Linebacker Jason Taylor recalled watching the 2009 AFC Championship Game from home as Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine battled Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning. The long-time Colts signalcaller and former Super Bowl MVP gradually turned an 11-point deficit into a 30-17 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium.
This year the Green & White will get their chance at revenge in the wild-card round but will face a different Colts offense.
"Well, obviously you look at the injuries that they've had throughout the course of the season," Taylor said today at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. "Dallas Clark gets hurt a month ago, people say the Colts are done, and they go out and win four straight. There are a lot of good players on that football team, but that team does not win four straight and make the playoffs if they don't have Peyton Manning."
Manning has had one of the most intriguing seasons of his career, and needed a four-game winning streak to ensure the Colts yet another playoff berth. He threw an NFL-record 450 completions this season that racked up exactly 4,700 yards and 33 touchdowns while completing 66.3 percent of his passes. The perennial AFC South standouts, however, experienced a tough late-November stretch when they lost three straight games after suffering injuries to Clark and WR Austin Collie.
During that time, Manning threw the majority of his 17 interceptions, but since then he's been phenomenal and has turned Jacob Tamme and Blair White into threats. This season the 11-time Pro Bowl selection and four-time NFL MVP completed 19 or more passes to eight different receivers this season and hit four of those targets 58 times or more.
One of his greatest attributes is being able to read defenses, and it will be up to Pettine to come up with schemes to keep him off guard.
"You can fool him occasionally," Pettine said. "I think more so what is important with Peyton is that I don't know if you'll necessarily fool him, sometimes it's the rest of the offense as well. A lot of their routes are based on the receivers and the quarterback being on the same page. I think you can do some things to at least cause some confusion for the receivers, for the tight end, for the back, maybe the lineman in protection."
Manning, the son of former NFL quarterback Archie Manning, has amassed remarkable career numbers of 208 consecutive games played, 4,682 completions, 54,828 yards and 399 touchdowns to go along with a career 64.9 completion percentage. He's usually steady and unflappable, but the 14-year veteran Taylor commented on a way to force Manning to miss his mark.
"It's important to be in his face and kind of be around his feet," Taylor said. "I'm not saying hitting him in his legs, but being around his feet and not allowing him to step into his throws. He's a tall, long quarterback that can see the field really well because of his height and you have to do a good job of being up in his face and try to make him short-arm some throws, try to force some throws to sail on him a little bit. There will be some chances to get some hits on him and you have to make those count."
It was rare that Manning saw the turf this season, though, considering he was sacked only 16 times. Jets DT Trevor Pryce said that Manning has the quickest release in the game. Pettine, however, has confidence that offseason acquisition Taylor has been proven to make game-changing plays like his strip sack against the Patriots in Week 2 and the safety he scored against Pittsburgh in Week 15.
"I think Jason has been a great fit for us," Pettine said. "I think a lot of the benefits that he has brought to this team go beyond the production on the field. I think he's been great in the locker room, he's been certainly great in the defensive meeting room as far as a mentor and helping guys prepare to rush the passer. The other thing that Jason brings is he just has a knack to make plays. He's broken up a lot of passes, he's made big plays at key times."
One of the most important factors in Taylor's success as a Jet has been his attitude coming into the season as the Jets' defense registered the ninth-best sacks-per-pass-attempt rate the NFL. While his on-field numbers haven't been astronomical— five sacks, six PDs, 36 tackles — the motivation and inspiration that he's provided to his teammates has been. This week he addressed the team and told them to relish the opportunity to be in the playoffs considering this is his first postseason trip since 2001.
"There is no next week," Taylor said. "Throughout the course of the season, if you have a bad game and you do some things incorrectly, you can go back and say we'll correct them next week. The beauty of it is now it's a tournament and its single-elimination. It's your best football for 60 minutes, 60 football minutes, 3½ hours of real life. You work all year for the next 3½ hours. It's the fun, pressure-packed part of this game."