Manning, Colts rally past Jets, reach Super Bowl
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — This is perfect for the Indianapolis Colts: They have Peyton Manning and they're back in the Super Bowl.
The four-time MVP threw three touchdown passes and the Colts rallied from an 11-point, first-half deficit to beat the New York Jets 30-17 today in the AFC championship game.
The Colts (16-2) are now headed back to the NFL title game for the second time in four years and their fourth Super Bowl in franchise history. Better yet, they're heading back to their lucky city — Miami, where they've played all four of those games and won there twice.
"I thought we just kept our mouths shut and went to work this week," Manning said.
The big-talking Jets, and their equally big-talking coach, Rex Ryan, were all the incentive Indy needed Sunday.
A month ago, when the New Yorkers last came to town, Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell pulled his starters in the third quarter and gave up a chance at a perfect season to focus on a Super Bowl run. Fans booed throughout the fourth quarter and when the Colts left the field, and some spent the past month complaining publicly.
That's over now.
Manning stayed on the field for every Colts play and instead of blowing a lead, the Colts rallied behind their leader.
This time, fans counted down the final seconds while streamers and confetti hung in the air, flash bulbs popped incessantly and when the official announcement was made, roars cascaded from the rafters.
"We talked about being patient against these guys," Manning said. "We knew it would be a four-quarter game."
The Colts will face New Orleans, which made its first Super Bowl after a 31-28 overtime win over Minnesota, in two weeks. Manning will play in the same venue where he beat Chicago in the rain and won the Super Bowl MVP award three years ago. Manning will be going against Saints quarterback Drew Brees, a family friend.
Just as special was having the Colts career rushing leader, Edgerrin James, present the team with the Lamar Hunt Trophy, which goes to the AFC champs. He never made it to the Super Bowl with the Colts, though team owner Jim Irsay gave James a ring when the Colts beat the Bears.
Players savored every precious moment. Receiver Pierre Garcon, who had 11 catches for 153 yards, both career-highs, and the go-ahead score raised a Haitian flag to honor his family and friends who still live there. Garcon and others remained on the field long after the official celebration, mingling family, friends and fans as the Colts redeemed themselves for this season's first loss.
"We've been here before, we had seven comeback wins this year. I think the guys were a little rattled at first, I think we took their best shot, but we came back," linebacker Gary Brackett said. "I think we did a great job of being the hunters and imposing our will today."
Manning finished 26 of 39 for 377 yards. He became the first player in league history with seven 300-yard postseason games. That broke a tie with Kurt Warner and Joe Montana.
The Jets' magical run ended with their first road loss in six games.
New York (11-8) built a 17-6 lead and took advantage of trick plays. But the Jets lost running back Shonn Greene with a rib injury in the second half, and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez was shut out over the final two quarters.
"Today wasn't our day. There's no question," said Ryan, who declared his Jets the Super Bowl favorites before the playoffs. "You have to give credit to the Colts. Obviously they're the cream of the crop right now."
Jim Caldwell became only the fifth rookie coach to reach the Super Bowl. Only two others — San Francisco's George Seifert and Don McCafferty, of the Baltimore Colts — have won it.
But Caldwell does have Manning, who drove the Colts right through New York's No. 1 ranked defense with his uncanny precision. He kept dropping passes right over the fingertips of defenders, and the frustrated Jets couldn't stop him.
"You can have great man coverage, but that ball is right where it needs to be," safety Jim Leonhard said.
Garcon was one beneficiary. The other was rookie Austin Collie, who had a career-best seven catches for 123 yards, his first 100-yard day as a pro. And the Jets allowed three TD passes for the first time all season.
After falling behind late in the first half, Manning responded. He took the Colts 80 yards in four plays, hooking up three straight times with Collie, including the 16-yard TD pass that made it 17-13 with 1:13 to go in the half.
Manning was just getting started.
The next time he got the ball, he took the Colts 57 yards in eight plays, connecting with Garcon in the back corner of the end zone to make it 20-17 with 8:03 left in the third quarter.
"The guys have always been a very confident bunch and they do a great job of hanging in there," Caldwell said. "Peyton had just an outstanding game. He's one of those guys that can adjust to different situations. ... A real champion."
Manning still wasn't finished. His 15-yard TD pass to Dallas Clark midway through the fourth quarter made it 27-17 and Kelvin Hayden's late interception ended the Jets' last hope.
It sure didn't look like it would end this way during a scoreless the first quarter.
The Colts uncharacteristically struggled to get first downs, and settled for field goals instead of scoring touchdowns.
New York also changed tactics, creating its big plays through the air.
Sanchez, the fourth rookie quarterback to lead his team to the conference title game and lose, used a beautiful play-action fake to fool rookie cornerback Jacob Lacey. Lacey, who started in place of the injured Jerraud Powers, was burned for an 80-yard TD pass by Braylon Edwards giving the Jets a 7-3 lead.
After the Colts cut it to 7-6, Jets receiver Brad Smith lined up in the TigerCat formation and connected with Jerricho 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 9-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.
That's when Manning and the Colts took over — and closed it out.
"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."
The game was a family affair for the Manning family with Peyton's brother Eli and their father Archie rooting on the Colts.
"I'm pulling for the Colts 100 percent, it's not even close," Archie Manning said.