INDIANAPOLIS - If nothing else, maybe the Jets can take solace in knowing they forced Peyton Manning to his considerable intellectual limit with the test posed by their No. 1-ranked defense. On the other hand, it's hard to tell when you look at the Colts' 30-17 win in the AFC Championship Game Sunday and the fact that Manning passed for 377 yards and three touchdowns.
Looking ahead to the two-week break before Super Bowls XLIV, Manning said, "I'm mentally tired because of what we went through preparing for these guys."
The four-time NFL MVP got off to a slow start, getting sacked twice in the first two possessions and falling behind 17-6. But when it was time for his specialty, the two-minute drive, Manning took the Colts 80 yards in four plays and 58 seconds. They scored on a 16-yard pass to wide receiver Austin Collie with 1:13 left in the first half to cut the deficit to 17-13.
"That was huge," Manning said. "It's hard to say that's what won the game, but it was huge. It reminded me of our championship game three years ago against New England. It wasn't a great start, and you're feeling them out, trying to get some rhythm. They have a lead, and it's not looking good."
But after an incompletion on first down, Manning hit an 18-yard out to Collie just before the two-minute warning. "A lot of times after a timeout against these guys, you feel like they might be dialing up some kind of blitz,'' Manning said. "So we went to a max protection and took a shot. They had pretty good coverage. It looked like [Drew Coleman] might have mis-timed his jump. That play is the play that got us going, sort of broke us open. We went back to him on the next play."
The result was a 46-yard completion to Collie to the Jets' 16, followed by the touchdown pass over the middle against a blown coverage by the Jets. "From that point on, we really had a good bead on things," Manning said.
Wide receiver Pierre Garçon said Manning came to him at halftime and told him to be ready for a fast start to the second half. Said Garçon, "He told me to get ready to get open because he was going to go to me."
Manning later denied saying that, primarily because he didn't want it to seem as if he were going away from receiver Reggie Wayne, who was being covered tightly by All-Pro corner Darrelle Revis. The facts are that Manning completed four passes for 37 yards and a 4-yard touchdown to Garçon during that drive to take a 20-17 lead. Garçon caught 11 passes for 151 yards and Collie totaled seven catches for 123 yards.
Describing the go-ahead drive, Manning said, "I changed every play. was calling run plays, but I just kind of got hot and changed it. Tom said, 'Hey, you're hot. Just keep going.' Those were two huge drives."