Colts seek redemption
By MICHAEL MAROT
INDIANAPOLIS — Jim Caldwell traded the perfect season for what he hoped would be the perfect ending.
Today, Caldwell and Indianapolis will play it by the book.
Nearly a month after the Colts coach pulled his starters against the New York Jets, granting Rex Ryan's Christmas wish, the Colts can show everyone they made the right move by redeeming themselves in the AFC championship game.
"We're very eager to get out there," Colts defensive lineman Raheem Brock said. "We've got something to prove. They've got a good running game, a good offensive line, but now we've got to go out and prove ourselves again."
In December, the Colts didn't have to prove anything.
They were rolling along on an NFL record 23-game regular-season winning streak and had just set a franchise record with their 13th consecutive home victory. They had swept the AFC South, beaten seven straight teams fighting to make the playoffs, locked up the AFC's top seed and had everyone talking about completing a 19-0 season.
Then Caldwell did the unthinkable. With less than six minutes to go in the third quarter, the Colts leading 15-10 and six quarters from being 16-0, he yanked Peyton Manning and the other starters to avoid risking injury.
Fans responded with a cascade of boos. Those were replaced over the next several days by complaints from fans on radio shows and blogs after the Jets rallied for a 29-15 victory.
Nobody has forgotten what happened — least of all the Colts (15-2), and New York (11-7) took advantage of the Colts' help and hasn't lost since.
New York has the NFL's top-ranked rushing offense and top-ranked overall defense, but it is just 1-3 all-time in conference title games.
The Colts, meanwhile, have plenty of postseason experience.
They are 5-2 in their last seven home playoff games and have most of the key cogs from the title run four years ago. That includes Pro Bowl defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne, Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark and, of course, Manning, the four-time MVP.