The vast majority of games between the New England Patriots and Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos were played under one moniker: Brady vs. Manning. Overall, the two greatest quarterbacks of their generation met 17 times.
But those were not the only games between the Patriots and a team led by Manning. The two sides met once in 2008, a season Tom Brady missed because of injury, and six times before Brady became New England's starter in 2001. With Manning announcing his retirement today, let's take a trip down memory lane to the first of those six games.
Back in 1998, the divisional landscape of the NFL looked different, compared with today's. There were fewer teams and fewer divisions. As a consequence, the Indianapolis Colts played in the AFC East alongside the Patriots. 1998 was the year, the Colts under head coach Jim Mora drafted first overall and opted to go with one of the best quarterback prospects to enter the draft in a long time: Peyton Manning of Tennessee.
Manning was meant to lead the Colts from the depths of the NFL's pecking order to the heights of a championship. This journey would take eight years and it started with a 3-13 campaign in Manning's first year. After starting the season with a loss, the Colts would travel to a place, they would visit eight times during Manning's career in Indiana – Foxboro, Massachusetts – to take on the 0-1 Patriots.
The Patriots under head second-year coach Pete Carroll were coming off a playoff season and had high expectations. While they ultimately couldn't deliver, barely sneaking into the playoffs but losing in the first round, they did look good against the Colts on September 13, 1998 – especially on defense.
The unit had the first big play of the game when Willie McGinest sacked Manning on the Colts' second possession, early in the first quarter. New England's Willie Clay recovered the ball Manning lost because of the sack and the Patriots took over on the Colts' 2-yard line. However, three straight runs by Robert Edwards gained no yardage and New England had to settle for a 19-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal.
New England would score its first touchdown six plays later, and once again it was the defense that came up big: cornerback Ty Law undercut a pass intended for tight end Marcus Pollard, intercepted the ball and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown. It was Law's first interception of Manning, as no other player would pick the quarterback off more often (nine times overall).
Law recorded his second interception of Manning two Colts drives later. This time, Marvin Harrison was Manning's intended receiver, but once again Law was able to get to the ball before the initially intended target did. The interception stopped Indianapolis' first promising drive of the day and led to Vinatieri's second field goal of the day.
Vinatieri added another one on the last play of the first half, as the Patriots entered intermission up 16-0. The day did only get better for the home team, and worse for the visitors. After a Colts' 3-and-out and a 38-yard punt return by Troy Brown, New England started its first drive of the second half in Indianapolis territory. Seven plays later, Drew Bledsoe found Terry Glenn in the endzone to increase his team's lead to 22-0.
Manning and the Colts answered by going 3-and-out again, before the rookie threw his third interception of the afternoon late in the third quarter. This time, it was safety Chris Canty to pick off the future Hall of Famer. Manning's fourth turnover of the day led to seven more points for the Patriots, as Robert Edwards scored a 1-yard touchdown early in the final period.
After a missed field goal attempt by the Patriots, the Colts were finally able to find themselves in the opponent's endzone thanks to Manning's second career touchdown pass, a 3-yarder to wide receiver Torrance Small. It was too little too late, though, as the Colts were unable to come back from their 29-point deficit.
In the end, Peyton Manning's first meeting with the New England Patriots was an unsuccessful one for the quarterback and his team: the Colts lost 29-6 as their quarterback finished with a mere 188 yards on 21 pass completions (of 33 attempts), with only one touchdown. New England's defense put the pressure on the rookie all game long and was able to produce four takeaways – one fumble, three interceptions – and two sacks.
Overall, Manning faced the Patriots 24 times and went 9-15 against them. He had some of his greatest career moments against New England, but also some of his worst defeats. The two sides' first meeting in 1998 falls under the latter category.
Goodbye, old foe!