's two-minute drill led to a field goal to end the first half.

The Patriots took control in the third quarter with a 15-play 87-yard drive that ate up more than eight minutes of clock and ended with Brady's 5-yard pass to Givens. The Colts punted the ball back after just five plays, then Brady led a 94-yard scoring drive, running it in himself for a 20-3 lead. Those two possessions alone took up more than a quarter's worth of time. The Pats won by that 20-3 score and would go on to win another Super Bowl, beating the Eagles 24-21.

2006 AFC Championship Game

In 2006, the two titans of the AFC went 12-4 but were not the teams to beat. The Ravens were 13-3 and the Chargers were 14-2, relegating the Pats and Colts to the opening round. They both won those before pulling out road wins in the divisional games, New England at San Diego 24-21 and Indy at Baltimore 15-6. Meeting in another AFC title game, the scene would be different this time. The higher-seeded Colts would be the host team in Indianapolis.

The Patriots scored first just as they did in the first two games, but this one was much stranger. A fumbled hand-off trickled into the end zone, only to be recovered by offensive lineman Logan Mankins for a touchdown.

After the Colts settled for a field goal, Brady converted a 4th and 6 in Indy territory to set up another TD. Two plays after that, Manning threw a pick-six to Asante Samuel for a 21-3 New England lead. The Colts bounced back with a 15-play field goal drive to end the first half.

Indianapolis had the ball after the intermission and scored on Manning's 1-yard plunge. After the Pats went three-and-out, Manning led another TD drive and converted a two-pointer that tied the game.

Ellis Hobbs took the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to set up a Brady touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney and the visitors had the lead again during this classic duel.

Four plays into the fourth quarter, disaster loomed for the Colts. Dominic Rhodes fumbled going into the end zone, but just as the Patriots had some luck earlier in the game, Colts O-lineman Jeff Saturday was there to fall on it and tie the game again. The two sides traded punts, then field goals to make it 31-31 with five minutes to play.

Another big return by Hobbs led to a Stephen Gostkowski field goal that pushed New England ahead once more. The Colts went three-and-out and things looked grim with the Pats near midfield at the 2:30 mark. Bob Sanders made a critical stop on third down to get the ball back in the hands of Manning.

Taking over at their own 20, Indianapolis used three big passes and a roughing the passer call to reach the 11-yard line. Two Joseph Addai runs made it 3rd and 2 at the 3-yard line.

The touchdown gave the Colts their first lead at 38-34 and Brady needed to go 79 yards in under a minute to get to another Super Bowl. He completed two passes to infiltrate Indianapolis territory and was at the 45 with 24 ticks remaining. But Marlin Jackson made an interception in the middle of the field to ice the game.

The Colts finally made it past the Patriots and two weeks later they beat the Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI.

Moving on to the hardwood, the Celtics and Pacers have met five times in the NBA postseason's first round, twice in the 1990s when it was best-of-five and three times in the 2000s after it became best-of-seven.

1991 First Round

In the waning days of their dynasty, the Celtics got a scare from a .500 Pacers squad. Larry Bird's 21-12-12 triple-double helped host Boston earn a Game One victory, but the Pacers evened the series with a road win in Game Two thanks to 39 points from Chuck Person. With the series now in Indianapolis, the Pacers squandered a chance to take control when they lost the third game. But with their backs to the wall, Indiana survived with a three-point win when Person scored 30 and Reggie Miller added 27 more to force a deciding game back in Boston.

The Celtics led by two with 4:30 left in the first half when Bird dove for a loose ball, smacked his head against the floor and left the game.

About halfway through the third quarter, Bird would return to an incredible ovation from the Boston Garden crowd.

He came back and made plays like this

And this

Boston led 112-96 in the fourth quarter, but a 22-8 Indiana run trimmed the lead to two. Person put up a three-pointer with 11 seconds left, but it was no good and the Celtics grabbed the rebound. A few free throws later, the final score was 124-121 and the Celtics survived. They fell in the next round to the Pistons in six games.

1992 First Round

They met in the 2-vs-7 series again the following spring and the Celtics had a much easier go of it this time. Despite missing an injured Larry Bird, 36 points from Reggie Lewis in the opener and John Bagley's 35 in Game Two had Boston poised to sweep. Lewis scored 32 in the finale to finish off the Pacers 3-0.

The East Semis against Cleveland were a back-and-forth fight. Bird missed the first three games, but came back for the rest of the series. Down 3-2 at home, Bird scored 16 with 14 assists to complement Lewis's 26 points in a rout that forced a Game Seven in Cleveland. That one was not close as the Cavaliers led by 14 after one quarter on their way to a 122-104 victory in Larry Bird's final NBA game.

2003 First Round

A decade would pass before the Pacers and Celtics met again in the playoffs. 2003 was the postseason that expanded the first round to best-of-seven.

Paul Pierce led Boston to a Game One win by going 21-for-21 at the free-throw line. That was a playoff record for most free throws without a miss until Dirk Nowitzki went 24-for-24 in 2011. Jermaine O'Neal's 23-point 20-rebound effort tied the series in Game Two, but the Celtics took the next two in Indiana to hold a 3-1 lead. The Pacers held them off for one game, but back in Boston it was a 110-90 Game Six romp that closed out the series. The Celtics were swept by the East champion Nets in the next round.

2004 First Round

At 61-21, the Pacers had the best record in the NBA while the Celtics sputtered in as the eighth seed at 36-46. The 25-game difference in the standings showed when Indiana swept away Boston in four games by an average of 17 points per game. The Pacers beat Miami in the next round before they were knocked off in the East Finals by the eventual champion Pistons, 4-2.

2005 First Round

The next year's playoff series was much tighter. With their season derailed by the Malice at the Palace and season-long suspension for Ron Artest, the Pacers sank to 44-38. They still reached the playoffs, but only as a six-seed against the Atlantic Division champion Celtics. It was a 3-vs-6 pairing, but Boston was only one game better than Indy in the standings.

The two sides split the first four games, with only Indiana's Game Two win in Boston coming by fewer than 20 points. The Pacers eked out a road victory in Game Five, but the Celtics answered with an overtime win two nights later to stay alive.

Game Seven was in Boston, but Indiana was unfazed. Stephen Jackson scored 24 points and Fred Jones added 16 off the bench to lead the Pacers to an easy 97-70 win. After the infamous brawl earlier in the season, their opponent in the next round would be the Pistons, of course. Detroit won in six games to advance to the East Finals and end the career of the retiring Reggie Miller.

It's worth mentioning one hockey series that didn't quite qualify for this list. The New England Whalers played in the World Hockey Association before merging into the NHL. The franchise started in Boston in the 1972-73 season, winning the first Avco Cup championship. The team moved to Hartford in 1975 and it was in their second season there that they played the Indianapolis Racers in the playoffs. New England won a seven-game quarterfinal series before losing in the next round. I don't count Hartford as a Boston team, so The Whale misses out here.

The Racers folded in the middle of the 1978-79 season, but not before the five-game professional debut of Mark Messier (nice trivia stumper). At the end of that season, the NHL absorbed four of the remaining six teams (Winnipeg Jets, New England Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, Winnipeg Jets). The Cincinnati Stingers and Birmingham Bulls went the way of the Spirits of St. Louis and were left out in the cold (without that sweet TV money).

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