Manning, Colts top Jets 30-17 for AFC title
By: By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune, Superior Telegram
INDIANAPOLIS -- Colts owner Jim Irsay called his first Lombardi Trophy from three years ago "deeply fulfilling," and said his franchise is in pursuit of history this time around.
Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning certainly put together a game that belongs in historical perspective, ending once and for all discussion about the Colts' decision to pull starters in a Week 16 game here against the New York Jets and rest players instead of chasing a perfect season.
All will be just right if the Colts triumph Feb. 7 in Super Bowl XLIV against the Vikings after Indianapolis disposed of the Jets 30-17 in the AFC championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"I thought we just kept our mouths shut and went to work this week," said Manning, a dig at the brash-talking Jets who entered the game with momentum following road playoff wins at Cincinnati and San Diego.
The Jets accomplished their goal of shutting down Manning's top target, Reggie Wayne (three catches, 55 yards), with cornerback Darrelle Revis. But early pressure on Manning didn't hold up and he showed why he won an unprecedented fourth MVP award this season, working with Pierre Garcon, a sixth-round pick from last year who caught four passes in his first season, and rookie Austin Collie, a fourth-round pick. They looked like perennial all-stars as Manning completed 26 of 39 passes for 377 yards and three touchdowns with Garcon (11 catches, 151 yards) and Collie (7, 123) combining for 274 yards against the league's No. 1-ranked defense.
When the Jets lost nickel cornerback Donald Strickland to a groin injury early in the game, the Colts immediately went to three-receiver packages, confident their youngsters could win against the bottom of the Jets' depth chart. The Colts also adjusted with three-step drops against the blitz package.
"We certainly had some issues," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "Peyton doesn't need a whole lot. We tried man, tried two man, tried zone, tried you name it. But you've got to give him credit."
Trailing 17-6 with 2 minutes, 11 seconds remaining in the first half, Manning hit Collie for a 46-yard pass, and then found him uncovered on a post route for a 16-yard touchdown pass on the next play. That stole the momentum from the Jets, who had dominated the first 28 minutes, as the Colts (16-2) scored the next 24 points.
The Colts had been the ones making uncharacteristic errors to that point. Cornerback Jacob Lacey was caught looking in the backfield on Mark Sanchez's 80-yard touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards. Brad Smith completed a 45-yard pass to Jerricho Cotchery from a wildcat formation to set up a 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dustin Keller.
Colts running back Joseph Addai fumbled to set up a Jay Feely field goal, the only one he made in three tries. But too much was left to Sanchez (17-for-30, 257 yards), and the Jets didn't get their top-ranked running game going. Thomas Jones and rookie Shonn Greene, who left with a rib injury, combined for only 83 yards.
"I was focused on the (Colts') defense," Sanchez said. "But it's hard not to notice when somebody is on like (Manning). It doesn't just happen today. He's a heck of a player and I am honored to play against him."
The Colts seized control in the third quarter. A 4-yard touchdown pass to Garcon put Indianapolis ahead 20-17. A 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Clark early in the fourth quarter put the Colts up 27-17, and they tacked on a Matt Stover field goal to make what had been a competitive game look lopsided and send first-year head coach Jim Caldwell to the Super Bowl as just the fifth coach in league history to make it to the big game in his rookie season.
"We talked about being patient against these guys," Manning said. "We knew it would be a four-quarter game. It takes some time to figure out what their plan of attack is that day. We didn't panic, kind of like we've done all season."
Irsay stood in the middle of the locker room, beaming knowing the Colts are headed to Miami, where the club has played in each of its three previous Super Bowl appearances.
"The history with us is going to be tied to Peyton's career, how long he plays," Irsay said. "If he's like Brett Favre, there is a lot more history to be written. We are competing with history and that is something that is incredibly important because some day, God willing, if I am an older man looking back at this era, and being in the league almost 40 years now from ball boy to owner, it's something that means a great deal to me. You're trying to see how you measure up, and Peyton putting up those kinds of numbers against the No. 1 defense in the league with so much at stake, is incredible."
-- Copyright (c) 2010, Chicago Tribune/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.