'He knows what people will do before they do.'INDIANAPOLIS — Nobody else can make studying seem so, well, sexy.
By: JIM LITKE, AP Sports Columnist
INDIANAPOLIS — Nobody else can make studying seem so, well, sexy.
But the deeper you delve into what makes Peyton Manning the best quarterback in the game right now, what makes him able to stand and deliver time and again, even in the face of the most withering pass rush, it always comes back to the same thing.
"Preparation," said rookie receiver Austin Collie, who caught seven passes for 123 yards and a touchdown as the Colts pulled away to post a 30-17 win over the Jets in the AFC Championship. "He's ready for everyone and everything. He seems to know what people are going to do before they do."
"Probably the biggest thing," said Colts rookie head coach Jim Caldwell, who's spent eight years around Manning, but still finds himself in awe at moments, "is that he performs his best in the most difficult situations. We count on it. But that's because he's always ready."
When the theory was run by his father outside a celebrating Indianapolis locker room, Archie Manning smiled.
"He was easy to motivate, but he wasn't always like that, a student," Archie said. "But he always liked to win. Over four quarters, he usually figures out what's going on. But it wasn't until he got to college that he really took a cerebral approach to the game."
Archie's middle son has more than made up for any lost time. Peyton is famous for studying film voraciously, but even the stories about the long hours he puts in don't always do his habit justice. This week, besides watching just about everything he could find on the Jets' defense this season, he started culling through old films. Before becoming the Jets coach, Rex Ryan drew up his innovative, attacking schemes as a defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens. So that's where Peyton went, forcing his longtime backup, Jim Sorgi, and two assistants to hunker down in the seats next to him.
"2005 Colts-Ravens," Manning said. "I just picked a game, but guys tend to go back to things that worked. So we really grinded on him."
After the game Manning had, most guys would talk about the thrill of returning to the Super Bowl for the second time in four years. Or how, after a frustrating start, he solved the Jets top-ranked defense in the second half and wound up shredding it to the tune of 377 yards, three touchdowns and a 123.6 passer rating. Not Manning.
Instead, he wanted to know about all the things he'd prepared for that, for some reason or other, didn't unfold exactly the way he'd planned them. That included what might seem to the rest of us like the most inconsequential stuff in the biggest game of the year.
For example: why the Jets started second-year corner Dwight Lowery in place of regular Lito Sheppard for the biggest game of the season; or why the ref stood over the ball for a few extra seconds on the Colts' first drive of the second quarter, when he was planning to hurry up to the line and run a quarterback sneak, a play the Colts almost never run.
"Unless we're making a substitution, he's not supposed to do that," Manning said.
About the only thing Peyton didn't want an answer to was why the Jets decided to attempt a 52-yard field goal when their opening drive in the third quarter stalled and their 17-13 lead was growing slimmer by the minute.
"I had a lot on my mind at that point," Manning said almost sheepishly.
So here's the answer.
Ryan knew what every coach who plays against Manning eventually learns. He makes you doubt your best instincts so that you try to pile up as many points as you can, anyway you can. Because it's just a matter of time before he figures out how you're attacking him and adjusts his blocking schemes and his receiver's routes — and then you're done.
Manning already turned Bill Belichick inside out on a similar fourth-down gamble earlier this season. His own coaches learned long ago to cede him control of the plays at the line of scrimmage and sit back and enjoy the ride.
"The first series of the second half, I think I changed every play that was called," Manning said, referring to the drive that followed the Jets' failed field goal and resulted in the go-ahead Colts score.
"But Tom Moore (Indianapolis' offensive coordinator) is great that way," he continued. "It's not an ego thing. He just said, 'You're hot. Keep going.'"
Marty Schottenheimer, who's coached against Manning a few times while running a handful of teams, stood in the hallway leading to the locker rooms after the game. He was there to lend some support and wisdom to Manning's opposite, Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, but he couldn't stop himself from fussing over Manning.
"It's third-and-five and he gets six yards, or third-and-eight and he gets nine. Never fails," he said. "The guy's taken what, a couple thousand snaps?
"And how much would you bet that he can recall each and every one?"
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com