The Jets, of course, are far too young to have seen more than a couple of grainy black-and-white film clips of legendary Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas, who was the master of the two-minute drill when calling your own plays was something all NFL quarterbacks did as a matter of course. Who knows if they even realize the Colts once were based in Baltimore?
What these Jets all agree upon is that the Colts quarterback they'll face Sunday is the greatest QB they've ever seen, and he gets even better at crunch time in the two-minute drill, when pressure is highest. But the fact is that for an older generation, the sight of Peyton Manning in the white helmet with the blue horseshoe can't help but stir memories of Unitas.
As much as the Jets want to hit a quarterback who was sacked only 10 times this season, and as much as they want to believe they can beat him with a Super Bowl berth at stake, they can't help but gush over what they see from Manning on hi-def videotape. Ask Jets defensive lineman Marques Douglas, who has the near-impossible task of getting to Manning before he releases the ball, what happens when the four-time NFL MVP goes into two-minute mode, and he just rolls his eyes at the wonder of it all.
"When Peyton Manning has a two-minute drill, it's a lot like a kid sitting down in front of his favorite meal,'' the 290-pound Douglas said with gusto. "He's at home when he does that. He can maneuver wide receivers around and get the protection he wants.''
Everyone studies videotape in the NFL, especially quarterbacks. But what gets to the Jets' defenders is how much Manning retains, the level of detail he understands and his ability to execute precisely when they're putting as much pressure as possible on him and his receivers.
"He's always calling out what the defense is doing and what to expect this guy or that guy to do,'' Jets cornerback Dwight Lowery said. "It's like he has a photographic memory or something. He can see something and instantly recognize it when he sees it again.
"He's very smart, easily the smartest quarterback in the NFL. Combine that with his ability to make throws and his understanding of situations in the game. I mean, it's hard to put into words how well he executes things. His two-minute offense is just a reflection of the type of person he is and the type of knowledge he has of the game and just how smart he is.''
For the majority of quarterbacks, the two-minute offense represents a departure from their regular offense. For Manning, the two-minute period is when he simply steps on the accelerator and speeds up what he already was doing. No one calls as many plays at the line of scrimmage as Manning. It's no wonder the Colts don't always bother to huddle.
In his national media conference call yesterday, Manning agreed that the Colts' regular offensive style feeds into their success in two-minute situations. "I can't get too detailed, but certainly, we feel comfortable in the two-minute drill because we do run a no-huddle style of offense for the majority of the game,'' Manning said.
"Once we go to the two-minute, it's not just a complete change of tempo. It's somewhat the offense we've been running. So, guys are comfortable with the calls. Guys know where to line up, and we're able to run a lot of plays quickly. But it still comes down to the execution. You still have to go out and do it and get open versus man coverage and protect [the quarterback].''
Manning's brilliance in the two-minute drill never has been more evident than this season. He led seven fourth-quarter comebacks, a record since the 1970 merger, and his statistics in the final two minutes of each half amount to 41 of 62 passes completed for 491 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions.
When the Colts scored two touchdowns in the final two minutes of the first half of their 20-3 divisional-round playoff win over Baltimore last week, it turned a 3-all game into a 17-3 mountain for the Ravens to climb. In 17 games, the Colts have scored 72 points in the final two minutes of the first half.
If there's a secret to Manning's success that goes beyond his videowork, it's that defenses often find themselves scrambling to get the right personnel on the field in a rushed two-minute sequence and wind up tipping the coverage early.
"The thing that happens in two minutes is [defenses] get worried about getting into their coverage, so that's actually telling him what you're in,'' Jets defensive back Drew Coleman said.
Asked if defenses tend to expose their coverage earlier in the two-minute drill, Manning was coy. "I can't say that, no,'' he said. "Each two-minute drill has its own identity. Some teams play them different ways, and you just have to read it out each time.''
Manning said he faces a challenge against a Jets secondary that is more than just All-Pro corner Darrelle Revis. As he ticked off the names and sang the praises of Lito Sheppard, Donald Strickland and Lowery, you could almost picture Manning thumbing through the index file in his mind, cataloging the weaknesses and strengths of each.
Knowing how much he knows about them only adds to the pressure on each defensive back, especially at two-minute time. "I think it's more that they're in attack mode,'' Sheppard said. "For a team to be in attack mode the whole game is very unusual. Even in no-huddle, they get tired, too. In the two-minute drill, they can be in attack mode throughout.
"Manning is probably the most accurate quarterback ever, and that's what makes their plays go. Guys cover it, and he finds that small 'x' and hits it. Manning is Manning, and you can't take away from that.''