Manning gives precision performance against the Jets in AFC championship game

Peyton Manning is the center of attention after securing his second trip to the Super Bowl.
Peyton Manning is the center of attention after securing his second trip to the Super Bowl. (Rob Carr/associated Press)
By Mike Wise
Monday, January 25, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS Second quarter, late, Jets absolutely stunning the Colts -- the prodigy pulling a fast one on the legend.

If Peyton Manning was going to remain in the hallowed-quarterback conversation he was going to have to move the Colts. Quickly. If the pantheon is made up of names such as Montana, Marino, Elway, Unitas -- and a 23-year-old rookie is threatening to end the season for most of two quarters -- well, an NFL MVP finally needs to act like an NFL MVP.

It's Manning, so he responded. Threw for 300-plus yards, three touchdowns. Made the confetti rain in Lucas Oil Stadium and the loud speakers blare Will Smith's "Miami." Truly triggered the comeback with a two-minute drill before halftime that led to a defining touchdown.

"That was huge," the Colts quarterback said of the drive after a 30-17 victory had returned his franchise to the city where Indianapolis won its first Super Bowl in 2007. "It is hard to say that won the game, but it was huge.

"It reminded me of our championship three years ago against New England. We didn't exactly start the way we wanted to. We were kind of feeling them out trying to get some rhythm. "

Finding Austin Collie on a deep post route in the middle of the field for 46 yards with less than two minutes left before halftime -- the big play that led to the touchdown -- was about the most important pass he threw Sunday, an absolute strike at exactly the right moment that everyone was waiting for and had long expected.

The problem with being Peyton Manning good: There's not as much thanks and appreciation in the legacy-building business as there is assuming great performance before it happens.

Manning was expected to take the Colts downfield and give his team needed momentum at intermission, just as he was expected to perform so patiently and masterfully in a second-half clinic that propelled his franchise to its second Super Bowl in four years.

Anything else does not merely doom a season; it tarnishes a career, toys with history, stalls the fable of a former NFL quarterback who has fathered three boys -- two of which have represented the family in three of the last four Super Bowls.

"I don't want to say who said it, but one coach and a veteran player said it was the best half they'd seen him play," Archie Manning said after he had hugged his son in the tunnel leading to the Colts' jubilant locker room Sunday. "I just told him I was proud of him."

The truth: Peyton almost had to win Sunday against the underdog Jets -- or there is a good chance the Top Five Ever to Play the Position talk begins to gradually wane when No. 18 is brought up.

He had endured a ruthless first half, two quarters of missed opportunities and watching an inexperienced kid, who Pete Carroll said should have stayed in college, outgun a man with everything but a bronze bust.

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