Yet another early exit for Manning, Colts

MICHAEL RUSHTON, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 2:44 PM ET

For the third time in four seasons, the Indianapolis Colts are one-and-done in the playoffs.

Of course, the Colts won Super Bowl XLI to cap the 2006 season prior to this current stretch and were the defending AFC champions heading into Saturday's matchup with the Jets, but would you believe that Peyton Manning is now 9-10 in the postseason following a last-second 17-16 loss to New York?

Now, no one is going to argue against Manning going into the Hall of Fame when his stellar career is over, but one has to wonder just how much people will remember his postseason struggles. After all, in seven of his 11 playoff appearances he has failed to advance the Colts a single game.

Manning, though, won't be faulted alone for Saturday's not-so-shocking setback to the Jets. The gun-slinger threw for a modest 225 yards and one touchdown versus a tough pass defence, but twice led his squad into position for fourth-quarter field goals. The latter put the Colts ahead by two with 53 seconds remaining.

Some had already questioned Indianapolis head coach Jim Caldwell settling for three points when down four with 4:37 to go, but Adam Vinatieri's 50-yard boot later in the game for a 16-14 lead in favour of the Colts made questioning that decision moot.

"In that situation [the first field goal] we take the points," said Caldwell. "Where we were located we knew we were in a situation where we had a chance to get it back. That was our thought process. And it happened that way. We did get it back. We obviously had a chance to go down and we ended up getting a field goal. But obviously it wasn't enough."

It wasn't enough because the Jets still had just under a minute of time to work with and what unfolded next was a series of events usually reserved for the Manning-led Colts.

First, New York returned the ensuing kickoff 47 yards to its own 46-yard line. The Jets then moved the ball 22 yards to the Colts 36-yard line with 29 seconds to play and it was Caldwell who curiously called a time out.

Out of the break, New York quarterback Mark Sanchez found wideout Braylon Edwards for a gutsy 18-yard completion to the Colts 14, setting up Nick Folk's game-winning 32-yard boot.

"It is certainly disappointing," said Manning. "That is really all you think about at this point. I think at some point you will sit back and reflect on the entire season. Disappointing in the way that we lost the game tonight. Anytime you lose on a last-second field goal in a playoff game it certainly stinks."

COLTS THE UNDERDOG?

Even though the Colts came into Saturday's meeting with the Jets, who they knocked off in last year's AFC Championship Game, riding a four-game winning streak, many felt that the banged-up club was more vulnerable than ever.

Sure, Indy had won the AFC South title for the seventh time in the past eight seasons and was making its record-tying ninth straight postseason appearance, but the franchise was also counting on the likes of Dominic Rhodes, Blair White and Jacob Tamme to make plays due to a rash of injury.

Indianapolis usually comes into the playoffs as one of the heavy favourites, but Manning didn't see it that way this year.

"It would have been fun to have gotten on a little run here. There is really a different feel here. We would have been the underdog in every game we would have played. I thought we were the underdog tonight.

"[Had we won], we would have been an underdog going into to Pittsburgh. That is certainly a different feeling. Every year we are in the playoffs. We are always kind of the favourite to win and expected to win, but this could have been a fun little run."

One player who enjoyed a great run on Saturday was wide receiver Pierre Garcon. With Reggie Wayne shut down by Jets star cornerback Darrelle Revis to the tune of just one catch for one yard, Garcon posted five receptions for a game-high 112 yards while hauling in a 57-yard touchdown catch.

In all, the Colts outgained the Jets through the air, 219-184, and didn't lose because of offensive struggles.

"Pierre made a big play on his touchdown. Blair had a couple of nice catches. Reggie Wayne has had an unbelievable year. There is no question he was a big focus of their defence," Manning said. "It was just a matter of kind of throwing it to the guy that was open on each progression and knowing what the coverage was."

OFFSEASON TRIP TO CLUB MED

When Indianapolis placed cornerback Kelvin Hayden on injured reserve before the Jets game, it meant the club would end the season with 18 players on IR. That list included some star-studded names in tight end Dallas Clark, wide receivers Anthony Gonzalez and Austin Collie and safeties Bob Sanders and Melvin Bullitt.

They weren't the only key pieces missing for the playoff matchup as linebacker Clint Session, tackle Ryan Diem and defensive tackle Antonio Johnson were all inactive versus the Jets.

Still, the Colts never gave up and got big unexpected contributions from the likes of White, Tamme, linebacker Pat Angerer and safety Aaron Francisco.

A day after the loss to New York, Caldwell was better able to put those contributions into perspective.

"Probably unlike any other group that I've ever seen, obviously had probably more adversity to deal with through the course of the season than most teams. They did it, I think, in grand fashion. They were able to stare it right in the eye. They didn't weep and complain. They didn't implode. They didn't point fingers.

"What they did is went to work and certainly did everything they possibly could to put us in position to win."

While the Colts would still love to be playing right now, they certainly could use the offseason more than any other club. And, assuming there is a next season, recharged Indy should again be among the main contenders.

NEXT UP: THE DRAFT

Offensively, the Colts were among the league leaders in points and passing, but averaged just 92.7 yards per game on the ground. Starter Joseph Addai missed time this year with injury and is slated to be a free agent, so adding to the position through the draft is possible.

Session is the biggest name on the defensive side of the ball for free agency and the whole unit should get a bit of a makeover after it ranked 20th in total defence, 23rd in scoring defence and struggled to stop the Jets ground game.

Indy appears to be strong up front, especially with ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, so the secondary should get some new additions prior to next season.

The Colts spent their first three draft picks last year on defence, grabbing defensive end Jerry Hughes (first round), Angerer (second round) and cornerback Kevin Thomas (third round).


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