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INDIANAPOLIS – When the Jets
took a 14-10 lead over the Colts in last night’s AFC wild-card playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium, it seemed Peyton Manning had them right where he wanted them.

Sure enough, the Rex Ryan-killing quarterback started hitting passes and moving the Colts ever closer to the Jets’ goal line for what figured to be a soul-crushing touchdown. But on third-and-7 at the Jets’ 15-yard line, a passing down if ever there was one, Manning . . . handed off?

The eyes did not deceive. Dominic Rhodes was dropped after a yard gain, and Adam Vinatieri’s field goal pulled the Colts within 14-13 with 4:37 left. But the Jets couldn’t run out the clock, giving the ball back to Manning with 2:36 left in regulation, and Manning drove them for the go-ahead field goal and a 16-14 lead with 53 seconds left.

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But that was just enough time left and not quite enough Colts points to prevent the Jets from winning, 17-16, on a 32-yard field goal by Nick Folk as time expired. In the end, the Jets won because they held Manning to 225 yards passing and forced him to check off to so many runs that the Colts had 27 rushing attempts to 27 passing attempts, including one sack. “One thing we did was make him check to plays he didn’t want to check to,” Darrelle Revis said. “We had a good key, and we knew the plays he would check to.”

Compared to last year’s AFC Championship Game, the Jets did a much better job against Manning and his high-powered passing attack. For the most part, the Jets played nickel coverage as their base defense on first down, with Drew Coleman as the nickel back shadowing slot receiver Blair White. Pro Bowl corner Revis locked on to wide receiver Reggie Wayne, and Antonio Cromartie was assigned to Pierre Garçon on the opposite side. Dwight Lowery started at safety but quickly was replaced by Eric Smith, who kept his eye on tight end Jacob Tamme at all times.

Amazingly enough after the way he shredded the Jets’ secondary last year, Manning went three-and-out on the first three Colts possessions, failing to pick up a first down on third-and-1 all three times. Manning actually used the running game to set up the play-action fake that opened up a 57-yard touchdown pass to Garçon for a 7-0 halftime lead. Cromartie and Pool bit on a play-action fake, freeing Garçon. But for the most part, the Jets kept the ball in front of them.

Linebacker Bart Scott said the Jets went with a light box, meaning they had no more than one or two linebackers in the middle inviting the run. “I said the one thing Manning does as well as Painter is hand the ball off,” Scott said with a laugh.

The Jets marveled at how Manning knew everything they were going to do on defense a year ago, but this time they were up to the chess match. “He started checking to runs, and that’s what we were trying to do,” Cromartie said. “We tried to play mind games with him. I thought we won the chess match.”

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