Per normal procedure, they exited the Southwest corner of Lucas Oil Stadium, with somber expressions and staggered movements.

Peyton Manning had his helmet on, arms moving side to side as he quickly strode toward the exit.

Gary Brackett was in more of a light job, shaking his head every couple of steps or so.

Dwight Freeney was sans the headgear and his expression of anger of what took place was evident as he loosened the velcro on his gloves.

The lasting images of this season, however, will not be the body language for those players who departed the field following a 17-16 loss to the Jets in the Wildcard round of the AFC Playoffs on Saturday night.

Instead it will be those who didn't exit. Dallas Clark, Anthony Gonzalez, Bob Sanders, Melvin Bullitt, Austin Collie-in pads at least.

"I truly appreciate their efforts and doing their job, giving our team a chance," said Manning of those who filled in for those 17 players on injured reserve, some of whom were at the game Saturday, and others who weren't. 

Their absense, however, may very well have been the thing that kept another run for the Super Bowl, and instead settling with a good but could have been worse 10-7 overall record and a ninth straight playoff appearance.

"We had to fight to get into the playoffs, and the ultimate goal was to take it all the way. We weren’t able to do that," said defensive tackle Robert Mathis. "As men and professionals, you just have to regroup and go back to work."

Saturday they did so without tackle Ryan Diem, who was out with back problems, defensive tackle Antonio Johnson, along with the news that cornerback Kelvin Hayden was indeed done for the year with a neck injury.

Not having them there didn't kill the Colts right away, but rather in spots here and there that hurt the team as the climax of the game approached. Drives that might have been a touchdown in 2009 stalled out, leaving Adam Vinatieri to pick up the nine-point slack all night.

When his final field goal of the night gave the Colts a one-point lead, a special teams loaded with new players allowed a 47-yard kick return to Antonio Cromartie. While not breaking, the defense bent just enought to allow the Jets to put themselves in a position to win the game.

"We had an opportunity here tonight, but you have to give credit to them.," said head coach Jim Caldwell of the Jets. "They did a nice job, ran the ball well on us the second half, and really controlled the clock on us."

That hit zero when Nick Polk knocked a 32-yard field goal through the uprights to keep the Jets season going while the Colts go home nearly a month earlier than they did a year ago.

"The goal was to get to the Super Bowl and win it," said defensive tackle Daniel Muir-who just returned from a chest injury. "Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that. It’s going to leave a bitter taste in everybody’s mouth."

Those who were left at the end, anyway.