Colts have all answers for ‘grounded’ Jets
Posted: Monday, January 25, 2010 5:42 pm
By: By MICHAEL MAROT, AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Colts had all the answers Sunday.
The NFL’s worst-ranked running game played better than expected. Indianapolis’ run defense held up against the Jets’ top-ranked ground game. The starters went the distance, and the Colts wound up with a ticket to Miami.
The AFC championship went just perfectly for the Colts.
Peyton Manning threw three touchdown passes, two in the second half when the Jets were shut out, and the Colts pulled off a 30-17 victory in the AFC championship game to earn their second Super Bowl trip in four years.
“We know he (Manning) is going to put it where it needs to be and he is going to make all the right reads,” receiver Pierre Garcon said. “It is a great feeling to have him there at quarterback.”
Even greater now that the Colts (16-2) are headed back to Miami, where they won in Week 2 and where they won their only Indy-era championship three years ago.
Next up: The New Orleans Saints, who beat Minnesota 31-28 in overtime to reach their first Super Bowl, in a game rife with subplots.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees played college ball at Purdue, about an hour northwest of Indianapolis. He is also a family friend of the Manning’s, and, of course, Manning’s father, Archie, spent most of his career with the Saints.
And there’s no doubt who Archie wants to win when a Manning plays for a world championship for the third time in four years.
“I’m pulling for the Colts 100 percent, it’s not even close,” he said after watching his second-oldest son pull off yet another comeback Sunday.
Indy’s victory erased any doubts about the decision to pull starters in the third quarter a month ago against the Jets, giving up the quest for a perfect season to prepare for a Super Bowl run.
Back then, fans booed the Colts as they left the field after a 29-15 defeat to New York.
Manning, the Super Bowl MVP three years ago, says it’s time for a break.
“I am really glad we have two weeks,” he said. “I am mentally tired because of what we went through preparation for these guys. I need some time tonight to get over this one.”
Manning finished 26-of-39 for 377 yards. He became the first player in league history with seven 300-yard postseason games, breaking a tie with Kurt Warner and Joe Montana.
The Jets’ playoff run ended with their first road loss in six games — and with almost as much surprise as it began.
New York (11-8) took a 17-6 lead behind a new identity, relying on the arm of Mark Sanchez and a couple of trick plays through the air rather than its powerful ground game. Sanchez was 17 of 30 for 257 yards with 2 TDs and one interception, Jerricho Cotchery had five catches for 102 yards and Braylon Edwards had two receptions for 100 yards and a TD.
But the Jets rushed for only 86 yards and when Shonn Greene went down with a rib injury in the second half, the Jets couldn’t score.
“Today wasn’t our day. There’s no question,” brash coach Rex Ryan said. “You have to give credit to the Colts. Obviously they’re the cream of the crop right now.”
Manning proved it with his impeccable precision.
He routinely dropped passes just over the fingertips of Jets defenders and through impossible cracks. Still, he connected with Austin Collie on a 16-yard TD pass with 1:13 left in the first half, a four-yard TD to Garcon to give Indy a 20-17 midway through the third quarter and Dallas Clark on a 15-yard touchdown pass midway through the fourth-quarter to seal it.
Garcon caught 11 passes for 153 yards, both career-highs. Collie caught seven passes for 123 yards, also career-highs.
And New York, which allowed the NFL’s fewest points in 2009, gave up three TDs passing for the first time all season.
“You can have great man coverage, but that ball is right where it needs to be,” New York safety Jim Leonhard said.
To Colts fans, and Ryan, it was no surprise.
“Those guys are tough,” Ryan said. “You have Peyton Manning back there pulling the trigger. We tried everything. We tried man. We tried two man. We tried two zone. We tried you name it. He’s one heck of a quarterback.”
For a half, though, it looked like Manning might not get a chance to rally Indy.
The Colts uncharacteristically struggled to get first downs, and settled for field goals instead of scoring touchdowns early.
Sanchez, the fourth rookie quarterback to lead his team to the conference title game and lose, was in perfect synch. He used a beautiful play-action fake to fool rookie cornerback Jacob Lacey on an 80-yard TD pass to Edwards, which gave the Jets a 7-3 lead. Lacey started in place of the injured Jerraud Powers.
After the Colts cut the deficit to 7-6, Jets receiver Brad Smith lined up in the TigerCat formation and connected with Cotchery for a 45-yard pass to the Colts 12. It was Smith’s first career completion out of an offensive formation. Three plays later, Sanchez barely avoided a sack and found Dustin Keller for a nine-yard TD pass to give the Jets a 14-6 lead with 4:53 to go in the half.
The Jets made it 17-6 after Joseph Addai’s fumble set up Jay Feely’s 48-yard field goal.
Manning answered with three TDs on the Colts’ next four drives, and it was all over.
“Probably the biggest thing is when he goes up against the best, he takes his game to another level,” Caldwell said. “I think that’s something we’ve kind of grown accustomed to around here.”
NOTES: Curtis Martin, the Jets’ career rushing leader, was New York’s honorary captain. … The Colts have won both AFC title games played in Indy by coming back from double-digit deficits. The Colts trailed New England by 18 points four years ago at the RCA Dome. … Referee Tony Corrente mistakenly called the Jets the New York Giants on the coin toss. … Addai rushed for a season-high 80 yards in the game.