The four-time MVP threw three touchdown passes and the Colts rallied from an 11-point, first-half deficit to beat the New York Jets 30-17 Sunday in the AFC championship game.
The Colts (16-2) are now headed back to the NFL title game for the second time in four years and their fourth Super Bowl in franchise history.
Better yet, they’re heading back to their lucky city – Miami, where they’ve played all four of those games.
“I thought we just kept our mouths shut and went to work this week,” Manning said.
The big-talking Jets, and their equally big-talking coach, Rex Ryan, were all the incentive they needed.
A month ago, when the New Yorkers were last in town, Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell pulled his starters in the third quarter and gave up a chance at a perfect season to focus on a Super Bowl run.
This time, Manning was on the field for the very last play.
“We talked about being patient against these guys,” Manning said. “We knew it would be a four-quarter game.”
The Colts will face either New Orleans or Minnesota in two weeks. Manning was the MVP when the Colts beat Chicago in the Super Bowl three years ago.
Fans counted down the final seconds, streamers and confetti hung in the air, flash bulbs popped incessantly and when the official announcement was made, roars cascaded from the rafters.
The Colts’ career rushing leader, Edgerrin James, presented the team with the Lamar Hunt Trophy, which goes to the AFC champs, and some players savored the celebration by staying on the field long after the official celebration ended.
“The guys have always been a very confident bunch and they do a great job of hanging in there,” Caldwell said. “Peyton had just an outstanding game. He’s one of those guys that can adjust to different situations. … A real champion.”
Manning finished 26 of 39 for 377 yards. He became the first player in league history with seven 300-yard postseason games. That broke a tie with Kurt Warner and Joe Montana.
The Jets’ magical run ended with their first road loss in six games.
New York (11-8) built a 17-6 lead and took advantage of trick plays. But the Jets lost running back Shonn Greene with a rib injury in the second half, and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez was shut out over the final two quarters.
“Today wasn’t our day. There’s no question,” said Ryan, who declared his Jets the Super Bowl favorites before the playoffs. “You have to give credit to the Colts. Obviously they’re the cream of the crop right now.”
Caldwell became only the fifth rookie coach to reach the Super Bowl. Only two others – San Francisco’s George Seifert and Don McCafferty, of the Baltimore Colts – have won it.
But Caldwell does have Manning, who drove the Colts right through New York’s No. 1 ranked defense with his uncanny precision.
Manning kept dropping passes right over the fingertips of defenders, and the Jets couldn’t stop him.
Pierre Garcon set career highs with 11 catches for 151 yards. Rookie Austin Collie had a career-best seven catches for 123 yards, his first 100-yard day as a pro. And the Jets allowed three TD passes for the first time all season.
After falling behind late in the first half, Manning responded. He took the Colts 80 yards in four plays, hooking three straight times with Collie, including the 16-yard TD pass that made it 17-13 with 1:13 to go in the half.
Manning was just getting started.
The next time he got the ball, he took the Colts 57 yards in eight plays, connecting with Pierre Garcon in the back corner of the end zone to make it 20-17 with 8:03 left in the third quarter.
Clark and Garcon each topped 100 yards receiving Sunday.
He sealed it midway through the fourth when Dallas Clark caught a 15-yard TD pass to make it 27-17.
But it didn’t look like it would go this way during a scoreless first quarter.
The Colts uncharacteristically struggled to get first downs, and settled for field goals instead of scoring touchdowns.
New York also changed philosophies, creating its big plays through the air.
Sanchez, the fourth rookie quarterback to lead his team to the conference title game and lose, used a beautiful play-action fake to fool rookie cornerback Jacob Lacey. Lacey, who started in placed of the injured Jerraud Powers, was burned for an 80-yard TD pass by Braylon Edwards giving the Jets a 7-3 lead.
After the Colts cut it to 7-6, Jets receiver Brad Smith lined up in the Tigercat formation and connected with Jerricho Cotchery for a 45-yard pass to the Colts 12. It was Smith’s first career completion out of an offensive formation. Three plays later, Sanchez barely avoided a sack and found Dustin Keller for a 9-yard TD pass to make it 14-6 with 4:53 to go in the half.
The Jets made it 17-6 after Joseph Addai’s fumble set up Jay Feely’s 48-yard field goal.
That’s when Manning the Colts took over – and closed it out.
NOTES: Sanchez was 17 of 30 for 257 yards with two TDs and a late interception. …. Curtis Martin, the Jets’ career rushing leader, was New York’s honorary captain. … The Colts have won both AFC title games played in Indy by coming back from double-digit deficits. The Colts trailed New England by 18 points four years ago at the RCA Dome. … All four of the Colts’ Super Bowl appearances have been in Miami. … Referee Tony Corrente mistakenly called the Jets the Giants on the coin toss. … Cotchery caught five passes for 102 yards, while Edwards finished with two receptions for 102 yards.