In AFC title game, Colts defeat Jets, 30-17

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 25, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS -- When the AFC playoffs were over and the golden trophy fell into the hands of the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night, there would not be euphoria the way there was the last time. That came across the street, in a dome that has since been blasted into rubble. The twirling, twinkling confetti that danced in the stadium lights meant so much more that time after the years of Super Bowls that had been expected and yet never made.

There will, for the Colts, never be another evening like Jan. 21, 2007, a night that one team official described as "blowing off a whole lot of frustration."

This time, the 30-17 victory over the New York Jets that clinched the Colts' second Super Bowl in four seasons, came with a dull roar inside Lucas Oil Stadium, a pumped fist from quarterback Peyton Manning and a small smile from their muted first-year head coach, Jim Caldwell.

"It was kind of like a sensation from a knockout," said Howard Mudd, the team's senior offensive line coach. "There was this eerie feeling that you had been here before but the world was fuzzy."

And yet despite the seemingly lopsided score over the Jets, a team with a subpar record, part of the Colts' calm Sunday evening came from the fact this was a game that was far tougher than would have been expected. The Jets came at them hard, pounding them with a ferocious, blitzing defense that punctured Indianapolis's normally solid offensive line and a couple times knocking Manning to the ground -- hard.

Later, the Colts said it took them more than a quarter to adjust to what the Jets were doing, recalibrating blocking schemes. In other words, making changes they might not have made in any of their regular season games or even in last week's playoff game against Baltimore.

When Manning emerged from the locker room a good hour after the game was over, he grinned and said he needed a day to decompress from this victory.

"I'm mentally tired from the preparation for this team," he said.

In a way they all were, which also might have played in the modest celebration that broke out on Sunday evening. They were too exhausted to do much else than mill about the stage that had been rolled out for them in the middle of the field. They snapped a few pictures, hugged mothers and fathers and sisters and wives and even waved to the fans who slowly filed out of the two-year-old stadium.

This was understandable. For there was a time on Sunday when it appeared as if the Colts might become victims of their own creation. It was, after all, Indianapolis who rested its starters halfway through a game against the Jets two weeks before the end of the regular season when the Colts had already clinched home-field advantage in the playoffs. Playing against Indianapolis's second- and third-string players, the Jets rolled in the second half of that game and all the way through the last game of the season, two postseason games and the first half of Sunday's AFC championship game.

Late in the first half, New York's rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez threw two touchdown passes and after a Jay Feely field goal, the Jets led 17-6.

Around Indianapolis, fans have been testy about the decision to essentially "give" that game to the Jets late in the season that sent them off on their playoff march. A man selling T-shirts outside a coffee shop across from the stadium shouted to passers-by: "We let 'em in and now we'll take 'em out!"

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company