New York Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery makes a reception against...

New York Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery makes a reception against the San Diego Chargers during an AFC Divisional Playoff game. (January 17, 2010) Credit: MCT


Let's get this out of the way right from the top, shall we?

With all the pent-up joy waiting to come out if the Jets somehow can vanquish the Colts and earn their first trip to the Super Bowl in 41 years, there still is that gnawing sense of dread that lies beneath the surface.

If you are a Jets fan, you know. There are too many grim reminders from collapses of the past not to at least have some sense of foreboding. From regular-season meltdowns with nicknames such as "The Fake Spike'' to playoff disasters that go something like "What were you thinking, Gastineau?!?!" . . . the reminders are there.

Even when the Jets have gotten this far, heartbreak has been just around the corner. So let's put the Mud Bowl and the second-half collapse in Denver right out in the open, if for no other reason than to at least prepare you in the event another unfortunate event is in the cards.

If you haven't seen A.J. Duhe's interceptions in the slop in Miami in a 14-0 loss to Don Shula and the Dolphins in the AFC Championship Game after the 1982 season, chances are you'll see them at some point in today's telecast.

Same with that demoralizing second half in Denver, when the Jets had a 10-0 third-quarter lead against John Elway & Co., only to see it vanish with two late Vinny Testaverde interceptions and Terrell Davis' dominating performance on the ground in a 23-10 loss.

OK, done. We move on.

With the red-hot Jets taking on a Colts team that has won all 15 games in which it actually has tried, earning a trip to the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history will be a tall order. But if any team is equipped to do it, it's this one.

Yes, there is a rookie quarterback in Mark Sanchez; he could only dream of getting this far this quickly in his first NFL season.

Sure, running back Shonn Greene, who once was ruled academically ineligible at Iowa and spent time working in a furniture store, couldn't have envisioned this.

But it is here and it is time. And the Jets are loving the moment as much as their fans are.

"This is what you come to training camp for, spend all those practices, watch all those films," linebacker Bart Scott said. "You don't do all that just to go part of the way. You do that to try and go all the way, and that's what we're going to try to do."

With a defense that turned into the best in the NFL and a running game that also made it to the top, the Jets will go about this the way Rex Ryan intended: run the football, don't turn it over and play great defense. It worked against the Bengals and the Chargers, and now the Jets will see if it will work against what might be the best team in football.

"I know both teams are going to be excited about this opportunity," Ryan said. "Both teams have earned this opportunity and it's just going to be a great game."

It will be a game of contrasts. The artistry of the Colts' passing attack behind Peyton Manning against the brute force of the Jets' defense. The Jets' smashmouth running attack against Indy's much-improved, attack-style defense.

"When you look at it, the two teams are built differently," Ryan said. "You look at their offense, they are built more of a throw-the-football-down-the-field [team]. We are built more to run it. You know, we are similar that we are both effective and we got here, but we have just done it differently. It's going to be a great matchup - old school versus new school."

Ryan hopes old school wins out. Just as it did 41 years ago, when he was a 6-year-old ballboy for the Jets and watched his father, then-Jets defensive assistant coach Buddy Ryan, help the Jets go all the way in what has turned out to be their only Super Bowl appearance.

It has been a drought of more than four decades since that thrilling moment after the 1968 season. But Rex Ryan believes that his team has as good a chance as any to repeat the magic.

For Ryan, there is none of the "Same Old Jets'' mantra that fans have suffered through and repeated so often through the years.

"No, the 'Same Old Jets' thing to me is like, it was hilarious," Ryan said. "What are you talking about? That's like a bad karma or something.

"To me, the 'Same Old Jets' would be like, my dad came here as a rookie coach and won a Super Bowl. That's the kind of karma I'm talking about, so it's a good thing."

The vibe seems just right. For Ryan and his Jets, now is as good a time as any to make it happen.