The one image which lingers most from the Colts’ 30-17 win over the Jets in the AFC championship game was of Peyton Manning, helmet off, walking off the field just after leading the Colts in a four-play, 80-yard, 58-second scoring drive. Exactly one minute of playing time earlier the Jets had been up 17-6 and seemed one play away from blowing out the NFL’s number one-seeded team. Then Peyton got the ball, and for the rest of the game it was Colts 24, Jets 0. The look on Manning’s face was of consummate poise and purpose: “I’m two games away from a second ring and football immortality,” the look seemed to say, “and nothing is going to stop me.”
And nothing could have. Let’s stop picking apart the Jets’ performance and trying to figure what went wrong. Nothing went wrong.
Yes, it would have been nice if Jay Feely had connected on those field goals and Shonn Greene would probably have made more of those second half rushing opportunities than 32-year old Thomas Jones. But this was perhaps the greatest performance of Peyton Manning’s career, and on this day it would have made no difference who was wearing green and white or what new blitz strategies or coverages Rex Ryan devised.
Just to review, the strategy of putting Darrelle Revis on the Colts’ most experienced wideout, Reggie Wayne, worked: Wayne had three catches for 55 yards but was not a major factor in the game. The strategy of putting Kerry Rhodes on the Colts great tight end, Dallas Clark, who outweighed Rhodes by nearly 60 pounds, was, on the whole, effective: Clark had four catches for 35 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown pass from Manning in the fourth quarter. But those weren’t the reasons the Colts won.
The Colts won because their quarterback, unlike, say, Brett Favre, refused to get rattled in the face of a fierce and ever shifting Jets blitz and refused to put the ball up for grabs. The Colts won because Manning, in 39 passes, completed 26 for 377 yards with 18 of those completions and an eye-popping 274 of those yards going to two men with the unlikely names of Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, who were respectively the 205th and 127th picks in their drafts and were mentioned in nobody’s pregame analysis.
The Jets did everything right — Peyton Manning just un-did it. He anticipated the Jets’ blitzes, audibled at the line of scrimmage, and spotted the guys who were going to get single coverage. And he did it on every key play of the game. That’s what happened in the game yesterday, and that’s likely what’s going to happen in the Super Bowl against the New Orleans Saints.
Let’s stop finger pointing and inventing reasons why the Jets failed. The preseason starts in less than six months, and the Jets have the best corps of young talent and the best defense in the NFL and a young quarterback who’s already proven his mettle in big games.