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Even against Jets, Manning proves unflappable

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Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts points in the first half against the...
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Mark Kriegel

Mark Kriegel is the national columnist for FOXSports.com. He is the author of two New York Times best sellers, Namath: A Biography and Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, which Sports Illustrated called "the best sports biography of the year."

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INDIANAPOLIS

The green-clad legions arrived on Saturday night, and quickly transformed -- or should I say, reduced? -- Meridian Street into something resembling an episode of MTV’s “Jersey Shore.”

Jets fans occupied large sections of the downtown area, clogging main drags with their rambunctious ranks.

They were loud and beery, and a few of them deliriously enveloped in a marijuana haze, which was peculiar, as I haven’t seen anyone smoking a joint on the streets of New York in years.

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More peculiar still: no Colts fans, or at least none to speak of.

Who, then, would liberate this mild-mannered, mid-western city from the invading hordes?

Why, Peyton Manning, of course.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. He did it before, four times when Jets coach Rex Ryan served as the defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. He did it again Sunday. In retrospect, the December game that saw the Colts pull their starters after a half against the Jets should count for nothing but coach Jim Caldwell’s prudent judgment. The Colts were happy enough to avoid the Chargers, who’d eliminated them the last two years.

Still, even as that Jets-Colts game has sustained the media for nearly a month, it held little value for Manning. Instead, he studied film of the 2005 regular season game between the Colts and the Ravens.

“We grinded all week on these guys, I studied hard,” he said, adding that Ryan’s vaunted schemes are nothing if not consistent. “He has his style of defense and he goes back to things that work. They mix it up, but their philosophy is the same.”

The Colts won that 2005 encounter, which just happened to be the opening Sunday of the season. The score was 24-7, with Indianapolis getting a touchdown off an interception. Manning was 21 for 36, with 254 yards and a couple of touchdowns. This time, with the Colts beating a surprisingly formidable Jets team, they won 30-17. The Jets who play in Jersey may have the best defense in football, but they were no match for the best quarterback, whose line on the afternoon was 26 for 39, 377 yards, 3 touchdowns.

“Typical Peyton,” said the receiver, Pierre Garcon. “We know he’s going to put it where it needs to be. We know he’s going to make the right reads.”

I asked Garcon if the Jets defense was all that it had been cracked up to be.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “They came out strong. They were blitzing. They were running guys at me. We just had to figure out what they were doing.”

It’s worth mentioning here that Garcon isn’t much more than a rookie. Coming out of Mount Union College in Ohio in 2008, he had all of four catches. On Sunday, he had 11 for 151 yards.

“Somebody had to get open,” he said. “It just happened to be my day.”

And if it wasn’t you? I asked.

“It would have been Austin,” he said, referring to the slot receiver, a true rookie named Austin Collie. “Or it would’ve been Dallas.”

As it happened, tight end Dallas Clark -- one of Ryan’s major pre-game concerns -- had a mere four catches, one for a touchdown. But Collie had 7, for 123 yards, including a touchdown on a second quarter drive that disabused Jets fans of their greatest delusions.

“That’s just how our offense is,” said Garcon.

“It’s unusual for guys that young to really perform,” said Caldwell.

Then again, Garcon and Collie had a pronounced advantage going back to the offseason, when Manning appointed himself their tutor. “He has a way of making everybody around him better,” said Caldwell. “He’s like a great point guard, a guy who can get you the ball at the right time in the right place so that you can do something with it.”

All this praise for Manning should not demean the Jets, who took a 17-6 lead, or the Colts defense, which held the Jets scoreless in the second half. But you could literally feel Manning change the game late in the second quarter when he started throwing to Collie out of the shotgun. Three plays, 80 yards, touchdown. It took 53 seconds.

“That was huge,” said Manning, whose film study taught him to expect a blitz right after the two-minute warning.

It was more of the same on the Colts first possession of the second half. Offensive coordinator Tom Moore kept calling running plays. Manning kept disregarding them, shouting audibles out of the shotgun. “I just kind of got hot,” he said.

That drive lasted 8 plays, 57 yards, and ended with Garcon catching a short slant for a touchdown and a lead the Colts would never relinquish. “The young guys,” said Manning. “They’re going to be key for us in two weeks.”

With Super Bowl plans already being made, the Colts fans finally had enough courage to hit the streets. You could see them on the television monitor in the press box, live from Meridian, guys in blue jerseys reclaiming their turf.
Tagged: Colts, Jets, Ravens, Peyton Manning, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie

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