The New York Jets ramped up their postseason success under coach Rex Ryan and avenged last season’s AFC title game loss with a nail-biting 17–16 road win over the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday. The thrilling game featured three fourth quarter lead changes, two last minute field goals, and rarely a blitz from the Jets defense.
Ryan, who famously declared it was “personal” with Peyton Manning earlier in the week, veered from his usually successful blitz-heavy defense and instead used odd packages filled with more defensive backs than linemen and linebackers in an attempt to slow down the league’s most feared passer while daring them to run the ball.
“I’m a stubborn guy, but I’m not that stubborn. We definitely mixed our coverages, played it more straight up, mixed in some loads [loaded zones]. You still gotta give that guy an unbelievable amount of credit,” said Ryan.
Despite the win, Manning still had a decent game completing 18 of 26 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers were despite All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis blanketing Colts star wide receiver Reggie Wayne to the tune of one catch for one yard as Peyton threw to him just the one time.
Instead, Manning went with wide receivers Pierre Garcon (5 catches for 112 yards) and Blair White (6 catches for 54 yards) and tight end Jacob Tamme (5 catches for 46 yards) and nearly pulled off the win.
The game started off as a defensive standstill until the Colts finally broke through as Garcon beat Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie for a 57-yard touchdown pass with 5:25 to play in the first half, giving the Colts a 7–0 lead.
The Jets responded with their first deep drive into Colts territory only to have a wild Mark Sanchez pass intercepted at the goal line by Colts cornerback Justin Tryon with 45 seconds remaining in the first half. Sanchez was 9 for 18 in the first half as the Jets went into halftime without any points.
Different Second Half
Realizing they had a distinct advantage with their offensive line opening running lanes for running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene, the Jets opened the second half with a renewed emphasis on running the ball and, in turn, found their defensive MVP as the long drives kept Manning and co. off the field.
On the Jets opening possession of the second half, they promptly ran 10 plays for 63 yards and a touchdown, while eating up 5:12 of clock. Eight of those plays were run plays, while Sanchez mixed in a nice 20-yard pass to Dustin Keller as the Jets tied the game at 7–7.
After a Colts field goal put them back in front 10–7, the Jets found paydirt again running the ball through a now-tiring Colts defense. A 17-play, of which 11 were runs, 87-yard drive that began with 4:37 left in the third quarter and ended with 9:59 left in the fourth quarter gave the Jets their first lead of the day at 14–10.
After a 13-play Colts drive that ended up in another Adam Vinatieri field goal to pull the Colts within one at 14–13, the Jets were unable to advance the ball, even after a roughing the kicker penalty. The Colts got the ball back with 2:36 left to play.
Manning drove the Colts into Jets territory but had to settle for another field goal as Vinatieri connected on a 50-yarder that gave the lead back to the Colts with just 53 seconds remaining in the game, setting up the thrilling ending.
A great kick return by Cromartie gave the Jets the ball at their own 46-yard line. From there Sanchez connected on all three of his throws including the final one for 18 yards to Braylon Edwards that took them into the red zone. This set up Nick Folk’s game winning 32-yard field goal as time expired.
Coach Ryan couldn’t have been prouder of his young quarterback saying, “As the game went on, he got sharper and sharper…the last pass to Braylon Edwards, the kid [Sanchez] called it on his own.”
As a prize for getting past Manning and the Colts, the Jets now face New England in Foxboro as they return to the scene of one of the franchise’s worst ever losses earlier this season.
Meanwhile, in the other AFC wild card game, the Baltimore Ravens once-suspect offense was in high gear as they easily handled the Chiefs 30–7 at noisy Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
“First I want to give great respect to the Baltimore Ravens, their coaching staff, coach Harbaugh, the entire coaching staff. They have done a terrific job,” said Chiefs coach Todd Haley afterwards.
The Chiefs, who turned the ball over five times, were seemingly done in by a constant pass rush that had quarterback Matt Cassell perpetually on the run.
Meanwhile Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco was an impressive 25 of 34 for 265 yards (10 of his completions were to tight end Todd Heap) and two touchdowns as the Ravens had the ball for an incredible 41:44.
Baltimore will visit Pittsburgh next week for the rubber match in what should be a physical game between two longtime rivals who hang their hats on defense.