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Originally published January 23, 2010 at 5:50 PM | Page modified January 23, 2010 at 7:03 PM

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Colts face Jets for Super Bowl berth, AFC title | NFL

Nearly a month after the Colts coach pulled his starters against the New York Jets, granting Rex Ryan's Christmas wish, the Colts can show everyone they made the right move by redeeming themselves in the AFC Championship Game.

INDIANAPOLIS — Jim Caldwell traded the perfect season for what he hoped would be the perfect ending.

Today, Caldwell and Indianapolis will play it by the book.

Nearly a month after the Colts coach pulled his starters against the New York Jets, granting Rex Ryan's Christmas wish, the Colts can show everyone they made the right move by redeeming themselves in the AFC Championship Game.

"We're very eager to get out there," Colts defensive lineman Raheem Brock said. "We've got something to prove. They've got a good running game, a good offensive line, but now we've got to go out and prove ourselves again."

In December, the Colts didn't have to prove anything.

They were rolling along on an NFL-record 23-game regular-season winning streak and had just set a franchise record with their 13th consecutive home victory. They had swept the AFC South, beaten seven straight teams fighting to make the playoffs, locked up the AFC's top seed and had everyone talking about completing a 19-0 season.

Then Caldwell did the unthinkable. With six minutes to go in the third quarter, the Colts leading 15-10 and six quarters from being 16-0, he yanked Peyton Manning and the other starters to avoid risking injury.

Fans responded immediately with a cascade of boos in Lucas Oil Stadium. Those were replaced over the next several days by even louder complaints from fans after the Jets rallied for a 29-15 victory. The decision set off a national debate about whether the Colts did the right thing, and it became so intense that Manning eventually asked fans to forgive the team.

Nobody has forgotten what happened — least of all the Colts (15-2).

"It'll be a good test for us to see who is really better," Colts left tackle Charlie Johnson said.

New York (11-7) took advantage of the Colts' help and hasn't lost since.

The Jets knocked off AFC North champion Cincinnati in the Giants Stadium finale the following week, clinching a playoff spot. Then they won the wild-card rematch at Cincinnati. Last week, New York upset the Chargers 17-14 in San Diego, setting up today's high-stakes rematch in Indy.

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It's the first time two rookie coaches have met in a conference championship game. And it's not just the Colts who feel they have something to prove.

"If we end up beating them, maybe they need to look at that (pulling the starters)," cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "We know that Peyton will be playing in this game the whole time. We have to see him and he has to see us as well for the whole game."

New York has the NFL's top-ranked rushing offense and top-ranked overall defense, usually a winning postseason formula. But it is just 1-3 all-time in conference title games, hasn't been to a Super Bowl in more than four decades and the home team was won the past three AFC title games.

The Colts are 5-2 in their past seven home playoff games and still have most of their key cogs from the title run they made four years ago.

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