GETTING BETTER FAST

The New York Jets went 9-7 in the regular season, but Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell and Colts players said this week the Jets are improving by the week in the post-season.

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New York Jets Improving Throughout the Post-Season

INDIANAPOLIS – The difference is a month, and to Dallas Clark, it's all the difference.

Clark, the Colts' All-Pro tight end, said just as the outcome of the game the last time the Colts played the New York Jets won't matter Sunday, the Jets' regular-season record won't, either.

The Jets made the playoffs as a Wild Card team. They won nine games in the regular season. They were the No. 5 seed in the AFC and needed to win their last two games to make the post-season. But the only record that matters for the Jets, Clark and the rest of the Colts will tell you, is their post-season record.

That's 2-0. An impressive 2-0.

"Once the playoffs come, you kind of wipe everything clean," Clark said Thursday afternoon as the AFC South Champion Colts (15-2) prepared to play host to the Jets (11-7) in the AFC Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 3 p.m.

"You just know things are going to be a little different. Playoffs are a different environment, a different atmosphere. And they're certainly a better team."

They're certainly a better team.

If there were a theme that ran through the Colts this week when they spoke of the Jets, it wasn't just that they were better than their regular-season record would indicate, it's that they have improved while winning their two post-season games.

"Everything changes," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "I mean, it really does. I think teams get better and better. Hopefully, we're a little bit better team than we were at that time, and I don't have any question in my mind that they are a better football team than they were. They keep getting better each and every week. We're going to have our work cut out for us in that regard."

The Jets, after a 3-0 start that included a victory over AFC East Champion New England, lost six of their next seven games to slip to 4-6 on November 22. But in the two months since, the Jets have won seven of eight games, with the lone loss coming at home, 10-7, to Atlanta on December 20.

Their current four-game winning streak has come over three playoff teams, with three of the victories – at Indianapolis (29-15), at Cincinnati (24-14) and at San Diego (17-14) – coming on the road. The road victory over the AFC North Champion Bengals came in an AFC Wild Card game, then the Jets beat No. 2 seed and AFC West Champion San Diego in an AFC Divisional Playoff Game this past Sunday.

The Jets beat Cincinnati, 37-0, at home in the regular-season finale.

The Jets also in December beat the Colts after trailing 15-10 with 5:36 remaining in the third quarter. The Colts at that point removed quarterback Peyton Manning, wide receiver Reggie Wayne and Clark from the game, with the Jets rushing for 111 fourth-quarter yards and holding Indianapolis to 38 fourth-quarter yards.

"They're hot right now," Colts safety Antoine Bethea said. "Going into Cincinnati, going to San Diego on the road, playing two good teams, they are out there playing with a swagger – a lot of confidence. I think they are much better right now. Like I said, just playing with that much confidence, you really have a lot of things going for you.

"When they come in here on Sunday, we know we are going to get their best shot."

The Colts know from experience seeding and regular-season record means little when it comes to the post-season. They won the Super Bowl as a No. 3 seed following the 2006 season, beating second-seeded Baltimore on the road, and also beat the second-seeded Kansas City Chiefs as the No. 3 seed following the 2003 season.

The Colts also have lost three times in the last 11 post-seasons to lower-seeded teams, losing as the No. 2 seed to No. 4 seed Tennessee in 1999, as the No. 1 seed to No. 6 seed Pittsburgh in 2005 and as the No. 2 seed to No. 3 seed San Diego in 2007.

"We've lost some tough ones in the playoffs," Colts center Jeff Saturday said. "We've been outplayed. As you go through it, you understand there were times we didn't play as well as we should have, and there were times we flat-out got beat by a better team that day.

"You look at each game individually, and you know we've let some get away and we've been beat by some."

Clark said there's no question the Jets are a team capable of winning Sunday, and that the Colts are preparing with that in mind.

"For them to go into Cincinnati, go into San Diego and play those teams – they're playing really good football right now," Clark said. "It's going to take a tough-fought, four-quarter game from us to win the game. We're preparing this week for anything and everything.

"They can do a lot of different things on defense. They definitely have the range to do a lot of different things defensively with the personnel they have."

The Jets finished No. 1 in the NFL in rushing offense this season, and led the NFL in total defense with a blitzing, attacking style of defense that hasn't allowed more than 15 points since a 31-14 loss to New England on November 22.

"They're playing in the AFC Championship Game for a reason," Bethea said. "They are a good team – good defense, good running attack. You can't take that for granted. When they come in here, we'll get their best shot and most definitely, they are going to get our best shot."

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