This is what everybody paid their money to see. The Colts knew it, and so did the Jets.
"We were up 17-6,'' safety Kerry Rhodes said. "We thought we had them where we wanted them. We were talking about it on the sideline that we needed to get the stop there, and we weren't able to do it.''
Manning misfired on a first-down pass, then completed three straight to Austin Collie, covering the distance in only 58 seconds and sending the Colts to the locker room on a high. The Jets still led 17-13, but it didn't feel that way.
"We gave them that one,'' safety Jim Leonhard said. "They're a great two-minute team, but we made it about as easy as we could.''
When they got to the locker room, the Jets were angry and frustrated, and their veneer of confidence had a big dent in it.
"The biggest thing guys were trying to get across is, 'We're ahead,' '' Leonhard said. "You forget that when you give up a big play. People start getting --.
"It's like, we're 30 minutes away from a Super Bowl, and we have the lead. You can't ask for anything more than that. [But] we had given up too many big plays. It was big chunks. You can't get those back.''
The Jets didn't give up a touchdown in the last two minutes of the first half all season long, but the Colts were desperate for points and Manning had put up 72 in the last two minutes of the first half. As it turned out, this drive sent the Colts on their way to the Super Bowl with a 30-17 win.
The big play in the two-minute drive was a deep seam to Collie for 46 yards to the 16. Manning later credited cornerback Drew Coleman for good coverage, but the Jets said it was the first of two major miscommunications.
"We were in a two-[deep] defense, and they just made the play on it,'' Rhodes said.
On the next play, Collie again came from the right slot and was wide-open in the end zone between Leonhard and Rhodes, who could be seen discussing it after the fact. "That was a mistake,'' Rhodes said. "Yeah, there was a difference [of opinion].''
"We rotated the wrong way,'' Leonhard said, "and you can't do that against Peyton.''
On the Colts' first drive of the second half, Manning covered 57 yards in eight plays, concluding with a 4-yard touchdown to Pierre Garçon for a 20-17 lead. Game over.
Manning had ripped the NFL's No. 1 pass defense to shreds, completing 26 of 39 for 377 yards and three touchdowns. The Jets got a bad break when cornerback Donald Strickland popped a hamstring and left with the Jets leading 7-3.
"I went down, and we had to change the game plan,'' Strickland said. "They took advantage of some mismatches. It threw us, but no excuses.''