INDIANAPOLIS -- There was no panic. Not even close. Not because the situation wasn't serious -- down 17-6 late in the first half of the AFC Championship Game -- it was just that Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said if you really looked at it, it was obvious what was happening.
|Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney: 'We proved a lot of people wrong, like we always do.' (Getty Images)|
"That's why we play the games," Freeney said after the Colts made the Super Bowl for the second time in four seasons, beating the New York Jets, 30-17, Sunday in front of 67,650 at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
"If we listened to everyone who's not playing, we may as well not show up. The [Colts] defense was the best defense out there. We definitely did what we did all year -- we proved a lot of people wrong, like we always do."
In Freeney's words was the underlying theme for many on the Colts defense on Sunday.
Yes, winning the Super Bowl is the Colts' one and only goal, has been since the start of the regular season, and Freeney -- the best player on one of the NFL's most underrated units -- said that's why the celebration on the field and in the locker room was a bit subdued Sunday.
"There's a bigger goal," Freeney said.
But if making the Super Bowl was the primary objective Sunday, proving to the NFL world yet again that the Colts can play big-time championship defense was a secondary objective, one that was sweet to fulfill.
Particularly with the big-talking Jets as the opponents.
That's right, those Jets. Owners of the NFL's top-ranked defense and No. 1-ranked running game. The theme throughout the week, as it often has been when teams with good defenses and solid run offenses play the Colts, was how the Jets matched up well against the Colts. That's because of a widely-held belief that the Colts are vulnerable to the run and the best way to beat them is to grind clock and keep four-time MVP Peyton Manning off the field.
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"They thought they were going to come in here and run the ball," Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden said. "As a defense, we took on the challenge of stopping them."
Which they did.
The Jets, who averaged 172.2 rushing yards per game in the regular season and 170 rushing yards in postseason upsets over Cincinnati and San Diego, rushed 29 times for 86 yards. Thomas Jones rushed 16 times for 42 yards and Shonn Greene rushed 10 times for 41 yards.
And still, surprisingly -- even shockingly to the crowd -- the Jets led, 17-6, with 2:11 remaining in the first half. Actually, make that "stupidly."
Because that's about how the Colts defense thought of the way the Jets had taken the lead. Not that they didn't consider the Jets a worthwhile opponent. Colts defensive end Robert Mathis called the Jets offensive line one of the best the Colts had played, and said rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez impressed him greatly.
But the first Jets touchdown came on an 80-yard touchdown pass from Sanchez to Braylon Edwards, a play on which Edwards got behind rookie free-agent corner Jacob Lacey. The second? Set up by a 45-yard pass from wide receiver Brad Smith to wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery out of the Tigercat formation.
"We just said, 'We have to stop doing stupid stuff and we can take care of these guys,'" Mathis said. "We had to stop doing stupid stuff."
And that stuff, Freeney said, just couldn't go on forever.
"Everybody kind of understood what it was," Freeney said. "They had some great-designed plays -- a little bit of trickery. Hats off to them, but you can't consistently beat somebody every time you get on the field doing trickery. You have to eventually line up and play ball. All the talk and all of that, it doesn't matter. When you get in between the lines, that's all that matters."
Said Hayden: "We said, 'Hey, they can't beat us on big plays and trick plays.' We said, 'We've got to be better than that.'"
The Colts defense wasn't just better after that. It was dominant. The Colts didn't allow a score for the rest of the game. The closest the Jets got was a missed 52-yard field goal early in the third quarter, and not long after that, the Colts were celebrating a second trip to the Super Bowl in four seasons in large part because of a defense that believed in itself.
Even if few others did.