Many columnists much more eloquent than I have commented on this game, but I'm going to put my two cents into the pot. I expected a Pats' win. After the first half, I never expected the Colts to come back and turn this AFC championship game into the best championship game since the Giants beat the 49ers in 1990. The emotion in that Giants-49ers game was easy to see as the glam of the 49ers went up against Parcells' rough and tough Giants. The game went above a rivalry, and a conference game. This very game between the Colts and Pats equaled that game if not exceeded it because of the extra baggage that Dungy and Manning carried with them into this game.
Timed perfectly with my neighbors yelling and stomping on the floor, Asante Samuel returned an INT that made me say "Game Over". The Pats' running game looked like they could run all voer the Colts' D, and it just felt like another Pats beatdown of the Colts in the playoffs. Even the final drive of the first half had me scratching my head and thinking that it was Manning finally looking good when the game was lost. Little did I know that it was the start to the biggest comeback in conference championship history. That drive gave the Colts confidence, but it also established a flow for their offense. The idea of Belicheck scheming and stopping Manning one more time had been bent by that drive.
Critical to that final drive, the first drive of the second half put 7 more on the board and brought the crowd back into the game. Something that had to weigh on the Patriots' minds was the fact that the defensive line was not rotating in fresh legs in years past, Indy kept picking up the blitzing linebackers that kept slowing down, and the defense had been on the field for a long time. A staple on the Belicheck Patriots has been their ability to answer teams when they score a quick TD or get the game closer. This offense did not do that. The 3 and out was cruical tot he Colts success. The defense rose to the challenge in the 2nd half, and that 3 and out boosted their odds of winning tremendously. Suddenly, the Pats defense was back on the field after back to back long drives by the Colts. The Pats had run barely any time off the clock. It was a one TD game, and the Colts offense was on fire. That stop was huge, and lost in the spotlight on Peyton's 2 minute drill to win the game was that critical stop.
As far as the Colts, fans have to start looking at this playoff run and think to some playoff runs of recent history with the weird things that have happened to help them along the way. The Chiefs shanked a 19 yard FG, Vinatieri bounces a 50 yarder off fo the crossbar for a huge FG ont he road, the entire 2nd half of the Pats/Colts game. Maybe it is their year? A great match up awaits the team with the Bears. The Bears run the football and play outstanding defense (not as well the 2nd half of the year). Can the Bears make up for missing Tommie Harris and Mike Brown? Can the good Rex Grossman show up?
The Bears are effective at creating turnovers, but without a great pass rush, which has been suspect since Tommie Harris' injury, the Cover 2 they run can be picked apart by QBs who read defenses well. They need those turnovers so Rex Grossman can work with a short field, and the Bears can chew up clock and yards with the ground game if they are already in FG range. The Steelers and Pats both one SBs with young QBs who had limited responsibilites. On the other hand, if they turn the ball over, Rex Grossman playing from behind and having to throw the ball non-stop is a scary idea. The Bears can win this game. I just do not think they will. One thing that I think favors the Colts is that their banged up bodies will get a ton of help from the 2 week layoff. Not having a bye this year, the Colts have had that undersized defense on the field for 19 weeks. The nicks and scrapes they have will get some time to heal. The Colts will need that defense to come up with just enough of an effort to let Peyton and company do their thing. It will be a fun match up, and the nice part of my soul wants to see Dungy and Manning win a ring. The evil side wants to see the Bears pick Manning off 4 times and set off a rebirth of "Da Bears" skits on SNL.