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Peyton, Garcon, underrated D take honors for AFC champion Colts

Grading out the performances from the Colts' 30-17 victory over the Jets in the AFC title game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Quarterbacks:Mark Sanchez really couldn't have played much better than he did, and if you would have told the Jets he'd play this well, they would have figured it to be a victorious effort. He was right on target on touchdown passes to both Braylon Edwards and Dustin Keller, even though he was getting crushed as he let go of the football both times. A loss is a loss, but Sanchez came of age this postseason for Gang Green. Grade: A-

Running Backs: There was a noticeable dropoff in the Jets running game after Shonn Greene went down early in the third quarter, and it really hurt their ability to control the clock and the tempo of the game. Greene proved once again that he is a force to be reckoned with, but Thomas Jones was nothing more than average and the Jets needed more from him in order to try to get the win. Grade: C+

Receivers: Edwards made the big play most people thought he would have to make for the Jets to win the game -- an 80-yd TD catch -- but it still wasn't enough. Jerricho Cotchery and Keller each made big plays in the passing game as well, but Keller was a disappointment as a blocker in the run game. Grade: B

Offensive Line: Very solid performance by the best offensive line group in the NFL but did not have quite the impact in the running game that the Jets needed. Trailing in the 4th quarter forced them to pass block at a time when they would have preferred to have been wearing down the undersized Colts. Pass-blocking was excellent throughout. Grade: B+

Defensive Line: Gave up a surprising amount of yards on the ground, mainly when the Colts were in multiple-receiver sets. Didn't get a great deal of pressure on Peyton Manning in the pass game, either. Not terrible but not nearly good enough -- even though they stacked the line effectively on Manning's quarterback sneak in the first half. Grade: C-

Linebackers: Calvin Pace was active and his caused fumble gave the Jets an extra three points in the first half. David Harris was all over the field and was often the only linebacker the Jets even had on the field, as they went with a lot of defensive backs. Bart Scott barely played and was ineffective even when he did make it inside the white lines. Grade: C+

Defensive Backs: Defending the Colts is not an easy task for any backfield, but the Jets were clearly not up to the task of covering Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. The Colts had too many weapons and the injury to Donald Strickland forced Drew Coleman to play a lot more than the Jets anticipated. James Ighedibo was victimized in both the run game and pass game, and his extended playing time should be called into question. Grade: C-

Special Teams: Jay Feely missed two field goals that could have helped the Jets but it likely wouldn't have made much of a difference anyway. Other than that, special teams was pretty much a wash in this matchup. Grade: C-

Coaching: The Jets had the right game plan in place, but injuries to Greene and Strickland put them at a disadvantage. Offensive play-calling, including the deep shot to Edwards and the Brad Smith option pass, was excellent. The decision to play Ighedibo so much must be called into question, however. As is the refusal to make a halftime adjustment in terms of covering Garcon and Collie. Grade: B-

Quarterbacks: Peyton Manning was clearly rattled early and was sacked on each of the first two drives. Shortly thereafter, however, he found his rhythm through Garcon and Collie. His numbers were outstanding as usual, going 26-39 for 377 yards and three touchdowns, but it was his mastery of the two-minute drill at the end of the first half that got the Colts back on track. Grade: A

Running Backs: Both Donald Brown and Joseph Addai were effective throughout the game, taking advantage of the Jets' decision to play up to seven defensive backs at times. Nothing spectacular, just a solid, winning, performance. Grade: B+

Receivers: The Colts had two receivers eclipse 100 yards, it just wasn't the two that you'd expect. Garcon and Collie took advantage of favorable coverage and had huge days. Their performance stepping up when the light shone brightest was the difference. Grade: A

Offensive Line: They opened up enough holes in the run game to keep the Jets off balance. They protected Manning exceptionally well. Outstanding performance by an unheralded group that gets very little credit. Grade: A-

Defensive Line: Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were not their typical disruptive selves in the pass game, but as a unit, the entire defensive line refused to wilt against the best rush offense in the NFL. Grade: B+

Linebackers: Clint Session is one of the best young linebackers in the NFL, and he showed it again by flying around the field and making play after play. Gary Brackett was quiet but effectively led a unit that didn't give up any points in the second half. Grade: B

Defensive Backs: Not their finest day in the passing game as Jacob Lacey got beat badly by Edwards for the long touchdown in the first half. They also allowed Cotchery to get behind them on the Brad Smith option pass. Every guy did a decent job being physical in the run game however, and that was important. Grade: B-

Special Teams: Matt Stover was 3-for-3 on field goals and showed the value of having a reliable kicker in the postseason. Coverage units were solid and made up for the touchdown they gave up to Brad Smith in the regular season. Grade: B+

Coaching: The decision to go for a quarterback sneak in the first half was questionable, but that aside, the Colts seemed to have a great game plan on both sides of the ball. They threw the ball to Collie and Garcon because that's what the coverage dictated. They also stuffed the Jets' rushing attack effectively, which was equally important. Grade: B+

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