Peyton giveth and Peyton taketh away

Four weeks after his benching propelled the Jets to the postseason, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was the one to pull the plug on New York’s Super Bowl dreams.

Manning and the Indianapolis Colts rattled off 24 unanswered points, 17 in the second half en route to a 30-17 AFC Championship Game victory over the New York Jets at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday.   With the win, the Colts will advance to Super Bowl XLIV in Miami, where they will face the winner of tonight’s NFC Championship Game between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints.

Dwight Lowery, who drew the assignment of containing Colts WR Pierre Garcon, was picked on all day by Peyton Manning ( Photo)

It is the Colts’ second AFC Championship in four years, and their fourth Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.

Manning turned in an MVP performance, picking apart the vaunted Jets defense and rallying his team from a 17-13 halftime deficit, completing 26 of 39 passes for 377 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

“We talked about being patient against these guys,” said Manning. “We knew it would be a four-quarter game.”

It didn’t even matter that Jets corner Darrelle Revis effectively took WR Reggie Wayne out of the game.   With his number one target trapped on Revis Island, Manning used second-year man Pierre Garçon and rookie Austin Collie to carve up the Jets’ secondary.

Garçon, who was lined up with Jets corner Dwight Lowery for the majority of the contest, abused the San Jose State product, hauling in 11 receptions on the day, with most coming in traffic.  Garçon finished with 151yards and a touchdown.   Lowery started in place of the veteran Lito Sheppard, who was deemed unfit for the gameplan by Rex Ryan his coaching staff.

Collie posted seven receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown, including a 46-yard backbreaker on the Colts’ final possession of the first half.

“The guys have always been a very confident bunch and they do a great job of hanging in there,” said Colts head coach Jim Caldwell. “Peyton had just an outstanding game. He’s one of those guys that can adjust to different situations. … A real champion.”

Indianapolis was also successful at beating the Jets at their own ground and pound game, posting 101 rushing yards to New York’s 86.

The Jets lack of a ground game certainly not helped by the loss of rookie running back Shonn Green, two plays into the second half.   Greene, who had emerged as a true game-changer during the Jets’ improbable playoff run, exited the game with a rib injury and never returned.   Before leaving the game, Greene appeared to be on his way to another strong postseason performance with 41 yards on only ten carries.

The Jets opened up with a successful first series, driving down to the Indianapolis 26-yard line, primed to land the first punch.   However, Jay Feely’s 44-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right, as New York came up empty handed.

The Colts would come up empty as well on their first two possessions, as the first quarter came to a close without a score by either team.   A 25-yard field goal by Colts’ kicker Matt Stover gave Indy a 3-0 lead to begin the second quarter.

The Jets answered right back on their first offensive play of the quarter   On a play action fake, Sanchez pump faked and lofted a high spiral down the left sideline, in the direction of receiver Braylon Edwards.   Colts’ rookie corner Jacob Lacey, making his first career start in place of the injured Jerraud Powers, was toasted by Edwards, who hauled in the rookie’s pass in stride.   Edwards’ 80-yard reception, the Jets’ longest passing play since 1998, gave them a 7-3 advantage, just under a minute into the second quarter.

Sanchez would finish the day with 257 passing yards and two touchdowns, completing 17 of 30 passes.

On the next possession, it was the Jets defense doing what they’ve done best all season; coming up huge in the red zone.

After Manning completed a 25-yard strike to receiver Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis used a series of runs by running back Joseph Addai, to gain possession inside the Jets’ 35-yard line.   On third-and-5 from the 25, Manning connected with receiver Austin Colley in the middle of the field for 22 yards.   Another short completion to Colley brought Indy down to the goal line.   But on third down, Manning’s attempt to sneak up the middle was thwarted.

Faced with fourth and goal, Indianapolis head coach Jim Caldwell made the curious decision to opt for the field goal, instead of trusting his future Hall of Fame quarterback to punch it in for six.   Stover’s short field goal cut the Jets lead to 7-6 with 8:49 to go in the half.

On the ensuing possession the Jets got a big play from a familiar source; Bradley Alexander Smith.

On second-and-7 from their own 43, Jets’ offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer executed the play that was 3 weeks in the making.   Operating out of the “Tiger-Cat” formation, Brad Smith dropped back and connected with a wide open Jerricho Cotchery for a gain of 45 yards.

Three plays later, Sanchez found tight end Dustin Keller in the end zone for the second-straight week, extending New York’s lead to 14-6 with just under five minutes remaining in the half.

The Jets would get the ball back again before the end of the half, following a big play by linebacker Calvin Pace.   After an audible at the line of scrimmage by Manning, Pace read the play perfectly, bursting into the backfield to strip the ball from Joseph Addai.   The loose ball was recovered by safety Jim Leonhard at the Indianapolis 29.

After a false start penalty and a four yard loss by Thomas Jones, the Jets faced third-and-16 from the 35.   A five-yard run by Jones, set up Jay Feely for a 48 yard attempt, his second of the day.   Feely wouldn’t miss this time, dialing the kick down the center of the uprights to give New York a 17-6 lead with 2:16 remaining in the half.   Those would be the final points the Jets would score for the remainder of the game and the season.

It was officially Manning time.

With limited time remaining before halftime, Peyton Manning ran the two minute drill to perfection.   The 12-year veteran concocted his most impressive drive of the first half, engineering a four play, 80-yard drive in under a minute.   The quick-fire attack was highlighted by consecutive long completions of 46 and 16 yards to Austin Colley, the latter cutting the Jets lead to 17-13 right before the half.

In less than sixty seconds, Manning had sucked every knot of wind out of the Jets sails and redirected the momentum pendulum towards the direction of the home team, where it would sit for the rest of the contest.

Beginning the second half at his own 27, Sanchez led New York on an eight-play, 39-yard drive.   But Feely was wide right again on a 52-yard attempt, blowing the Jets chance to extend their six point lead.

Given great field position at his own 43 following the Feely miss, Manning made quick work of the Jets defense for the second-straight possession.   Facing third down, Manning found Collie and Garçon on consecutive plays to get inside Jets’ territory.   Four plays later, inside the five, Manning connected with Garçon again, lofting the ball over the head of Lowery to recapture the lead for Indianapolis, 20-17, midway through the third.   A lead they would never relinquish.

A 15-yard yard completion to WR Dwight Clark in the end zone with 8:57 remaining in the fourth quarter would all but seal the Jets fate, extending the Indianapolis lead to 27-17, transforming Rex Ryan’s carriage into a pumpkin.

Today wasn’t our day. There’s no question,” said Jets head coach Rex Ryan. “You have to give credit to the Colts. Obviously they’re the cream of the crop right now.”

Despite the heartbreaking loss, the future remains bright for the New York Jets, who advanced to the AFC Championship despite a rookie quarterback and rookie head coach.   The Jets were also stung by season-ending injuries to two key players, RB Leon Washington and NT Kris Jenkins.

“If two of the pro bowls players left any other team, people would have talked about it,” said Ryan.

“We don’t need a whole lot. If we get those two back, that’s really going to add to our football team.

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