Post Game Thoughts: Jets 17 Colts 16
I don't think you can even describe the feelings rights now. We have all seen this same script over and over with Manning and with our Jets. When K Adam Vinatieri hit that field goal I thought we were sunk, yet somehow the Jets engineered a drive through the air with a QB who just could not throw the football to pull out a miracle and give the entire NY metro area a reason to smile tonight.
RB LaDainian Tomlinson had such a good game. A player who has always been a disappointment in the postseason played as if he knew this was his last chance to atone for those games and help his team advance in the playoffs. Tomlinson was a monster on the day carrying for 82 yards and 2 scores and also adding a big 1st down reception or two along the way. He just set a tone for the game right off the bat and came out with a burst to the outside that most did not think was possible. On the epic 9 minute 50 second drive that went 87 yards Tomlinson gained 25 yards and was responsible for two 3rd down conversions, one of which resulted in a score. RB Shonn Greene will probably be the unsung hero because his statline was not as impressive as LT's. The Jets showed tremendous trust in Greene, who has had an issue fumbling in the past, by having him be the man during the drives where the game turned. Down 7-0 and the passing game going nowhere, the Jets put their faith in Greene playing the OJ Anderson role from Giants Super Bowl win against the Bills. Greene ran for 28 yards on 5 carries and completely changed the complexion and pace of the game. Greene's physical style forced the team into a different defensive front putting 9 in the box almost every play opening up passing lanes for a QB having a poor day. Of course when you have a day running the ball like this a ton of credit has to go to the offensive line who were just blowing the Colts up in the second half. C Nick Mangold was tremendous and RG Brandon Moore, who did blow one block by the goalline, was also keeping things clean for the runners. The tackles both played well in this phase of the game. The Jets were running unbalanced lines often and players such as RT Damien Woody or LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson never missed a beat. Everyone contributed and it may have been their best game of the season in the running game and it could not have come at a better time. The coach challenged these guys to play better at the half and they all answered the bell.
Now part of the reason why the run game had to be so effective was because the passing game was so bad. I don't know if QB Mark Sanchez is hurt or not, but if he is not hurt he may want to say he is because he stunk for most of the game. Sanchez was all over the field with his passes constantly overthrowing players so badly that nobody had a chance to make a catch, Jet or Colt. Long passes, short passes, intermediate passes. All the same result--- balls sailing way over the head of the receiver and out of bounds. His lone interception was such a bad decision and throw that he was going to get crucified just for that pass, which cost the team 3 points, if they lost by a field goal. He blew three easy TD passes on the day. All he had to do was lob the ball up and let his guys get under it and he could not do it. The passes all just sailed. But you have to give him credit. When the ball was almost taken completely out of his hands in the second half he did make plays when called upon. The Jets knew where the guys were getting open and he was able to hit TE Dustin Keller on these short throws to keep the chains moving. He ran for a first down and made a nifty flip to Tomlinson for another. At the very least you have to give him credit for being a gutty QB and being able to play when it counts. With no margin for error Sanchez went 3 of 3 for 38 yards to win the game and called the play that set up the win. WR Braylon Edwards had a great game. People have killed him for his poor hands, but he has been stellar this year. He went up in the air and got everything from a QB that was going to leave the ball way up and perhaps get the player killed. His run blocking was so good the announcers even mentioned it. Edwards made a strong case for a new contract with the team tonight. WR Santonio Holmes made some catches but dropped a critical 3rd down pass late in the game that could have cost the team. The Jets probably expected more from him on this turf. TE Dustin Keller had three big catches for first downs on the TD drives. He was able to control the middle on those plays and also helped open the outside for the other receivers. The pass protection was a tale of two halves. It was bad in the first half. LG Matt Slauson looked like he did not even belong on the field. Woody should have been pulled for backup Wayne Hunter. He allowed at least 3 pressures from DE Robert Mathis and wasn't even getting a hand on him. Ferguson played well against DE Dwight Freeney, but even playing well is going to allow him to pressure the QB. The coach lit into them at the half and they responded big. When Sanchez dropped back in the second half he was never touched. They formed a wall and just wiped the Colts out.
Al Michaels may have had the best line of the night when he said WR Reggie Wayne would rather be on Guantanamo than Revis Island. Wayne, a 1,300 yard receiver, was held to 1 catch for 1 yard on the day. That one catch came on a 3rd and long where CB Darrelle Revis lined up about 10 yards off Wayne. It was just a spectacular effort from Revis. QB Peyton Manning seemed early on to decide he would not even look that way no matter what he saw at the line. It was the ultimate in respect for a corner and I don't know if any other player in the NFL has had a game like that. Beyond Revis the defense played their hearts out and had their game of the year, in holding Manning to 16 points despite forcing no turnovers on the day. The Safeties have gotten a ton of criticism this year, most of it well deserved, but they played out of their minds tonight. Maybe the concussion made S Eric Smith forget all his usual problems on the field because he was spectacular. He was great against the run. He was great against the pass. It was as if he studied Manning for the last 4 or 5 weeks. He just knew where everything was going and made the play as soon as the ball arrived. He was tremendous and deserves one of the many game balls that should go around on defense. S Brodney Pool made so many great stops on third down. It was the role they envisioned he would play all season and never did. He was partially responsible for the coverage breakdown on the TD to WR Pierre Garcon, but that should not take away from the great job he did. LB's David Harris and Bart Scott were at the top of their game. They both made huge and timely hits. Harris seemed around the ball all game and just colliding head on with the runner. Scott was clearing out blockers and made a big stop late on a short little WR pass. Really everyone contributed in some way. DE Mike DeVito absolutely blew up a play as did LB Bryan Thomas. DE Trevor Pryce has a stop for basically no gain. It takes an all around team effort to hold the Colts down and that's what the Jets defense gave in the Wildcard game.
Some of the problems were still there. The pass rush was totally non existent. The Jets never touched Manning except on a give up play at the end of the first half. He just had all day to pick the Jets apart, but simply could not find the targets to do it with. Garcon had a huge day and brought out the worst in CB Antonio Cromartie. CB Drew Coleman was the one player who was awful on the day. Cromartie had his moments, but I don't believe Coleman had any, The 57 yard bomb to Garcon was a disaster of a play. Manning caught Smith in a blitz so he knew he had a chance deep. Coleman completely whiffed on a bum at the line and Cromartie looked like he was asleep when the play began. By the time Cromartie realized what went on in front of him Garcon was 5 yards ahead of him. Pool was all out of position and next thing you know the Colts are up 7-0. Manning targeted Cromartie right from the start and the help just wasn't there for him. There were some 3rd and longs given up this game as well. The ones on the ground where the Jets had the coverage about 15 yards deep were painful and probably something that New England will be going to work on during the week. Manning seemed to really be able to read what the defense was going to do on 3rd down when he audible to the run. It seemed to work every time. I don't believe the Jets respect Tom Brady as much as they do Manning, but they may need to work on that a bit this week.
K Nick Folk makes up for all his past failures with the game winner. I certainly had visions of Doug Brien dancing in my head when the ball was kicked. Good for Folk. P Steve Weatherford had an ok game, but seemed to have a hard time judging the turf in the stadium. He ended up with 4 touchbacks when normally every one of those kicks would have been inside the 15. Cromartie made up for his defensive mistake when the Jets decided to make him the kick returner after an injury to Brad Smith. Cromartie looked more explosive than any kick returner we have had in recent memory. His first big one would have gone for a score if he just tried to cut rather than run over the kicker and the second one at the end is what really won the game. Yes the offense had to make plays, but it's a ton easier to make plays when you start close to the 50. Some people are probably questioning why they brought Smith back in the game following Cromarties first return, but I think it was because the Jets just wanted to take a look at Smith's health to see if they could run him out on offense or not. I doubt we will ever see Holmes ever return another punt.
Tremendous gameplan by Rex Ryan on defense. Manning has had his number for years and Ryan had a gameplan that stifled Manning and most importantly kept him out of the end zone. Whatever he said at halftime worked as the team came out much more focused on offense. They completely scrapped the passing attack which was not working and rammed it down the throats of the Colts who just could not stop it. It kept Manning off the field giving the Jets the best chance to win. The team only got caught once with 12 men on the field and that's a big positive for Ryan against a QB of this caliber.
The clock management was tremendous. Down 7-0 with the ball at the end of the first half the team never panicked the way they probably would have against the Patriots in the Monday night loss. They knew the clock was on their side and never considered rushing things, smartly playing to give Manning no time. Even when Sanchez threw the pick, Ryan's strategy left Manning such little time that the Colts just decided to go into halftime with the TD lead. Ryan waited at the end of the game to use the timeouts in a proper spot. He waited until he felt the Colts were in FG range and then wisely did not waste a time out trying to ice the kicker. I thought one of his more interesting play calls was the run decision on the final drive. He forced the hand of Jim Caldwell who wasted one of his timeouts to allow the Jets to collect their thoughts and save their final timeout. It was a crazy timeout call by Caldwell but a no lose call by Ryan. You should never give a young QB, especially on the road, a chance to breathe and regroup but Ryan knows Caldwell's tendencies and took advantage of it.
You never want to go too crazy off a wildcard win but that was such a great game that you can not help but be thrilled with the outcome. The Jets thoroughly outplayed Indianapolis on the day and had Sanchez made a few throws the game would have been a 13 point win by NY, but once again the Jets proved that they can make plays when they have to and win a game. This group is now 3-1 in the playoffs, all of it coming on the road, and that's a pretty good record to have. With all the offseason hype this was a big win and probably will make the season an overall positive barring another 40 point drubbing in the next round.
The team now gets their wish and that is to go back into Foxboro and take on the Patriots. The Jets players have wanted this game for a few weeks now. They believe they are better than New England and that they can beat them. It is certainly not an easy task, but they have a shot. If they play as well as they did today on defense and in the trenches on offense they will have a good shot.
The last time the two teams met the game got out of hand early and the Jets started chasing points which is why the game got out of hand. Tonight you saw a team that learned from that. By all accounts everyone felt if the Jets were to beat the Colts it would have to be offensively by scoring alot of points. But this time the team never pressed. They never got away from who they were the way they did against the Patriots. You didn't see hurry up offenses and changes to the style of play. You did not see defensive changes that were as much about blind faith and hope as they were about playing the percentages. This team never strayed tonight. Maybe they have grown up.
The Jets do need to figure out whatever is ailing Sanchez. If his shoulder is a big problem, and the reports sound eerily similar to those that surrounded former QB Chad Pennington in 2004, then they have to make a decision about giving themselves the best chance to win as well as maintaining the long term health of the franchise. I am not sure if Mark Brunell does or does not give the team a better chance than an injured Sanchez, but if Sanchez can further damage that shoulder then they have to sit him. Sanchez is the foreseeable future of the Jets and they have to protect him.
There are times when Wildcard teams win the first round and feel their season is complete. That was the thought process that the Chargers believed was the case last year when they underestimated what the Jets would bring to the table. Clearly the Jets had bigger goals then and will have bigger goals now. I doubt the Patriots will underestimate this team the same way the Chargers did, but at least as fans we know the Jets will be focused and ready to play.
This will go down as a great win for Rex and his Jets. It really says something about the character of the team and what they are trying to build. Championship round followed by at least the Division round in your first two years as coach is not too shabby. There is still a lot of work to be done and obviously the Super Bowl is the long term goal, but the Jets have built themselves a solid foundation that should last for some time. You have to be happy with that. That said, hopefully this years ride will not be over anytime soon. Bring on the Pats!