Sunday, January 24, 2010

Super Bowl on line in rematch

INDIANAPOLIS – Just more than 41 years ago, Joe Namath made his famous guarantee that the New York Jets would defeat the Colts – the Baltimore Colts – in a game in Miami.

He delivered a 16-7 victory in what’s widely regarded as the greatest upset in Super Bowl history.

These days, it’s Jets coach Rex Ryan making confident statements heading into a game against theIndianapolis Colts. The payoff would be a trip to Miami for Super Bowl XLIV.

The irony is that the Jets might not have made the postseason if the Colts hadn’t pulled their starters with a five-point lead in the third quarter of a meaningless game Dec. 27. The Jets went on to win 29-15, squeaked into the playoffs and upset Cincinnati and San Diego in road games.

Along the way, Ryan proclaimed that the Jets should be favored to win the Super Bowl.

“I was just honest,” Ryan said. “I’m not an I-told-you-so guy, until after we win the Super Bowl. Then I’ll make that comment. But it’s not even about that at all. It’s about a belief in the people we had at the organization from the top (down).”

Perhaps it’s poetic justice that the fifth-seeded Jets (11-7) must defeat the top-seeded Colts (15-2) to get to the Super Bowl.

“This is a very good (Jets) team, regardless of if people want to say, ‘Oh, we let them get in,’ ” Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. “Who knows what would have happened in that game? Good job for them. We are here at the AFC championship game. All the talk and all that stuff that happened in Week 16, we’ll just have to see what happens.”

The Colts haven’t lost when their starters played a full game this season, and they’re coming off a 20-3 victory over Baltimore, which is similar in style to the Jets, who had the No. 1 defense (252.3 yards per game against) and the No. 1 rushing attack (172.2 yards per game).

Indianapolis is led by MVP Peyton Manning, who guided the Colts to 282.2 passing yards per game, second most in the NFL. He also orchestrated fourth-quarter comebacks in seven games – unprecedented in NFL history – and shepherded the development of young receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie.

Even Manning is surprised at the success the Colts have had, getting him to his third AFC championship game.

“Certainly with the young people we’ve had, and (especially) if you look at our games,” Manning said. “Look at some of the games we had, we were fortunate to win a number of those games. We had a number of come-from-behind victories. We possessed the ball for I think 14 minutes against the Miami Dolphins.

“To me, you earn the breaks. You still have to go out there and make the plays. … Guys have made the critical plays at critical times, and different guys have made the plays all year. I don’t think anybody saw that coming, and I certainly didn’t.”

Because the Colts have seen up close what the Jets can do, they don’t expect many surprises today.

“We will never know what the outcome of that (regular-season) game would have been,” Colts receiver Reggie Wayne said. “One thing we do know is that we have this game here, and we are definitely playing a full game. So will they.”

Except these Jets don’t have Namath; they have rookie Mark Sanchez, who has completed 24 of 38 passes for 282 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the playoffs. That hasn’t stopped Ryan from being confident.

“That’s (the Jets’) mantra. They get it from their coach,” Freeney said. “That’s his M.O. I’d be confident, too, if I won two road games. But every football team has a little bit of cockiness with them.”



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