ENGLEWOOD, Colo. **-- On Thursday Morning, former Colts center and ESPN NFL Analyst Jeff Saturday broke down the AFC Championship Game matchup between the Broncos and Colts on an ESPN media call. Saturday, who played alongside quarterback Peyton Manning from 1999-2010 – Manning missed the 2011 season due to injury – discussed the importance of the game, which marks the 15th all-time meeting between Manning and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Here are some of the highlights.
On the matchup between the Broncos and Patriots, as well as between Manning and Brady
"I would say that, as excited as I am about all four teams, because I honestly believe these are the four best teams in the NFL – it doesn't hurt that I picked these as my picks early in the season, makes me feel even better – I think that the excitement between Brady and Manning, the excitement in the media and around, is fun to watch. But ultimately, this game will not be decided by those guys. They will show up and play well like we have come to expect, but ultimately the defensive front sevens of both of these squads – and the rushing attacks on both teams – are going to decide the fate of this football game. It's going to be who's able to stop the run and who's able to make each team go one-dimensional, whichever area they're trying to push them into."
On Manning 'wanting' this game
"As far as how bad he wants it, listen, he shows up every year preparing and working as hard as you possibly can to get up. That's why you play the game of football. We talk about all the time, teams set up goals every year about winning your division, getting a home playoff game. You set up small goals that way. But the ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl. And the greatest part about the game of football is there's only one winner. There are no consolation prizes, nobody makes you feel better because you won the AFC, or you didn't. It's about winning that Super Bowl."
On Manning's success in late-game situations where the score is tight
"You know, I heard a quote that Peyton said – I don't remember what week it was, if it was last week or a couple of weeks ago – and he talked about pressure, and the only time you feel pressure is if you don't know what in the hell you're doing. That's true, because ultimately the greatest part about Peyton is you know he knows what he should do with the ball. And you know he's fully capable of getting it there. And you feel comfortable that he has prepared and put in the time – and knows what should happen, what should develop in a play, to give you the best chance to be successful."
On Manning's legacy
"I think from his perspective, he obviously wants it. He always has and that's the competitive nature he has. As far as a legacy, I don't buy into all of that. It really frustrates me when people talk about his legacy and that he won't be considered, or a certain-style quarterback. Look, he's going to go down as the best quarterback in the NFL in history – or one of them. It all depends upon your opinion of quarterback play. But ultimately, playoff football – and I have said this continuously these last few weeks – playoff football is team football. And you're looking at all three phases of the team and the game have to be effective. If your defense doesn't play well and it puts you in a position where you have to press, or your special teams doesn't do their job and now you're starting inside your own 20, no one ever talks about those things."
On the process of playing a team again after losing to that team earlier in the season
"Well, you begin by stripping down what you feel like you failed at. So at some point during the game, you will look at what you did poorly and why. Was it because of what they did? Was it because of what you did? Because like you're asking, you don't make changes if it was self-inflicted. If receivers weren't running crisp routes or the quarterback wasn't throwing the ball on time, or the line wasn't necessarily in the spots they were supposed to be – if that's the problem, you begin to work on yourself. You really focus on improving in the areas that you know you messed up and you shot yourself in the foot."
On the playoffs
"The cool part of the playoffs is you really do go back throughout the regular season and you look at teams that run a similar offense to you. Okay, so what did they do here? And you begin to rebuild your game plan so that the same mistakes can't occur. And what makes teams effective in the second time they're playing them is you self-scout it, so now you know what you didn't do well and you've talked about it all week. And you know that's not going to be the area that costs you."
On Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick
"The thing about Bill Belichick is he will take your strengths away. And you've got to respect that. And he'll still give your team an opportunity to win, but you've got to win through your weaknesses – which is what he's willing to bet the game on. As we've seen through his entire career, he's made good choices because he's won a whole lot more than he's lost."
On the way Belichick makes adjustments during games
"(Belichick) is willing to change strategies mid-game. We would have a number of football games where we would play and they may come in, they may have been a 3-4 the whole season – and you show up and they're playing a 4-3. Now, they've changed their entire structure of their defense. Then we've had games where they would start out dropping eight and only rushing three, not worried about pressuring the quarterback but trying to create lane matchups for the quarterback to fit the ball in. And then he would have other games where he would bring pressure and not worry about covering as much over the top."
On Manning calling audibles
"Honestly, it would always go to the week and what matchups we felt like we had, or were most advantageous for us. Before we went to that no-huddle, he would change the play. You would actually hear the play called in the huddle and as you were walking to the line of scrimmage – but he sees the game so well that he could change it walking it up. I would call defensive linemen, whether it was three down or four down look, or whatever it would be. He would know going up with safety rotation and where linebackers were lined up, 'OK, here's a change we're going to make.' Now teams would always try to play with you. You'd have the Ravens, who thought they had it figured out and would wait until the last five seconds to make a call, or a make an adjustment. But honestly, if we got in situations like that we would quick snap guys and get the ball out of our hands before they had a chance to get to that last adjustment. Peyton is as good as anybody with the gamesmanship in that regard."