Colts Rally From 11-Point Deficit to Beat New York Jets, 30-17, in AFC Championship Game
INDIANAPOLIS – Once again, as they did throughout a dramatic, record-setting season, the Colts rallied. This time, they did it in the biggest game of the season thus far.
And so, once again, confetti fell.
Four years after the first time, and for a second time in what Owner and Chief Executive Officer Jim Irsay in a jubilant post-game locker room called the Peyton Manning era, the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday afternoon won the AFC Championship Game in front of their home fans.
Colts 30, New York Jets 17.
And once again, the Colts are headed to the Super Bowl.
Indianapolis Colts . . . AFC Champions.
"It's very special," Manning said after the AFC South Champion Colts (16-2) rallied from an 11-point second-quarter deficit to beat the Jets (11-8) in front of a raucous, stadium-record crowd of 67,650 at Lucas Oil Stadium. "It's great to win this championship here at home in front of the best fans in the world. We have a bunch of guys that have worked hard all season and been very humble. We were very humble this week.
"We just kept our mouth shut this and went to work this week and came out and won the game."
The Colts, who set an NFL record this season by rallying seven times to win the fourth quarter – including a record five consecutive games as they pulled away from the AFC and their division in November – trailed on Sunday 17-6 when Jets kicker Jay Feely kicked a 48-yard field goal with 2:11 remaining in the first half.
The Jets didn't score again.
And the Colts scored again. And again. And again.
"The guys have always been a confident bunch," said Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell, who succeeded Tony Dungy in January and a little more than a year later became the third rookie head coach to lead his team to a Super Bowl. "They do a great job hanging in there. They don't panic and that's because of a lot of veteran leadership. We have great players, great coaches and certainly great fans.
"The 12th Man made a huge difference today."
Manning, sacked twice by the Jets' top-ranked defense in the first quarter, wasn't sacked again, and with the defense shutting out the Jets in the second half, Manning finished one of the most memorable performances of a memorable career having completed 26 of 39 passes for 377 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
Manning, who this season was named the Associated Press Most Valuable Player for a record fourth time, threw touchdown passes on three of four possessions after the Jets took their 11-point lead:
*A 16-yard touchdown pass to Austin Collie with 1:13 remaining in the second quarter. That made it 17-13, Jets.
*A four-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon with 8:03 remaining in the third quarter. That made it 20-17, Colts.
*A 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Clark with 8:52 remaining in the fourth quarter. That made it 27-17, Colts.
Soon thereafter, the celebration began.
"What a night Peyton had, it was just incredible," Irsay said afterward. "It's a total team effort, but obviously Peyton had to get us going."
The Super Bowl appearance is the second since Irsay took over as sole owner in 1997. The Colts during the decade of the 2000s won more regular-season games (115) than any franchise in a decade in NFL history, and they also set an NFL record by winning at least 12 games in seven consecutive seasons.
The Colts, who beat the Chicago Bears, 29-17, in Super Bowl XLI following the 2006 season, over the last two years also set an NFL record by winning 23 consecutive regular-season games.
"This is another incredibly big step in competing with history," Irsay said. "We started competing with history right around the mid-part of the decade. This is deeply fulfilling. We know we have another game to go, but it's such an incredible accomplishment to do it the way we did – to win 14 (regular-season games), then to use that advantage to get ready to try to do everything we can to win a World Championship and get to the Super Bowl."
The victory Sunday was about more than a rally, and about more than Manning.
Garcon, a second-year veteran, caught 11 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown, and Collie – a rookie – caught seven passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. On the drive that led to his touchdown reception late in the first half, Collie caught three passes for all 80 of the Colts' yards.
It also was about a Colts defense that was largely overlooked by many throughout the week, when many observers focused not only on the Jets' top-ranked defense, but also on their top-ranked running offense. The Jets rushed for 172.2 yards per game in the regular season and 170 in two playoff games.
On Sunday, the Jets rushed for 86 yards on 29 carries.
"We're pros, and we know we're good, too," Colts defensive end Robert Mathis said.
As much as anything, Colts President Bill Polian said afterward, it was about the Colts winning their way.
"You bet it was," Polian said. "They are a very good football team. . . . This is the way we played all year. It's the way Jim designed it, and it's the way we want to play. If you look back on our games with Baltimore when (Jets Head Coach) Rex (Ryan) was there (as defensive coordinator), it's going to seesaw back and forth. It's going to be a tight ball game. It's going to be field goals and ultimately somebody makes a play and you're able to win or lose the ballgame on big plays.
"That's the way it has been, and this game went the way we hoped it would, but it kind of went the way we thought it would."
The Colts, who took a 3-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter, failed to score on either of their first two first-quarter possessions, with the Jets sacking Manning once on each drive. The Colts had allowed a league-low 13 sacks this season.
The Colts came up with a key defensive stand early, holding the Jets without a touchdown after they drove to the Colts 22. Two runs lost five yards, and Colts cornerback Jacob Lacey stopped Jets wide receiver Brad Smith after a 1-yard gain.
Jets kicker Jay Feely missed the ensuing 44-yard field-goal attempt.
The Colts' first score came on a 25-yard field goal by kicker Matt Stover, a play that capped an eight-play, 82-yard drive that ended with 14:56 remaining in the second quarter.
The Jets took their first lead on next play from scrimmage, with rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez throwing deep to veteran wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who was open well behind the defense, turning the play into an 80-yard touchdown.
The Colts drove 79 yards on 12 plays on their ensuing possession, cutting the Jets' lead to one – 7-6 with a 19-yard field goal by Stover. The Colts reached the Jets 1 on the drive, but Manning was stopped on a third-down sneak, forcing the field goal.
The Jets then extended their lead to eight points on the ensuing drive, with Sanchez throwing his second touchdown pass in as many drives, this one a nine-yarder to tight end Dustin Keller. The play capped a seven-play, 77-yard drive that was keyed by a 45-yard pass from Brad Smith to Jerricho Cotchery that gave the Jets a first down at the Colts 12.
A Colts turnover led to the Jets' final score of the game
Three plays after Keller's touchdown, Jets linebacker Calvin Pace forced a fumble by Colts running back Joseph Addai that Jets safety Jim Leonhard recovered at the Colts 34.
Three plays later, a 48-yard field goal by Feely gave the Jets a 17-6 lead, but as the defense stopped the Jets time and again thereafter, the Colts scored on four of their next five possessions, including a drive midway through the fourth quarter that took 5:33 off the clock and finished with a 21-yard field goal by kicker Matt Stover.
The Colts led by 13 with 2:29 remaining, and the scoring was finished. Soon thereafter, fans celebrated, and confetti fell. Once again.
"We don't ever get comfortable with this feeling," Colts tight end Dallas Clark said. "We know we have one game left, but it's been a special journey so far."