INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Perfection doesn’t matter when you’re already the best and heading for the Super Bowl.
Four-time MVP Peyton Manning threw three touchdown passes and the Indianapolis 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 (15-2) are now headed back to Miami for the second time in four years and their fourth Super Bowl in franchise history.
“We talked about being patient against these guys,” Manning said. “We knew it would be a four-quarter game. They have an excellent defense.”
For the Colts, it was a measure of redemption.
A month ago when the Jets 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, they got it right against big-talking Rex Ryan and his Jets. Manning was on the field for the final play.
“I thought we just kept our mouths shut and went to work this week,” Manning said.
The Colts will face either New Orleans or Minnesota in two weeks.
“It’s very special,” said Manning, MVP when the Colts beat Chicago in the Super Bowl three years ago. “It’s great to win this championship here at home in front of the best fans in the world.”
Fans counted down the final seconds, streamers and confetti hung in the air, flash bulbs popped incessantly and when the official announcement was made, fans roared.
“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,” Caldwell said. “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 rookie Mark Sanchez and the Jets were shut out in the second half.
“Today wasn’t our day. There’s no question,” Ryan said. “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 continually dropped passes right over the fingertips of defenders, and the Jets couldn’t stop him.
After falling behind late in the first half, Manning finally responded. He took the Colts 80 yards in four plays, hooking three straight times with rookie Austin 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.
He sealed it midway through the fourth when Dallas Clark caught a 15-yard TD pass to make it 27-17.