By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts pastry chef
Rest assured that the Cold, Hard Football Facts crew prefers to eat at places that serve bourbon and bar fights for dessert. A blood bucket called the Old Mill in Dedham, Mass., for example, provided many a fond memory.
But every so infrequently we find ourselves in an eatery that offers fancy-schmancy desserts like burnt custard, and even more infrequently we find that those desserts remind us of NFL football.
Indy's 30-17 win over the Jets in the AFC title game was one of those moments.
1. Peyton Manning earned his MVP trophy
The Colts quarterback stepped up to the table Sunday afternoon against the best pass defense in football and torched it like crème brulee ... you know, with a little fruit compote and a sprig of mint on top, too. That's some good eating.
Manning completed 26 of 39 (66.7%), 377 yards, 9.7 YPA, 3 TD, 0 INT and a 123.6 passer rating.
The numbers say he's produced higher passer ratings in the playoffs – against the likes of porous defenses from the Broncos and Chiefs.
But the Cold, Hard Football Facts say this was the second-best game of his career, trailing only the legend-making comeback he crafted in Indy's 38-34 win over the Patriots in the 2006 AFC title game. (See "Crow-six-ways from the Peking Garden of Pigskin.")
Manning's effort was easily the best by any quarterback against the Jets defense this year and he easily outpaced every standard set by Rex Ryan's J-Men in 2009:
  • Manning threw 3 TD passes against the Jets in one postseason game
  • The Jets allowed opposing passers to complete just 51.7% of attempts
  • Manning completed 66.7% of his attempts against the Jets
  • The Jets allowed opposing passers to average 5.4 YPA
  • Manning averaged 9.7 YPA against the Jets
We were firmly against Manning's MVP honors this year. In fact, the award is symptomatic of the disease of Spinal Manningitis that plagues many pigskin "pundits." By any rational analysis, several other quarterbacks had better seasons in 2009.
But it seems that MVP voters are like voters at the ballot box who pull the lever for the incumbent simply because they know the name. Manning won MVP honors in 2003 and 2004 with inferior defense-less teams. But MVP voters cited his superior statistics.
But then he won MVP honors in 2008 and 2009 when paired with great defenses and superior teams, despite the fact other quarterbacks produced better numbers.
Regardless of the idiocy of his MVP trophy in 2009, Manning produced an MVP effort against the Jets on Sunday. When he's inducted into the Hall of Fame five years after he retires, pigskin "pundits" should cite this effort as one of the highlights of his career.
2. Whatever happened to old Marvin What's-His-Name?
There's a school of thought out there in Colts analysis circles that Manning's many postseason hairballs through the years were attributable not to the quarterback but to his former batterymate, Marvin Harrison, who disappeared each January. He was like a striped bass feasting voraciously on inland bait in the comfy warm weather, but then disappearing once the waters grew cold and life got tough.
Indeed, Harrison has one of the worst playoff resumes on record. Most notably, he caught just two touchdown passes in 16 postseason games – despite being one of the all-time leaders in every single regular-season  receiving category.
Advocates of this theory got a big boost Sunday.
In Harrison's place this year stepped unknown Pierre Garcon. The second-year received responded with a game for the ages. He caught an AFC title-game record 11 passes, totaling 151 yards with 1 TD, while helping lift Manning to the type of game that he rarely ever produced agianst a top-notch defense with the Incredible Shrinking Hall of Fame Receiver by his side.
3. The Jets failed to capitalize on precious defensive opportunities
In our look last week at the blueprint that the Jets had to follow to beat the Colts, we noted that they needed three interceptions to win.
The Jets produced exactly zero interceptions and one fumble recovery Sunday.
They had a chance to turn the game around with a couple fortuitous bounces in the fourth quarter – but the bounces never came their way.  With just over 12 minutes to play in the game, Reggie Wayne took a pass from Manning but then fumbled the ball in the midst of a sea of Jets defenders. The ball bounced back into his own hands.
Opportunity lost.
On the very next play, another Manning pass went off the hands of Dallas Clark, as New York defender Dwight Lowery closed into to cover the play. The ball went over Lowery's arms and fell harmlessly into the turf.
Fittingly, New York's chances officially ended late in the fourth quarter when a Mark Sanchez pass went through the hands of receiver David Clowney and into the hands of defender Kelvin Hayden. Three bounces that could have gone either way and that might have (might!) boosted the Jets chances. Instead, the Colts ended up with the ball each time.
4. Interceptions still mean everything
The Jets and their No. 1-rated pass defense failed to force a single INT against Peyton Manning.
The Colts, meanwhile, got their one pick late in the game.
Teams that force more INTs are now a perfect 9-0 in the playoffs. And, as our Cold, Hard Football Facts interception leader proves each year, interceptions are probably the single most telling indicator of success in posteason football.
You could look at nothing but the number of INTs thrown by each team and have a nearly 100 percent chance of guessing who won.
We interrupt this broadcast to declare Roger Daltrey a Golden God
Sure, it would have been better if the NFL had picked The Who to play halftime of, you know, like Super Bowl VII or something – back when Keith Moon was still alive and hip young people listened to them instead of people like you and us.
Regardless, it's consistent with the NFL's effort to dig up the carcasses of former Rock Gods – McCartney & Springsteen, for example – and put them smack dab in the middle of American culture once again. Fine with us. Daltrey is rock god. That flamer Townsend is a genius. And, well, as far as we're concerned, Pearl Jam is still a new band ... which means the NFL will probably have them play Super Bowl LXII.
show video here
5. The Jets will be a hot offseason favorite
Tough defense? Check
Young-gun quarterback? Check.
Wounded division rival on the way down? Check.
Look for the Jets to be everybody's favorite to win the AFC East heading into the 2010 season and a popular favorite to win the conference title, too.
The best recent example we have is Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. Like Mark Sanchez, Big Ben had a mistake-filled rookie season (2004). But, paired with the league's best defense, Roethlisberger was able to reach the AFC title game that year, where he lost by (like Sanchez) two touchdowns.
Roethlisberger responded the next year by leading his club to its first Super Bowl championship in 26 years. Jets fans will be counting on their sophomore quarterback to lead their team to its first Super Bowl championship in 42 years.
6. Give it up for the Indy defense
The one glaring statistical weakness the Colts had all year were their Defensive Hogs and a run defense that aspired to be average (4.33 YPA).
They came to play against the Jets. Facing an offense that led the NFL in rushing in 2009 and had torn up both playoff opponents, the Colts held the Gang Green's tandem of Thomas Jones and Shonn Green to 83 yards on 26 attempts (3.19 YPA).
We said that, in order to win, the Jets had to force the Colts to be one dimensional. They failed to do it. Colts running backs ran 23 times for a very effective 101 yards (4.39 YPA).
Instead, it was the Indy defense that made the New York offense one dimensional and forced a rookie quarterback to beat them. Sanchez played well – 17 of 30, 257 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT – just not well enough to win on a day when his ground game let him down.
7. Patriots fans hate the Colts more than the Jets
A certain Chief Troll watched the first period of the AFC title game from his Sunday headquarters at the William R. Caddy Marine Corps League in lovely Quincy, Mass., about five minutes south of downtown Boston.
We can report from this outpost deep inside enemy territory in New England that Patriots fans were openly rooting for the Jets.
8. The Defensive Hogs are having a bummer of a year
The Cold, Hard Football Facts Defensive Hog Index was a brilliant 20-2 picking playoff winners in its first two years of existence.
The 2009 postseason has not been so kind: the indicator is just 4-5 this season and Indy's win over the Jets is officially the biggest upset in DHI playoff history: the Colts, No. 30 in DHI, pasted the Jets, No. 4 in DHI.
We haven't been this bummed out since that time we were dumped in 10th grade the night after we left a rose in Dianne's locker. The memory has faded a bit. But it was March 20, 1986. It was 43 degrees out that day. The wind blew in from the southeast. It was a gentle zephyr of about 8 miles an hour. She wore black jeans with a red sweater to school that day. She wore Coty Wild Musk and "Kyrie" by Mr. Mister was playing on the radio when she called to break the news. Her locker combination was 28-16-18 and she ...
... ooops, sorry ... that was a little off-topic.
We've put that day in the past ... barely even think about it anymore.
9. Colts fans should root for a Vikings victory in the NFC title game
Manning just torched a defense that posted a spectacular 58.8 Defensive Passer Rating in 2009. The Saints were No. 3 in that indicator this year (68.6). The Vikings were No. 27 (92.5).
We shudder to think what Manning might do against Minnesota's defense, considering what he's done to many weak teams throughout his career – and what he just did against the Jets.
Colts vs. Saints will be a toss-up. Colts vs. Vikings will clearly be to Indy's advantage.
10. Everybody else should root for the Saints
As is always the case, we have no rooting interest in any game. The lack of human connection to anybody or anything is one of the burdens we bear as your fearless leader in emotionally distant analysis.
However, in the interest of mankind, we suggest that all football fans root for the Saints, if only for this reason: if Peyton Manning faces BrettFavre in the Super Bowl, we fear that ESPN, perhaps all of Connecticut, and maybe even the entire Eastern seaboard, will implode in upon itself and be consumed by the black hole of hype created by the worldwide leader in gushing, breathless man-love of the two quarterbacks.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.