Rex Ryan might have found more than a simple conference semifinal date with the mighty New England Patriots with his team’s 17-16 wildcard playoff win over Indianapolis on Saturday.
Dare we say, he may have found his Brett Favre? No, not the Favre of 2010. The one that helped Mike Holmgren build a Super Bowl champion in the late 1990s.
Judging by what young but confident Mark Sanchez did in the final 53 seconds at hostile Lucas Oil Stadium, one might say that Ryan might be looking at a legendary coaching run if the second-year quarterback continues along these lines. Sanchez may not have the swashbuckling, devil-may-care mentality that Favre had as he propelled himself into enemy piles, causing Holmgren no small amount of consternation. But he possesses the same mentality to throw the key passes in crunch time that Favre had.
Everything Sanchez did escaping those consecutive overtime jams in Detroit and Cleveland led up to those closing moments Saturday, moments that positioned Nick Folk for his game-winning, 32-yard field goal with no time left on the clock. The 11-yard pass to Santonio Holmes, the hero of those two overtime wins, started things. The 18-yard toss to Braylon Edwards that all but ended it, thrown with the calm and confidence of some innocuous play in the second quarter. Watching Sanchez, one would think that time is of no consequence to him.
Ryan now knows that Sanchez can win the truly important game, that as long as the Jets stay within striking distance, anything is possible even in the thinnest of windows. It’s the same feeling Holmgren used to get with Favre, going all the way back to when he replaced Don Majkowski in 1992 and hit a 35-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Kitrick Taylor in the final 13 seconds for his first of 43 career comeback victories.
Favre and Holmgren took the Packers to consecutive Super Bowls in 1996 and ’97. Sanchez and Ryan have yet to get there after three playoff victories. But if Sanchez keeps acting like he did during Saturday’s comeback, it may not be long before those two form the same sort of duo as Favre and Holmgren. Ryan is already the Jets’ winningest postseason coach at 3-1, and he’s done it all with Sanchez, the winningest Jets postseason quarterback with one more victory than Joe (you remember him, don’t you?) Namath.
Mighty New England could stop this train. But if the Rex and his golden boy pull off a miracle next Sunday at Gillette Stadium, anything becomes possible.
It would be appropriate. The two are already joined at the hip. Imagine the two of them hoisting the Lombardi Trophy together.