INDIANAPOLIS — Peyton Manning has kept it all business this week.
He studied tapes, looked for flaws and worked overtime to figure out how he can beat the 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 MVP in league 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 Ryan thought he could make Manning fret by calling this week’s matchup “personal,” well, think again.
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, throwing away 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 good 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-yard showing at Buffalo.
Defensively, the Jets are No. 3 overall and No. 6 against the pass and they’re hoping to get a payoff after bringing in cornerback Antonio Cromartie to team with All-Pro Darrelle Revis. Ryan acknowledged that the move for Cromartie was designed specifically to stop two teams — the Colts (10-6) and the Patriots.
It still might not be enough to beat Manning. What Revis remembers about last year’s championship game loss was the way Manning adjusted on the fly.
“I have never seen a quarterback know somebody else’s defense that well,” Revis said. “He knows what coverage you are in, it’s sometimes like he’s toying with us. You know, ‘I’m going to play around with you.’ He knows how to move people around and then to throw it where he needs to.”
That goes back to the homework.
But there are troubling signs for the Jets, too.
Since Week 5, the 31-year-old Tomlinson has averaged just 3.3 yards per carry. Quarterback Mark Sanchez has been contending with a sore throwing shoulder and the Jets have only beaten two teams with winning records this season — Week 2 against New England and Week 15 at Pittsburgh.
Indy, which had one of the worst defenses against the run this season, allowed only 79.8 yards in the last four games despite facing four of the league’s top runners — Chris Johnson twice, Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden.
“The confidence level is definitely high,” Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney said. “We definitely did a great job against the best running teams and running backs this year, so we know that we are capable of it. It is just about going out there and executing our game plan.”
On offense, the Colts have strung together three straight 100-yard rushing games, providing enough balance to make Manning even more dangerous.
The result: Indy heads into the playoffs on a season-long four-game winning streak and playing its best football all year. If things do get tough, they can always rely on Manning’s arm, too.
And it frustrates Ryan, which is why the coach let it out this week.
“Losing is the worst. Everybody hates to lose, but when you lose in a playoff game, it’s just, it’s devastating,” Ryan said. “When you go back and look at 2006 in Baltimore, that was one of the best defenses in the game. We thought if we won that one, we were going to win the Super Bowl and then he gets you. And then there was last year. I feel like I owe him.”
But, as Ryan knows, the less colorful Manning won’t leave anything to chance.
“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.”