INDIANAPOLIS - This is perfect for the Indianapolis Colts: They have Peyton Manning and they’re back in the Super Bowl.
The four-time MVP threw three touchdown passes and the Colts rallied from an 11-point, first-half deficit to beat the New York Jets, 30-17, Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.
The Colts (16-2) are now headed back to the NFL title game for the second time in four years and their fourth Super Bowl in franchise history. Better yet, they’re heading back to their lucky city – Miami, where they’ve played all four of those games and won twice.
“I thought we just kept our mouths shut and went to work this week,” Manning said.
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The big-talking Jets, and their big-talking coach, Rex Ryan, were all the incentive Indianapolis needed Sunday.
A month ago, when the New Yorkers came to town, Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell pulled his starters in the third quarter and gave up a chance at a perfect season to focus on a Super Bowl run. Fans booed throughout the fourth quarter and when the Colts left the field, and some spent the past month complaining publicly.
That’s over now.
Manning stayed on the field for every Colts snap and instead of blowing a lead, the Colts rallied behind their leader.
This time, fans counted down the final seconds while streamers and confetti fluttered in the air and roars echoed from the rafters.
“We talked about being patient against these guys,” Manning said. “We knew it would be a four-quarter game.”
The Colts will face New Orleans, which qualified for its first Super Bowl with a 31-28 overtime victory over Minnesota, in two weeks. Manning will play in the same venue where he beat Chicago in the rain and won the Super Bowl MVP award three years ago.
Manning will be going against Saints quarterback Drew Brees, a family friend.
Just as special was having the Colts career rushing leader, Edgerrin James, make the presentation to the team of the Lamar Hunt Trophy, which goes to the AFC champion.
James, who started the 2009 season with the Seattle Seahawks, never made it to the Super Bowl with the Colts, though team owner Jim Irsay gave James a ring when the Colts beat the Bears.
Players savored every precious moment. Receiver Pierre Garon, who had 11 catches for 153 yards, both career-highs, and the go-ahead score raised a Haitian flag to honor his family and friends who still live there.
Garon and others remained on the field long after the official celebration, mingling with family, friends and fans as the Colts redeemed themselves for this season’s first loss.
“We’ve been here before, we had seven comeback wins this year. I think the guys were a little rattled at first, I think we took their best shot, but we came back,” linebacker Gary Brackett said. “I think we did a great job of being the hunters and imposing our will today.”
Manning passed for 377 yards on 26-of-39 accuracy. He became the first player in league history with seven 300-yard postseason games. That broke a tie with Kurt Warner and Joe Montana.
The Jets’ magical run ended with their first road loss in six games.
New York (11-8) built a 17-6 lead and took advantage of trick plays.
But the Jets lost running back Shonn Greene with a rib injury early in the second half, and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez was shut out over the final two quarters.
“Today wasn’t our day. There’s no question,” said Ryan, who declared his Jets the Super Bowl favorites before the playoffs. “You have to give credit to the Colts. Obviously they’re the cream of the crop right now.”
Jim Caldwell became only the fifth rookie coach to reach the Super Bowl. Only two – San Francisco’s George Seifert and Don McCafferty, of the Baltimore Colts – have won it.
But Caldwell does have Manning, who drove the Colts right through New York’s No. 1 ranked defense with his uncanny precision. He kept dropping passes right over the fingertips of defenders, and the frustrated Jets couldn’t stop him.
“You can have great man coverage, but that ball is right where it needs to be,” safety Jim Leonhard said.
Garon was one beneficiary. The other was rookie Austin Collie, who had a career-best seven catches for 123 yards, his first 100-yard day as a pro. And the Jets allowed three TD passes for the first time all season.
After falling behind late in the first half, Manning responded. He took the Colts 80 yards in four plays, hooking up three straight times with Collie, including the 16-yard TD pass that made it 17-13 with 1:13 to go in the half.
Manning was just getting started.
The next time he got the ball, he took the Colts 57 yards in eight plays, connecting with Garon in the back corner of the end zone to make it 20-17 with 8:03 to go in the third quarter.