The Colts overcame a 17-6 deficit with 24 unanswered points to beat the Jets, 30-17, in the AFC championship and advance to the Super Bowl.
Here are my 10 observations from the game:
1. The game swung on the Colts' final drive of the first half and their first drive of the second half. During those two drives, Peyton Manning completed nine of 12 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns, the second of which gave Indy a 20-17 lead. Manning was 11-for-18 for 218 yards (third-highest total in AFC championship history) and a touchdown in the first half. And it felt like the Jets' defense was playing pretty well, too.
2. Specifically, the four-play, 80-yard drive at the end of the first half was huge. The big play was a 46-yard throw by Manning to wide receiver Austin Collie. Jets cornerback Drew Coleman had good coverage, but mistimed his jump, or it would have been an incompletion, maybe even an interception. I'm amazed every week by the little things that separate great plays from disastrous plays.
3. The more I try to watch and analyze quarterback play in the NFL, the more I'm convinced that one thing that separates the great ones is the willingness to trust themselves and throw to receivers who aren't open when the ball is released. Obviously referring to Manning here. The timing and precision is incredible to watch.
4. If you're a Jets fan, there's no question you're pumped about what the future holds with Mark Sanchez. But forget about all the throws. The play I loved was when he rushed the offense to the line of scrimmage and ran a QB sneak on first down in the first quarter. Why? It came right after a third-down conversion near the sideline. Sanchez knew the play might be challenged so he made sure to get the ball snapped right away. He knew the exact situation and made a quick decision to help his team. Great job that might go unnoticed with everything else that was going on.
5. Lito Sheppard got picked on the first time he set foot on the field. Pierre Garcon got past him for a 36-yard catch. It would have been a touchdown had Manning delivered a better throw. Sheppard was benched in favor of Dwight Lowery to start the game. Manning really picked on Lowery throughout, which says a lot about the lack of confidence Rex Ryan and the Jets' coaching staff had in Sheppard.
6. Tremendous throw in the second quarter by Sanchez, finding tight end Dustin Keller in the end zone to put the Jets up 14-6. I'll admit I thought the ball was going to be picked when Sanchez released it. He got drilled on the play, but the throw couldn't have been better. It's unfair to expect him to keep up with Manning, But Sanchez had some very impressive moments.
7. The first four times Manning dropped back, he was sacked twice. The Jets' defense didn't get another one the rest of the game. On one of those, we saw Manning go down without being touched. What do we think? Smart move in avoiding a big hit? Or weak move for going down so easily? I say smart. But I don't think that would fly if Donovan McNabb did it in this city.
8. With about 2:23 left in the first half, Jim Nantz promoted CBS' coverage of the first PGA Tour event. And every household in America cracked a Tiger Woods joke simultaneously.
9. Jim Caldwell is in his first season as the Colts' head coach. His team was 14-0 at one point. So this might sound crazy. But I'm not sure I had heard the man ever speak before he was interviewed going into halftime.
10. In the third quarter, Sanchez took a hit after handing the ball off, and Rex Ryan went berserk (rightfully so) at the no-call. If I were the official, I would have been frightened. Ryan tossed his headset and everything. Hell, I was watching on TV and I was a little scared.
Extra point: I probably watched over two hours of pre-game coverage and came away without learning anything new about the championship games. But I will say I enjoyed when CBS had the new E-Trade baby on and he made a crack about Dan Marino's tan. Good stuff there.