1. At Pittsburgh Steelers 1995 playoffs Steelers 20 Colts 16
What hurts the worst? Why do I still think about this game once or twice a month? Is it Coryatt dropping the INT that would have won the game? Is it the Steelers 4th down conversion? Was it the ball dribbling off of Aaron Bailey’s chest? Was it the fact that I really thought we’d won? Was it Kordell Stewart running 3 yards out of bounds to catch a key touchdown right in front of an official? I don’t know, but this one hurt bad. I’ll never get over it because unlike the 2006 game, there was no redemption. The 1996 Colts the next season had a chance to be great until injuries ruined them. Sigh. I’m sick just typing this.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers 2005 Playoffs Steelers 21 Colts 18
Only the Super Bowl win this season makes this game less than the most painful football experience of my life. The offensive line didn’t show up and Manning got killed for five sacks. Fortunately, he was clutch and seemed poised to drag the team back into the game by sheer will. The rest is sickening history. Harper gimping his way into a tackle by Rothlesberger. Vanderjagt proving that he is the world’s greatest choke job by shanking another big kick. After the game, I thought, “At least they won’t blame this one on Peyton. He’s the only one who showed up to play today besides Freeney”. I was wrong. The press inexplicably blamed the whole thing on him, once again showing that the modern press is insane.
3. At New England Patriots 2004 Patriots 27 Colts 24
This game was far worse than the ensuing playoff loss later that season. Had the Colts won this season opener, they playoff game against the Pats would have been in the dome. Instead, the team conspired to keep Manning from getting a key win over the Pats. Edge fumbled on the goal line late in the fourth to keep the team from pulling ahead. On a key third down with seconds to go, Dallas Clark refused to stay in and block, leaving the end uncovered for an easy sack of Peyton. The sack pushed the Colts back 7 yards and lead to yet another last second choke job by Vanderjagt. Manning took the heat for the loss, but it seemed to be everyone’s fault but his.
4. Super Bowl XLIV 20 2009 playoffs Saints 31 Colts 17
For a long time, this game didn’t break the top five for me, but the further we get away from it, the more it stings. There were at least five crucial moments that the Colts could have won the game, but everything that could go wrong did. First, with Indy leading 10-3 Garcon dropped a third down pass. By the time Manning threw his next pass, the third quarter was half gone and the Colts trailed 13-10. Then Caldwell wimped out, calling three runs to end the half. Then Hank Baskett muffed the onside kick. Then Caldwell had Stover try a 51 yard field goal. Then Wayne slips on the pick six. It wasn’t the worst loss ever, but it’s climbing the charts.
5. At New England Patriots 2003 playoffs Patriots 24 Colts 14
An ugly game all around that saw Manning press and throw 4 picks, three to Ty Law. Marvin Harrison also had a crucial fumble. The Colts receivers were harassed all game by the questionable tactics of the New England secondary. Tight End Marcus Pollard was famously mugged late in the game making a comeback impossible. It was one of the darkest days in franchise history.
6. Miami Dolphins 1999 Dolphins 34 Colts 31
In what should have been Manning’s coming out party, the officials stole this game from the Colts. Indy led 31-27 late, but Marino had the ball and was driving. He was sacked by Chad Bratzke and fumbled. Indy recovered and the game appeared over. The play was reviewed however, and despite visual evidence that Marino did in fact fumble (and the play was called a fumble on the field), the play was inexplicably overturned and Miami was awarded the football after an incomplete pass. The official would later claim not to have received the same angle the fans in the dome saw. Miami finished off the late touchdown drive as Marino repeatedly abused David Macklin.
7. At Buffalo Bills 1996 Bills 16 Colts 13 (OT)
This game may have cost the Colts a Super Bowl. Indy marched in at 4-0 and riding high after a tough Monday Night win over the Dolphins. In one of the most physically brutal games in years the Colts suffered one injury after another. After being down 10-0 in the second half, Harbaugh led the team on a clutch drive late in regulation to take the lead, but Kelley and the Bills drove back to force OT, and the Bills prevailed in the extra session. During that game the Colts suffered 12 injuries and lost 9 starters. The Colts did win the next week, but the season that started so promisingly went south soon after. The team limped into the playoffs, but never really recovered from this game.
8. New England Patriots 2003 Patriots 38 Colts 34
What can you say about this heartbreaker? The true hero for the Patriots was Bethel Johnson who ran a kickoff back 92 yards for a score just before halftime. The Colts proceeded to rally from a 21 point deficit to tie the game at 31. Johnson answered by returning the ensuing kickoff back 67 yards to give the Patriots a short field. Brady hit Deon Branch to put the Pats up 38-31. The Colts answered back with a field goal and a quick stop of the New England offense. Manning led the Colts down the field efficiently, utilizing the no-huddle to keep the Pats off-balance. The Patriots D was completely gassed and Edgerrin James was gaining yardage in chunks. He banged his way down to the one yard line. Patriots Linebacker Willie McGinest made the play of the year by going down with a hilariously fake injury, forcing the officials to stop the clock and the Colts momentum. The crowd knew it was fake, the refs knew it was fake, and the Colts knew it was fake. Later on McGinest would laugh coyly about the play, further fueling our rage. To this day if you want to anger a Colts fan mention this “injury”. On fourth down, with 14 seconds left, there was McGinest back like Lazarus to catch Edgerrin James in the backfield and preserve the win for New England.
The Colts 2007 playoff win over New England eerily mirrored this game with the clutch kickoff returns, the large deficit, and the gassed Patriot D down the stretch. People in the stands were actually talking about how similar it was during the course of the game, and Tony Dungy would later point to the similarities. Fittingly the game ended with the same 38 – 34 score. This time the Colts were able to ram home the rushing touchdown that had eluded them in the past.
9. At Miami Dolphins 2001 playoffs Dolphins 23 Colts 17 (OT)
Vanderjagt Chokes, Part one. The Colts jumped off to a lead that could have been even bigger, but Jerome Pathon dropped a TD pass. The defense weakened late in the game and allowed a tying score late. In OT, Manning led the team down field and faced a 3rd and 12 from the 42. He hit Harrison for 11 yards, setting up a 49 yard field goal. There was a 5 yard penalty on the play, but Jim Mora turned it down, and settled on Vandy trying to win it. He missed that FG by about 100 yards, shanking it badly to the right. The Dolphins got the ball back and rammed it down Indy’s throats for a TD.
10. Tennessee Titans 2000 playoffs Titans 19 Colts 16
The first ever playoff game in the dome ended miserably, as a more experienced Titans team won. The Colts gave up a long touch down run to Eddie George, had a potential game swinging 87 yard punt return called back, and had to deal with about 10,000 screaming Titans fans in the end zone. Colts receiver E.G. Green was carried off the field with a broken leg after a clutch 33 yard reception. This delayed the game about 15 minutes and brought the Colts offensive momentum to a halt, forcing them to settle for the second of three field goals. The Colts lone touchdown was a Manning keeper with less than two minutes to play. It was a miserable day.
11. At San Diego Chargers 2009 playoffs Chargers 23 Colts 17 (OT)
Robo-punter Mike Scifres played the greatest game in punting history, repeatedly pinning the Colts inside the twenty yard line, and ending their season. Despite no turnovers on offense, the Colts struggled to move the ball after starting 9 drives inside the 21 yard line. Still, Indy had a chance to win if they could have converted a 3rd and 2 with time running out. Gijon Robinson forgot the snap count, and allowed his man through unblocked to sack Peyton Manning, and allow the Chargers a game tying drive. In overtime, the Chargers were aided by a questionable pass interference call on third down and recovered Antonio Gates’ fumble on the way to a first drive TD.
12. New York Jets 2010 playoffs Jets 17 Colts 16
The 2010 season was a painful one, but the ending especially stung. The Colts scored on all three second half possessions, but could not stop the Jets. Manning led the Colts into field goal range with less than a minute to play, and Adam Vinateri nailed a 50 yard field goal to give the Colts the lead. The special teams couldn’t hold back Antonio Cromartie inside the 40 yard line however, setting up a last second drive for the Jets. Bethea actually forced a fumble on the final possession that bounced straight back the Jets. After a controversial timeout by Jim Caldwell, Mark Sanchez hit Braylon Edwards for a nice gain allowing Nick Folk to hit a chip-shot field goal to bounce the Colts from the playoffs.
13. At San Diego Chargers 2008 Chargers 23 Colts 21
In possibly Peyton Manning’s worst game, the Colts roared back from a 23 point deficit to stare victory in the face. With an injury riddled offensive line and receiving corps, Manning drove the Colts toward a game winning field goal with time running out. First, the Colts had a key first down overturned on review by inches (after the refs had already moved the chains, rendering a re-measurement dubious). Then Vinatieri pushed the go ahead 29 yard field goal wide, leading to one of the most painful regular season losses in Colts history. To make matters worse, the Colts lost Dwight Freeney for the season with a foot injury, thus sealing their fate.
14. At New Orleans Saints 1989 Saints 41 Colts 6
Needing just one more win to make the playoffs, the Colts marched into New Orleans and stunk. They were destroyed by home town hero John Forcade (whose fans were known as Forcade’s Brigade). The game was a route from the start and was never close. The Colts would end up trading up in the 1990 draft and selected Jeff George. They wouldn’t reach the playoffs for another 6 seasons.
15. New England Patriots 2007 Patriots 24 Colts 20
The Clash of the Titans proved to be a brilliant, but painful game for Colts fans. Despite starting the day down five starters, Indy had a 10 point lead with 10 minutes to play. First, Bethea dropped an easy interception of Tom Brady that would have all but sealed the game for the Colts. Instead, the Patriots ripped through the defense for two fourth quarter touchdowns. The Colts offense was done in by injuries during the game to Clark and Gonzalez, as well as to the offensive line. The Colts final two drives ended with sacks as Charlie Johnson completely imploded.
16. San Diego Chargers 2008 playoffs Chargers 28 Colts 24
One of Manning’s finest games ended in defeat as the team collapsed around him. Indy was rolling toward a second straight score to start the game when Marvin Harrison’s fumble allowed the Chargers back in it. Despite over 400 yards and three scores from Manning, two tipped ball picks that hit receivers in the hands kept it close for the Chargers. Finally, an inexcusable facemask penalty on Marlin Jackson on third down set up the go ahead score for the Chargers in the fourth quarter. The game ended as a pretty fourth down pass bounced off of Dallas Clark’s hands.
17. At Cleveland Browns playoffs 1988 Browns 38 Colts 21
The first Indianapolis playoff game ended in defeat as the Browns dominated the Colts. The Colts kept it tied at half time, but the Browns would literally run over the Colts D line for 17 straight points to take a commanding lead. The Colts offense couldn’t get the running game working all day, as Dickerson only gained 50 yards rushing (65 more receiving) in his only playoff game in Indianapolis.
18. New England Patriots 1992 Patriots 37 Colts 34 OT
The 1992 Colts may have been one of the luckiest teams of all time, but this loss kept them out of the playoffs. An overtime loss to the 0-9 Patriots was bad enough, but considering that they the blew a 10 point 4th quarter lead (thanks in part to Jeff George’s SECOND pick six of the game), this one really hurt. The Pats hit a last second field goal to tie the game, and then George’s THIRD interception set up the game winning field goal for the Patriots in overtime.
At Pittsburgh Steelers 1997 playoffs Steelers 42 Colts 14
This game saw Indianapolis take the lead on a Eugene Daniel pick 6 just before the half. What no one in the stands (including Demond and Deshawn) knew was that quarterback Jim Harbaugh had had his jaw broken and was having to spit blood between plays. The Steelers went on a bruising drive to start the second half, and ran more than 10 minutes off the clock. The Colts fumbled the ball in their only possession of the third quarter, and though they were only down 7 points with 15 minutes to go, the Steelers soon pounded in for a two score lead. The Steelers then poured on the points in the final period resulting in a final score that was more lopsided than the actual game.
At New England Patriots playoffs 2005 Patriots 20 Colts 3
The Colts offense couldn’t move the ball as Edgerrin James amassed only 39 yards rushing on 14 carries, and Dom Rhodes and Reggie Wayne both fumbled. Colts fans knew they were in for a long day as the telecast started, and snow was falling in New England. The key play of the game was early in the 3rd quarter when Dungy had the Colts punt on 4th and 1 from the Patriots 49 down just three points. The Patriots rewarded his cowardice with an 8 minute touchdown drive to make the score 13-3 and effectively end the game.
Jacksonville Jaguars 2008 Jaguars 23 Colts 21
This game hurts because it was it was my last game in Indianapolis before leaving for Argentina for three years. The Colts dominated play, but collapsed thanks in part to two Peyton Manning picks. On both throws, there was obvious pass interference, but both calls were missed. Still Manning lead the Colts on a beautiful touch down drive to grab the lead with under two minutes to play. The Jags rallied and won on a 51 yard field goal at the gun, aided by a dubious pass interference call on fourth down after it appeared the Horse had won.
New York Jets 2009 Jets 29 Colts 15
The Colts had run their record to 14-0, but Polian and Caldwell decided to only play the starters for just more than 2 quarters. With the Colts leading 15-10, Manning was pulled and Curtis Painter came in the game. On his second drive, he fumbled, and the Jets recovered in the endzone, and the perfect season was effectively over. Many fans still haven’t forgiven the team for turning their back on 16-0.
At Jacksonville Jaguars 2010 Jaguars 31 Colts 28
A replay of the 2008 game, two fluky turnovers in the redzone staked the Jags to a lead, but Manning led the Colts back in the final minute to tie the game. Two consecutive blown coverages by the defense (and a dropped Kelvin Hayden interception) led to a 59 yard Josh Scobee field goal to win the game.
At Philadelphia Eagles 2010 Eagles 26 Colts 24
The Austin Collie Game. The Eagles jumped to an early lead, but the Colts roared back after the Eagles danced around Collie’s unconscious body. A last ditch drive by the Colts ended in an interception
At New England Patriots 2010 Patriots 31 Colts 28
The juggernaut Patriots again held a 17 point lead on the Colts, but almost blew it. Manning led two touchdown drives to get the Colts within three. With 2:25 to play Indy took over at their own 26. Manning moved them as far as the Patriots 24 with :37 left, but threw his third interception of the game down near the goal line to kill the comeback attempt. It was an especially painful loss considering the history of the two teams.
Dallas Cowboys 2010 Cowboys 38 Colts 35 OT
The Colts trailed big early, then stormed back thanks to a blocked punt in the fourth quarter. Leading 28-27, the Colts managed a huge fourth down stop to force a Cowboys field goal with minutes to play. A leaping penalty gave the Cowboys new life, however, and they scored a touchdown and two point conversion to go up 7. Manning responded with a clutch touchdown drive to tie the game at 35. In overtime, the Colts won the toss, but their first drive ended on a dropped first down pass to Wayne. On the second drive, Manning threw an interception just outside of field goal range and the Cowboys won.