Colts' Youngsters, Collie and Garcon, Come Up Big
The second-year Colts receiver ascended to his biggest stage yet on Sunday upon which to showcase his devotion to Haitians everywhere. After his 11-catch, 151-yard, one touchdown receiving performance in Indianapolis' come-from-behind 30-17 AFC championship victory over the New York Jets, Garcon draped the Haitian flag across the table holding his team's newly won Lamar Hunt trophy on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"It's just bringing awareness, because what's going on there is very tough," Garcon said of the flag-draping gesture. "Nobody should go through that, especially people who are less fortunate already."
The Colts are Super Bowl XLIV-bound, meaning the South Florida-born Garcon is heading home to Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, where he can continue to spread his message in Feb. 7th's matchup against the NFC champion New Orleans Saints.
Garcon can thank MVP quarterback Peyton Manning for repeatedly looking to him, as well as to rookie receiver Austin Collie, with his seven receptions for 123 yards, at a time when the Jets' top-ranked defense could have made the game impossible for them to succeed.
Instead, both young Colts receivers flourished against the Jets' complex Rex Ryan-crafted defensive schemes. They got open in man coverage and in the 3-deep zone. They held onto the ball when Manning got it to them, making difficult catches underneath and deep downfield.
Always mindful of the lessons veteran Reggie Wayne has taught him and the rest of the receiving corps, Garcon wore a white hard hat as he spoke. On the front was this logo:
Along the sides, the hat read "Super Bowl Under Construction"
After Manning's 377-yard, three-touchdown performance helped torch the Jets' powerful defense, that building job -- under Wayne's supervision as a ninth-year veteran -- is now more than half-complete.
"We've been working at this. Reggie's been the leader, and we've just been the soldiers following him," said Garcon, who has risen dramatically from unused, sixth-round pick in the 2008 NFL draft to one of Manning's most productive targets in '09.
Wayne came up with three catches for 55 yards, including a 25-yard reception in the second quarter that saw him gain 12 yards after the catch after fooling All Pro cornerback Revis on the bump-and-run. And he was very satisfied with the work of his young protégés.
"That was big," said Wayne, 31. "Me and the receivers coach (Clyde Christensen) sat down at the beginning of the year, before it all started, and had a long meeting. He said, 'Be prepared. Sometimes you have to put all your energy into the young guys, and they're going to have to get the job done.'"
This season, Manning methodically worked past the departure of veteran receiving target Marvin Harrison, who was released in the '09 offseason, and the injury loss of highly productive Anthony Gonzalez (Week 1, knee) by placing greater responsibility on the younger receivers.
"We were forced to kind of put our nose in the dirt and make sure we knew exactly what we were doing," said Collie, who had 60 catches for 676 yards and seven touchdowns in the regular season. "We tried to make it so there wasn't a drop-off with Marvin being gone and Anthony getting injured in the first game."
"I think it kind of forced us to hit the books even harder, to pay attention to smaller details and make sure we didn't play like rookies."
That has not been apparent at any point, Manning said.
"I think it really speaks to the individuals, how they respond," said Manning, who was searching for openings Sunday as Wayne found himself occupied with Revis and found them in Garcon and Collie. "You just never know how certain guys are going to react. Guys can look great in practice, but when the lights come on, you just don't know.
"They have proven to be pretty calm and collected all season for us. We have young receivers in our starting rotation, and you can't go away from a guy in these type of games because he's a young guy. You can't protect them. You have to let them play."
He did just that with Collie, hammering away repeatedly at the Jets secondary using the fourth-round pick from Brigham Young as the chisel in a game-changing attack.
Manning found Collie on an 18-yard completion, hit him up and over the middle on a 46-yard pass and went right back to the rookie on a 16-yard scoring strike with 1 minute, 13 seconds left before halftime.
Before that series the Colts were trailing 17-6. But Collie said no one panicked, young or older players alike.
"No. We're professionals at what we do," Collie said. "We don't need to be reminded what we need to do. It was just a matter of getting things going and making the adjustments, and that's exactly what we did."
Could Garcon and Collie have been so successful this season and postseason without the guiding hand of Manning, who so expertly puts the ball in position for his receivers to make such great plays?
Colts coach Jim Caldwell said the hard work they put in with their quarterback in the offseason certainly shows now.
"I think they feed off one another, to be honest with you," Caldwell said of his youthful receiving tandem. "I think the young guys are able to adapt and adjust. It's unusual for guys that young to perform the way they perform."