January 8, 2011 in Sports

Manning undaunted

Ryan’s mind games aren’t breaking focus of Colts’ QB
Michael Marot Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Peyton Manning’s focus this week has been on how to beat the New York Jets in today’s playoff game.
(Full-size photo)

Today’s games

Saints (11-5) at Seahawks (7-9)

Time (TV): 1:30 p.m. (NBC)

Line: Saints by 10

Seattle is the first sub-.500 team to make the playoffs since the AFC-NFC merger in 1970 and faces a team that never has won a road playoff game and is without two key running backs (Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas), who are injured and will miss the playoffs. Nonetheless, New Orleans is too powerful to be contained by a Seattle defense that ranks 27th against the pass and was allowing 38 points a game during a three-contest stretch last month.

Jets (11-5)

at Colts (10-6)

Time (TV): 5 p.m. (NBC)

Line: Colts by 2 1/2

Indianapolis won four in a row down the stretch after it looked as if it was going to miss the playoffs, as the Colts overcame a slew of injuries. Colts get to play at home against a foe that lost three of its final four meaningful games and whose QB (Mark Sanchez) has been nursing a sore shoulder but plans to start. N.Y. ranks third in defense after a slow start and is sixth vs. the pass, which could make it tough on aerial- oriented Colts – who is No. 1 in passing. N.Y. has the NFL’s No. 4 ground game and will try to pound the ball away at the No. 25 run defense.

INDIANAPOLIS – Peyton Manning has kept it all business this week. He studied tapes, looked for flaws and worked overtime to figure out how he beat the New York Jets’ defense.

No change there, so don’t take it personally, Rex.

“It takes you absolutely forever to watch one game with their defense because they have so many different players and formations. It’s a full-time cram session,” Manning said. “It just takes you time if you are going to truly study.”

Few prepare more thoroughly than Manning, and even fewer can match the feats of the only four-time league MVP in history. This week’s possible milestones include passing Joe Montana for No. 2 on the postseason completions list and moving into the top five in playoff TD passes.

So if Rex Ryan, the Jets coach, thought he could make Manning fret by calling this week’s matchup “personal,” well, think again.

“I think he’s going to try to stick it to me and that’s what he should do,” Ryan said. “But to say I want to beat him worse than any guy in the league, that’s probably true.”

As Ryan continued chirping, Manning kept working.

“I really don’t have any reaction to it,” Manning said. “I know how hard it is to prepare for this style of defense.”

Playing mind games with Manning is dangerous, something nobody understands better than Ryan.

He’s 1-5 against Manning as the Jets coach and Ravens defensive coordinator, with the win coming in a game Manning didn’t even finish. The Colts yanked their starters early in Week 16 last season, losing their chance at a perfect season and helping the Jets position themselves to charge into the playoffs.

Four weeks later, the teams met again in the AFC championship game and Manning led the Colts to a 30-17 come-from-behind victory.

So given what Ryan has endured in the past, anything is worth a shot.

“I remember in Baltimore, we had to get a stop to get the ball back and make it a game, and it was third down and it was just impossible to make the pass he makes to Dallas Clark. The coverage by Corey Ivy was ridiculous,” Ryan recalled of another playoff loss to Manning’s Colts. “He still made the throw and they went down and kicked a field goal, and the game was essentially over at that point.”

Over the years, Ryan has seen that scenario play out time and again.

From implausible throws to perfect game management to timely calls, Manning seems to have written the book on beating Ryan.

Changing that will likely take a ball-control offense, a lockdown defense, no turnovers and a little luck.

New York (11-5) certainly has the pieces to do it.

Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson helped the Jets rank fourth in the NFL in rushing, and the Jets are coming off last week’s season-high 276 yards at Buffalo.

The Jets are No. 3 overall on defense and they’re hoping to get a payoff after bringing in cornerback Antonio Cromartie to team with All-Pro Darrelle Revis.

And it still might not be enough to beat Manning and the Colts (10-6).

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