In games that Peyton Manning started and finished this season, the Indianapolis Colts are a perfect 15-0. The Jets handed the Colts their first loss back in Week 16, but Manning exited that contest in the third quarter.
Kerry Rhodes knows history awaits if the Jets can beat the NFL's four-time MVP over 60 minutes.
"You play this game to be in situations like this, to be remembered as a Super Bowl champion. The opportunity is right now," said the veteran safety.
As his 8-8 playoff mark indicates, Manning is mortal. He was short of spectacular in the Colts' 20-3 wild-card win over the Ravens and has historically struggled against some teams that employ 3-4 fronts.
"We've seen teams that have run similar defenses to ours — the 3-4 type, the hybrid-type system — where he's had trouble before," Rhodes said. "The Patriots a couple of years ago, the Steelers a couple of years ago.
"He can get a little erratic if you get pressure on him, so that's the key."
The unconventional Jets can bring pressure from everywhere, including their defensive backfield. Rhodes racked up a sack and forced fumble of Chargers QB Philip Rivers last weekend in the 17-14 divisional-round victory. The 6'3", 214-pounder totaled eight tackles against the 'Bolts and helped seal the deal in the fourth quarter with a recovery of an onside kick.
"It was a big game as far as the situation we were in. It's the playoffs and that's what people remember, when you make plays in the playoffs and have big games then," he said. "That stands out."
Rhodes and his teammates want to see Manning take a seat this weekend. After getting sacked just 10 times in the regular season, the Colts' star was sacked twice by the Ravens and was slowed by their coverage schemes.
"You can just watch Peyton on film. He doesn't want to get hit. If there's a free guy, he'll actually just go down and just give up the sack," said Rhodes. "If you get pressure on him, he gets to talking to his linemen and they're a little edgier, they're a little rattled."
Employing a check-with-me system, Manning will go to the line, attempt to read the defense and try to dial up a play to be successful against the league's top defense. You can argue that the most important action that will take place this week will occur before the ball is snapped.
"If he knows what you're in, he's going to get the ball out quick and he's going to make the right read. It has to be more like a cat-and-mouse game," said Rhodes, who finished with three interceptions during the regular season. "You want to show him something that you're not going to be in, so if you're blitzing sometimes you want to show coverage, show deep. If you are coming, you want to hold the disguise as long as you can. Just try to change up the myriad of looks you're going to run and just don't give him the game plan."
Manning passed for 4,500 yards and 33 touchdowns during the regular season while completing 68.8 percent of his passes. He's an expert marksman and you're begging for trouble if you provide a stationary target.
"You have to be really prepared to play him. You can't go into the game just expecting the game plan to work 100 percent," said Rhodes. "He's going to make plays, so you have to go in and try to disguise it and try to hide some of the things you're doing. If you don't, he's going to make the right play."
Manning has co-favorite receivers in TE Dallas Clark and WR Reggie Wayne as both had 100 receptions in '09. The Jets just faced a great tight end in Antonio Gates and Rhodes hinted that you might see even more man coverage on Clark this weekend.
"I think it was a good thing we got to see Gates last weekend and we just know you can't just play zone against those types of guys because they're going to find openings," he said. "When you have a quarterback like Rivers or Manning, they're going to get the ball to them. Seeing him helps us change up some things and fix up some things for this week."
While Gates worked out of a typical tight end position, Clark can be mostly found in the slot. Targeted seven times by Manning in Week 16, Clark finished with four catches for 57 yards in 2½ quarters of work.
Anticipation builds as to how Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will attack Manning and company. You saw the "Revis Rotation" last week, so how much will the Jets' lockdown corner stay on Wayne? Rhodes figures to see a lot of Clark and then there's the possibility of a speed matchup with Lito Sheppard squaring off against Pierre Garcon. Austin Collie was actually the Colts' leading receiver in the teams' first meeting with 94 yards on six grabs. Former Colt Donald Strickland might get that Collie chore.
You don't know and that's the beauty of it. The Jets, fresh off the neutralizing of a strong passing attack, are ready for one of the game's all-time best quarterbacks.
"I thought Philip Rivers was probably playing the best out of all of them at the point we played them last week and we held him to like a 70 rating [76.9]," Rhodes said. "We're confident and we know Peyton's a different animal. He is the four-time MVP, so that speaks for itself. You have to come out and play your 'A' game and hope that's good enough."