Manning will not be a Jets-setter in rematch at AFC title game
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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.
"I do, yeah," Manning deadpanned, drawing laughter.
But in Indianapolis, this is no laughing matter.
Furious fans deluged local radio talk shows after Indianapolis' 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 Colts' 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.
"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 has 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: Indianapolis 20, Baltimore 3 -- the Colts' first postseason victory since Manning was named Super Bowl MVP in February 2007.
A win Sunday 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 Rex Ryan, whose Jets were playing to stay alive in the playoff hunt at the time.
Many outsiders believe the Colts would have won the game.
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."
First Published January 21, 2010 12:00 am