Manning, Colts ready for another shot at Jets
Thursday, January 21, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning is on a simple mission this week: Strike fast, stay on the field and take the Colts back to Miami.
The four-time MVP and his Colts teammates can't wait for the journey to begin.
Nearly a month after then-undefeated Indianapolis set off a national firestorm by yanking its starters early against the New York Jets, Manning & Co. will get another shot at them in this weekend's AFC championship game -- even if nobody lets them forget what happened the first time.
"Do you expect to play all four quarters this week?" Manning was asked jokingly before he could even settle in at the podium Wednesday.
"I do, yeah," Manning deadpanned, drawing laughter.
But in Indianapolis, this is no laughing matter.
Furious fans deluged local radio talk shows following Indy's 29-15 loss in Week 16, and fans weren't the only ones upset.
After the game, four-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday said he understood why Indy's home fans booed, other players seemed surprised by coach Jim Caldwell's decision to pull players early and Manning insisted nothing should be read into his body language even though he uncharacteristically kept his helmet on for most of the final 20 minutes that day.
Since then, players and coaches have reached a consensus that they may not be playing in their third AFC title game since 2003 had they not done it this way.
"Really, we've tried to focus in on the things that we thought were in the best interest of our team to get us into the position we are right now," Caldwell said. "That was the ultimate goal."
It's taken the Colts (15-2) a little longer to convince the fans.
Three weeks ago, Manning jump-started the reconciliation process after another loss at Buffalo by explaining nothing could be changed. He said it was time to move forward and that he hoped fans would forgive the Colts and provide a united front in the playoffs.
The message resonated.
While other players and team president Bill Polian continued making their pitches, fans responded Saturday night by hitting the highest decibel-level in the two years Lucas Oil Stadium has been the Colts' home. The result: Indy 20, Baltimore 3 -- the Colts' first postseason victory since Manning was named Super Bowl MVP in February 2007.
A win Sunday, and a ticket to Miami, would finally fix everything.
"I think everybody realizes the opportunity and what's at stake," Manning said. "That's why I think everybody wants to have a good week of preparation, to put ourselves in the best position on Sunday."
Clearly, that means Manning and others will have to perform up to their usually high standards, and the quarterback has had his share of success against Rex Ryan's defenses.
Since 2005, Manning has gone head-to-head with Ryan five times, completing 82 of 132 pass attempts for 1,136 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions. Manning is 4-1 in those games -- the only loss coming in December after Manning left with a 15-10 lead.
Would things have been different had Manning stayed in?
"The thing is nobody will know," said Ryan, whose Jets were playing to stay alive in the playoff hunt at the time.
Many outsiders believe Indy would have won the game.
Their starters had allowed just one touchdown, a 106-yard kickoff return to start the second half, and Manning was 14 of 21 for 192 yards, barely missing two potentially big plays in the first half before departing.
New York finished the game by rallying for 19 straight points.
But the Colts were short-handed well before they pulled the starters.
Indy played without Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Mathis, linebacker Clint Session, left tackle Charlie Johnson, safety Melvin Bullitt, cornerback Jerraud Powers and receiver Pierre Garcon, who all sat out with injuries.
All, with the possible exception of Powers, should play Sunday.
Powers (foot) was the only Colts player to sit out practice Wednesday, though safety Antoine Bethea (back) and tight end Dallas Clark (illness) were limited participants.
The bigger concern is just playing Colts football -- and completing their year-long quest to return to Miami.
"Against these guys, the more familiar you are with them, the better chance it gives you," Manning said. "It doesn't guarantee anything, but it does give you a better chance. That's the focus right now: trying to get prepared mentally and physically to play a good game."