Manning leads Colts past Jets to Super Bowl

By Larry Fine

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - The Indianapolis Colts battled back to beat the New York Jets 30-17 for the American Football Conference (AFC) championship and advance to the Super Bowl on Sunday.

Quarterback Peyton Manning rescued Indianapolis from a 17-6 deficit late in the second quarter by throwing three touchdown passes as the Colts scored 24 unanswered points against the NFL's top-rated defense.

"We talked about being patient. We knew it would be a four-quarter game. We didn't panic," Manning said during the trophy presentation.

"It's very special. It's great to win this championship at home," he added to deafening roars from a franchise record crowd of 67,650 at the domed Lucas Oil stadium.

"Our guys have always been a very confident bunch. They do a great job of hanging in there," said Caldwell. "Peyton had an outstanding game. He's great at making adjustments."

Ryan tipped his cap to the Colts: "Obviously, they're the cream of the crop right now. With Peyton Manning, if you can't disrupt his rhythm he's going to kill you and we couldn't disrupt it enough."

Indianapolis return to the Super Bowl for the second time in four years after winning the 2006 NFL championship with a victory over the Chicago Bears, also in Miami.

The wild card Jets, who surprised Indianapolis with some long passing strikes in the first half, slumped when faced with Manning's pinpoint passing to his young band of receivers.

THIRD UPSET

New York's remarkable journey through the playoffs had seen them beat Cincinnati and San Diego and for a while they threatened a third upset to grab a place in the Super Bowl for the first time in 41 years.

Indianapolis had taken 3-0 lead on a 25-yard Matt Stover field goal early in the second quarter when Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez hurled a strike to Braylon Edwards streaking down the left sideline for an 80-yard touchdown play.

The Colts drove down the field but again were kept out of the end zone and Indianapolis settled for another field goal, a 19-yarder that made it 7-6.

The Jets hit back. Brad Smith, operating out of the wildcat alignment, threw only his second pass of the season to find Jerricho Cotchery open for a 45-yard gain to the 12-yard-line.

Sanchez cashed in with a nine-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dustin Keller and when Jim Leonhard recovered a Colts fumble, Jay Feely rammed home a 48-yard field goal for a 17-6 Jets lead.

With time running out in the half, Manning hit rookie Austin Collie on three straight connections for 18, 36 and 16 yards, the last for a touchdown that brought the Colts within four.

Sanchez, who was a brilliant 5-for-7 in passing for 124 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, could not sustain his early success as Manning took charge.

He lofted a perfect pass into the corner of the end zone on a fade route to Pierre Garcon in the Colts' first possession of the third quarter to put Indianapolis in front 20-17.

Manning, who completed 26 of 39 passes for 377 yards, followed with a 15-yard TD pass to tight end Dwight Clark, and Stover capped the win with a 21-yard field goal.

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)