When divisional realignment separated the Colts and Patriots in 2002, it pushed apart two of the NFL's top young quarterbacks — Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Indianapolis' move to the AFC South didn't end the rivalry, however, as the teams have played each other every regular season since 2003, as well as three times in the playoffs. The league and its television partners consider the rivalry a must-see event: Aside from a season opener in '04, the Patriots and Colts have always squared off in November, which is coincidentally sweeps month on TV.
The two quarterbacks came into the league in vastly different ways. Manning was the No. 1 pick in 1998 and immediately took over as the starter to rejuvenate the Colts' franchise. Brady, a sixth-round pick (No. 199 overall) in 2000, became the starter after Drew Bledsoe was injured in '01 and led a shocking worst-to-first turnaround. Manning may dominate Brady when it comes to Pro Bowl appearances, 10-5, but Brady has the lead where it matters — three Super Bowl rings to Manning's one. Brady won the first six head-to-head matchups in the rivalry; Manning has won five of the past six.
Both QBs are still at the top of their games, and as usual, there will be a lot at stake for the two teams in Week 11 as they look to remain among the AFC's top playoff contenders. Here's a look at the top five meetings between the two future Hall of Famers, as ranked by PFW:
1. Patriots 38, Colts 34 / Nov. 30, 2003 — Brady and Manning entered this game with identical 9-2 records, battling for the top seed in the AFC. The Patriots went up 17-0 early and then 31-10, but the Colts fought back with three unanswered touchdown tosses by Manning. A Brady-to-Deion Branch TD pass gave the Patriots the lead back. But in a shootout, it was a defensive play that decided things. The Colts drove to the Pats' two-yard line with less than a minute left. But they failed to score as the Patriots denied the Colts three times from the one, including a fourth-down plunge by Edgerrin James that was stuffed by DE Willie McGinest and DT Ted Washington.
2. Colts 38, Patriots 34 / Jan. 21, 2007 — Meeting in the AFC championship game for the second time, the two quarterbacks produced one of the more memorable playoff games in recent history. New England jumped out to a 21-3 second-quarter lead, but Manning led a ferocious second-half comeback, rushing for one TD and throwing for another. Still, trailing 34-31 with 2:17 to go, the Colts' QB had to drive his team 80 yards to set up Joseph Addai's go-ahead three-yard TD run with 1:00 remaining. Brady had one final chance, but Marlin Jackson's interception clinched Manning's first Super Bowl appearance.
3. Colts 35, Patriots 34 / Nov. 15, 2009 — Brady and Manning combined for 702 passing yards and seven touchdowns, but it was a one-yard grab by Kevin Faulk that defined the game. Up by six with two minutes remaining, the Patriots went for it on 4th-and-2 at their own 28 instead of punting, hoping to keep the ball out of Manning's hands. The pass to Faulk came up just short, and Manning responded swiftly, connecting with Reggie Wayne on a one-yard TD pass with 13 seconds left to give the Colts an improbable win.
4. Patriots 27, Colts 24 / Sept. 9, 2004 — Matched up in the '04 season opener for the NFL, Brady actually outperformed Manning, throwing for 335 yards and two TDs to Manning's 256 yards and two TDs. But it was the Patriots' defense that sealed the victory. In a game where it was gashed for 446 net yards, the Pats' "D" stood tall when it mattered most. Eugene Wilson forced James to fumble at the one-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Then, in the final minute, McGinest sacked Manning for a 12-yard loss on 3rd-and-8 from the Pats' 17, forcing Colts PK Mike Vanderjagt to attempt a 48-yard field goal, which he missed wide right, ending his streak of consecutive made field goals at 42.
5. Patriots 24, Colts 20 / Nov. 4, 2007 — The clash of the 8-0 Patriots and 7-0 Colts was one of the most-hyped regular-season games of all time, and the play on the field lived up to the pregame billing. The Patriots rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit, as Brady found Wes Welker and Faulk for TD passes in the final eight minutes. Manning had a chance to provide a sequel to his late-game heroics from the AFC title game earlier in the year, but Patriots DE Jarvis Green forced Manning to cough up the ball, which was recovered by OLB Rosevelt Colvin, keeping the Pats' perfect season alive.
Kevin Fishbain also contributed to this article.