Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

Pats edge Colts ... in Madden 2007 utilizes video game to predict New England triumph

(The following is a fictional recap of Sunday's AFC Championship game with fictional quotes. With permission from EA Sports, utilized Madden 2007 for the xBox 360 to predict the New England Patriots would defeat the Indianapolis Colts, 38-31. To view highlights from the game, watch the video above. And just so there’s no mistaking it, we’ll repeat it: Everything below is completely made up.)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Mike Vrabel couldn't fight the feeling of déjà vu. Fortunately, it brought along some words of inspiration.

"Last play of the game and they gotta get in the end zone," said Vrabel, who knocked down a Peyton Manning offering in the back of the end zone as time expired to preserve the Patriots' 38-31 triumph over the Colts in our fictional Madden 2007 AFC Championship game. "A lot of us guys were thinking about that 2003 game and all I can remember is Willie McGinest telling us, 'This is what championship teams are made of. To be the best, you've got to stop the best.'

"And we stopped the best again."

The game was eerily reminiscent of New England's 38-34 regular-season victory over Indianapolis on Nov. 30, 2003. That day, McGinest dropped Edgerrin James for a loss on fourth and goal from the 1 with just seconds to play as the Patriots escaped with a victory that propelled them to their second Super Bowl title in three years.

Sunday's win delivers New England its fourth Super Bowl appearance in six seasons. The Patriots will travel to Miami to meet the New Orleans Saints – a 24-17 winner over the Chicago Bears in our Madden 2007 NFC Championship game -- in Super Bowl XLI on Feb. 4.

"Mike's just one of those guys that makes big plays no matter where we put him on the field," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick after the fictional matchup. His defensive scheme forced Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning to throw a quartet of interceptions, including a pair that were returned for touchdowns during the middle quarters as the Patriots built a 22-point advantage.

"Inside or outside. Defending the pass or catching a pass. Mike does it all,” Belichick said. “He'd probably kick field goals if we asked him to."

Kickers were rendered rather obsolete in this slugfest and it helped mask Adam Vinatieri’s dismal day against his old mates. After missing a pair of field goals in Foxborough earlier this season, Vinatieri had a PAT blocked and slammed a 51-yard, second-quarter field goal attempt off the right upright.

The day instead belonged to Corey Dillon. New England's 32-year-old back rumbled for 125 yards on 12 carries and scored three times. Dillon, who rushed for 102 yards on eight carries in the first half, scored on runs of 6, 15, and 1 yard(s).

Dillon's 1-yard plunge with 6:02 remaining in the third quarter gave the Patriots what seemed like an insurmountable 38-16 advantage. But just like they roared back from a three-score deficit in the 2003 game, the Colts went down swinging Sunday.

Marvin Harrison reeled in a 9-yard touchdown pass from Manning late in the third quarter and the duo would hook up again on a 2-point conversion pass following Joseph Addai's fourth-quarter touchdown trek to make it a one-score game with 3:49 remaining.

The Colts got the ball back with under two minutes to play and Manning's 24-yard pass to Aaron Moorehead moved the ball to the Patriots’ 4 with two ticks remaining (Ellis Hobbs made what might have been the game-saving tackle on Moorehead).

Indy came out in the same three-wide receiver set it utilized in the 2003 meeting, but with Manning in shotgun formation, Vrabel and fellow linebacker Tedy Bruschi dropped into coverage rather than storm the line on the snap. Manning tried to hit Addai coming out of the backfield, but the Patriots swarmed the rookie back and Vrabel knocked it down with Chad Scott and Bruschi nearby.

“After failing to run it in three times in a row back in ’03, we sort of figured they wouldn’t be running it this time around,” said Vrabel. “In the huddle we just told everyone to knock it down. We didn’t want anything like what happened to (San Diego defensive back Marlon) McCree to happen to us on that play.”

Save for a few high 5’s and some fist-pumps, the Patriots’ celebration was mightily subdued and resembled nothing of what occurred in San Diego. That didn’t stop Manning from darting from the field directly after the game.

“Oh, it’s nothing against the Patriots,” said Manning as he dressed quickly. “I just have a MasterCard commercial to shoot in 20 minutes. Cut that meat!”

Asante Samuel returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown with 1:53 remaining in the first half as the Patriots entered the intermission on top, 24-16. That didn’t stop Shawne Merriman from appearing on the NFL Today halftime show and predicting a Colts victory.

Tully Banta-Cain made a leaping grab on a slant pass intended for Harrison and rumbled 73 yards the other way for another defensive touchdown early in the second half. After the Patriots got the ball back on another Manning interception, Jabar Gaffney reeled in a 14-yard pass at the goal line to set up Dillon’s final touchdown run.

The Patriots will head to Miami as 6-point favorites over the Saints, but they already feel slighted.

“No one gives us any respect,” Rosevelt Colvin told reporters in a fictional exchange. “Four Super Bowls in six years and they don’t think we can beat an NFC team by a touchdown. C’mon, an NFC team?. We’ve got something to prove.”

This simulation was run utilizing Madden 2007 on an xBox 360 console. This version of the game does not allow a computer vs. computer simulation, so one human player called one team's offensive plays. Rosters were edited to reflect latest rosters and depth charts. Additional simulations could produce different results.

Pop-up BOX SCORE: Patriots 38, Colts 31
Archives WE DIDN'T MAKE THIS ONE UP > 2003: Wild ride at Indy