Tuesday, January 4, 2011 Updated: January 5, 3:40 AM ET
Peyton Manning: Jets a 'challenge'
By Ian Begley Special to ESPNNewYork.com
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It's definitely not personal for Peyton Manning.
A day after New York Jets coach Rex Ryan called his playoff matchup with Manning and the Colts "personal," Manning blew a slew of verbal kisses at Ryan and the Jets' defense.
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"They're every bit as good as advertised," Manning said Tuesday afternoon on a conference call with reporters. "They're excellent from a scheme standpoint. I think playerwise they're better than they were last year. They've added some really good players. ... They're playing really well on defense [and] statistically they're ranked high in all the categories, so it's going to be a tough challenge."
Manning has a career 5-1 record against Ryan-coached defenses, including a 30-17 win last year in the AFC Championship Game. The lone loss wasn't really on Manning, as the four-time MVP was replaced by Curtis Painter in the second half of the Jets' Week 16 win in 2009.
In six games against Ryan-coached defenses, Manning has thrown for 1,513 yards, 12 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. He also carved up the Jets for 377 yards and three TDs in the AFC title game.
Those head-spinning stats prompted Ryan to call Saturday night's wild-card matchup with Manning personal.
"Is it personal? Yes, it's personal," Ryan said Monday. "It's personal against him, Reggie Wayne, all those guys, yeah. [Dwight] Freeney and [Robert] Mathis and those other dudes? Absolutely."
On Tuesday, Manning said he was unaware of Ryan's remarks. He later praised the Jets coach and his defense. He couldn't come up with any answers when asked about his success against Ryan's units.
"I don't have really a good explanation for it. I know that he is an excellent football coach and I'm not sure who the defensive coordinator is or what the title is, like you said. It is his scheme, it is an extremely difficult scheme," Manning said. "Every time we play him he's always had good players but I'm not sure he's had as good of players as he has now."
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The Jets' defense, which has been exposed at times this season, finished third overall and sixth against the pass.
Thirty-two Jets remain from the team that got carved up by Manning and the Colts in last season's AFC Championship Game. But the Jets made significant changes in the secondary, namely adding corner Antonio Cromartie, safety Brodney Pool and rookie corner Kyle Wilson. Explaining why he wanted another corner, Ryan mentioned the AFC title game and how he felt undermanned against Manning. They also moved Dwight Lowery, whom Manning burned for nine completions, 124 yards and a touchdown in the conference title game, to safety.
"They've got a great scheme and great players and this time it will be tough," Manning said on Tuesday, adding that he doesn't put much stock in past experiences against the Ryan-led Jets and Ravens defenses. "I really think, you know, last year or years past I just don't think it carries a lot of weight when you're talking about this 2010 team."
Manning hasn't had an MVP-type year for the Colts (10-6) this season, finishing the regular-season with his lowest passer rating (91.9) since 2002. He entered this season with a career 95.2 rating. But Manning rallied the young and banged-up Colts for four straight wins to close out the regular season.
"It looked pretty bleak there for a while. So we really felt like these last four weeks have been playoff games -- that's really how we've treated it," Manning said. "In some ways we feel like this is kind of a continuation of sort of our playoff games."
It's also a continuation of Ryan's personal battle against Manning. Manning has won two playoff games against Ryan, including a divisional-round game against the Ravens in which the Colts grinded out a 15-6 win. Ryan hopes this time he's got enough to stop the 2006 Super Bowl MVP and 10-time Pro Bowler.
"I've seen him many years at the Pro Bowl and I'm like, 'Man ...'" Ryan said on Monday. "You know, it's funny, I respect the heck out of the guy, but I'm going to beat him one day. I just hope it's this Saturday."
Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.