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NFL Blitz: Contrast In Styles In AFC Championship Game

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Get out your DVD of Ghostbusters.

Skip way ahead. Near the end. There, right there (as Howard Cosell used to say). Stop.

The evil Gozer (the Gozerian) has the Ghostbusters trapped on a roof top and issues a fateful order.

"Choose the form of your destructor," Gozer hisses.

Despite pleas to keep his mind a blank, Dan Aykroyd's character slips and he conjures up the Sta-Puft Marshallow Man. A gigantic one. Stomping down the streets of Manhattan with bad intent.

Welcome to the Indianapolis Colts' nightmare. With Rex Ryan, suitably, in the role of Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.

All that stands between the Colts and Super Bowl XLIV in Miami two weeks hence is the New York Jets and the weighty presence of their boisterous coach, who seems to be equal parts braggadocio and undigested pastrami.

Ryan bellies up to each challenge as if were a buffet and his team views the playoffs as their own "all you can eat" excursion. They've come this far by dint of their determination and grit and ability to win ugly but they owe their playoff lives in great part to the Colts.

With two weeks to play in the regular season, the 7-7 Jets needed to win both of their remaining games to be assured of at least a chance at getting into the postseason fray in Ryan's first season.

They trailed the unbeaten Colts in Indianapolis when Indy's rookie coach, Jim Caldwell, pulled his starters out. Without Peyton Manning, the Colts could not protect a narrow lead and suffered their first loss of the season.

A week later, the Cincinnati Bengals, not needing to win, rested their starters and got crushed by the Jets. Whom did the Bengals see in the first round of the playoffs? The Jets. Who crushed them again. No gratitude there. Choose the form of your destructor.

So it circles back to the Colts. They opened this door. Can they slam it shut against a dogged underdog?

"If you want to earn the right to go to the Super Bowl, you have to go through teams you are not supposed to beat," Jets linebacker Bart Scott said.

Conversely, the Colts have to beat the team they are supposed to beat.

The Colts won the Super Bowl four years ago, defeating the Chicago Bears 29-17 on a wet afternoon in Miami. The Jets have only played in one Super Bowl and that was 41 years ago, also in Miami.

The picture of Joe Namath exiting the Orange Bowl waving one finger (the polite one, signifying No. 1) is iconic, the Jets' 16-7 upset of the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts a treasured hunk of history.

Jets-Colts presents a wonderful contrast in styles.

The reserved Caldwell and mouthy Ryan are both first-year head coaches and this is the first time in AFC championship game history two rookie coaches stroll the opposing sidelines. Caldwell's team ranked last in the NFL in rushing, the Jets first. Caldwell's team ranked 18th in defense, the Jets first. Ryan calls his philosophy "pound and ground."

Ryan's mentor and father figure is, well, his father, Buddy Ryan, the notorious defensive-minded coach best known for drawing up the '46' scheme that the Chicago Bears rode to dominance in Super Bowl XX. Caldwell follows in the footsteps of Tony Dungy, who preferred to lower his voice to a whisper to get the attention of the players.

The Colts have Peyton Manning, a four-time MVP, at quarterback. The Jets have rookie Matt Sanchez.

"I don't think of it as a one-on-one match. I'm playing against the Colts defense. I'm not playing with Peyton Manning, our defense is," Sanchez said. "I'm not comparing stats in the game. That's not what I'm all about."

Sanchez has already won two playoff games, tying the rookie record set last year by Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens. He hasn't had to do too much so far but the Colts' ability to score can increase the pressure on him. Of course the way the Jets are constructed, they lean more on the running game and defense than the quarterback. The Colts just disposed of one such team in the Ravens.

"We have a lot of doubters and a lot of people say 'same old Jets' and I think we are getting out of that hole right now by just being in the playoffs," cornerback Darrell Reveis said.

Playing at home as the No. 1 seed, the Colts deserve to be favored. Not that Las Vegas odds matter.

"You still have to show up. You still have to play well. You know your opponent is going to be equally as good and equally as well prepared," Caldwell said.

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If the Colts don't prevail, they will have chosen the form of their destructor. They know the Jets are no marshmallows.

HOW'S BAYOU?The New Orleans Saints have never before hosted an NFC championship game and played in one just once. Their shot at a first-ever Super Bowl could hinge on the duel of the two top-rated passers in the league, their own Drew Brees and Brett Favre, noble son of Kiln, Miss.

"There's no fan base that deserves a championship more than New Orleans," Brees said.

Favre, 40, enjoyed a spectacular season with the Minnesota Vikings and capped it with four touchdown passes in the divisional round evisceration of the Dallas Cowboys. The lone Super Bowl won by Favre when he was with the Green Bay Packers came at the Superdome, a 35-21 win over the New England Patriots in 1997.

Having danced around the retirement issue like football's Savion Glover over the last, oh, decade, Favre offered his second tearful buh-bye in as many years last winter after one disconsolate turn with the New York Jets. The Jets released his rights, the Vikings pursued him, he sat on the fence and leaned one way and the other, and then returned.

"This is what I came back for. I feel like I'm playing the same way and with the same enthusiasm I've always had," Favre said.

The Vikings can also play stifling defense. Which they must do against the Saints, who led the NFL with 510 points, the ninth highest total in NFL history.

This game pits sentimental favorites. There is Favre, who would certainly retire, maybe even for good, were he to get to another Super Bowl. And there are the Saints, whose dizzy history took a turn for the tragic in 2005 when the levees broke after Hurricane Katrina and parts of the city disappeared in the turgid water, never to return.

The Superdome, damaged in the storm, became a hellish point of rescue for the city's trapped inhabitants. Afterwards, some of the citizenry wanted to tear it down. Instead, the building was rehabilitated and the Saints, after playing their home games on the road in 2005 in San Antonio and Baton Rouge, became even dearer to the local hearts when they came home.

"I think back to one specific moment," Brees said. "The [re-opening] of the dome on Monday Night Football, September 25, 2006. That was just a symbol that this city was going to come back, not only the way it was before but better than it was before. And we've continued to raise the bar since then."

QUOTABLE: "There's only one team happy at the end. Unless you win it all, eventually it ends like this." – San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers, after the 17-14 loss to the Jets. ... "I admire guys like Percy Harvin. He's a playmaker. You have to be aware of where he is at all times on the field." – Saints RB Reggie Bush on his Vikings rookie counterpart in versatility. ... "It's really old news and it's been addressed. We've moved on." – Colts QB Peyton Manning, on the team's decision not to pursue an unbeaten season and resting starters in the 15th game against the Jets, which the Jets won 29-15. ... "We're looking at it as a one-game season and it doesn't matter where we play." – Vikings G Steve Hutchinson. The Vikings were 9-0 (including playoffs) at home but 4-4 on the road.

EXTRA POINTS: The Vikings and Saints have met twice before in the playoffs, with Minnesota winning both, including one that followed the 1987 season and was the Saints' first-ever playoff game. ... The Saints are 13-0 when they don't turn the ball over during their four seasons under coach Sean Payton. ... Some teams use injuries as an excuse and some don't. The Saints have 16 players on injured reserve. The Colts, bit by the injury bug on defense, started three players at SS, three at RCB, three at LCB, five at RDE, five at RDT, four at LDT. They have 10 players on IR. ... The Colts have never beaten the Jets in the playoffs. They lost to them in Super Bowl III in 1969 and following the 2002 season by 41-0. ... Manning has been sacked three times in his last three playoff outings while attempting 134 passes. ... Vikings CB Antoine Winfield was named to his second consecutive Pro Bowl when Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie of the Arizona Cardinals had to pull out due to injury. That gives the Vikings 10 Pro Bowl players, tying a club best set in 1998. ... Jets DE Shaun Ellis broke his left hand on the club's first defensive play against the Chargers. He will need surgery but for now has been fitted with a cast and is expected to play against the Colts.


Larry Weisman covered professional football for USA TODAY for 25 years and now joins the Redskins Broadcast Network and Redskins.com to bring his unique viewpoint and experience to Redskins fans. He also appears on Redskins Nation, airing twice nightly on Comcast SportsNet, and on ESPN 980 AM radio, all in the Washington, D.C. area. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.

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