INDIANAPOLIS - Rex Ryan finally got past his Kryptonite.
"I'm gonna say this," Ryan told his players in the locker room Saturday night. "Personally, finally got his --."
All thanks to Nick Folk. His 32-yard field goal as time expired sent the Jets to an exhilarating 17-16 win over Peyton Manning's Colts in an AFC wild-card matchup, setting up a date with the Patriots at 4:30 p.m. next Sunday in Foxborough, Mass.
Folk's kick ended a wild game that featured three lead changes, including one that came seconds earlier. Manning had driven the Colts 48 yards in eight plays to set up Adam Vinatieri's 50-yard field goal that put the Colts ahead 16-14 with 53 seconds left.
"They left us entirely too much time on the clock," Santonio Holmes said. "He gave us an opportunity and my guy was calm in the pocket all game and stepped up and made his plays."
Antonio Cromartie - who had been burned on a 57-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garçon that began the scoring - kick-started the winning drive by returning the ensuing kickoff 47 yards to the Jets' 46.
Said Cromartie, "I just went to [special teams coach Mike] Westhoff and was like, 'Man, just let me get back there and just try to make a play,' and guys went up there and did a heck of a job blocking and opening up and almost got down to the 50-yard line. So it gave us a short field."
Mark Sanchez completed passes of 9 yards to Braylon Edwards and 11 yards to Holmes to reach the Colts' 34. Two plays later, Sanchez hit Edwards for 18 yards to the 14, and the Jets let the clock run down to three seconds before calling their final timeout and setting up Folk's kick.
"I really wasn't thinking too much,'' Folk said of his mind-set as he lined up for the winning kick. "I wanted to kick an extra point. I've had some game-winners before, but not one of this magnitude.''
"Our guys gave just an incredible effort," Ryan said. "I challenged our guys, especially at halftime, to come back in that locker room and be able to look each other in the eyes after that game, and [said] you'll know and your teammates will know that you gave everything you had, and it showed today."
That 18-yard pass to Edwards was all Sanchez. Brian Schottenheimer gave him the green light to go with what he wanted. "We just called one of the plays that has plenty of options for us," Sanchez said. "They gave us the right coverage for us to make a play and I missed him on a couple of balls earlier in the game and when we needed it the most, we got it. So Schotty gave me the freedom to do that. It was a big-time conversion and set us up for the field goal."
Sanchez completed 18 of 31 passes for 189 yards; Manning was 18-for-26 for 225 yards. LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 82 yards and two TDs on 16 carries and Shonn Greene added 70 yards rushing on 19 carries.
The Jets talked about trying to run the ball to control the clock and keep Manning off the field as much as possible, and they went more to that formula in the second half, gaining 95 yards on 25 carries. They finished with 169 yards on 38 carries.
The Jets took their first lead of the game with 9:59 remaining, going ahead 14-10 on Tomlinson's second 1-yard touchdown run of the second half. The third-and-goal TD capped an impressive 17-play, 87-yard drive that burned 9:54 off the clock.
Indianapolis drove into the red zone on its ensuing possession, looking as if it might regain the lead. But on third-and-7 at the 15 with just under five minutes left, the Colts went to the run and Dominic Rhodes gained only a yard, forcing them to settle for a 32-yard field goal that made it 14-13 with 4:37 left.
The Jets then got a break when on fourth-and-5 from their 25, the Colts' Taj Smith ran into punter Steve Weatherford. Four plays later, Weatherford punted from the Jets' 35, giving the Colts the ball at their 20 with 2:36 remaining, and they drove to the go-ahead field goal.
Cromartie began the second half with a 41-yard kickoff return to the Jets' 37, and Tomlinson scored from the 1 on first-and-goal to tie it at 7-7. But the Colts immediately went ahead 10-7 on Vinatieri's 47-yard field goal.
After failing to get much going on the Colts' first four possessions, Manning and Garçon hooked up for a 57-yard touchdown with 5:25 left in the second quarter. Facing a first-and-10 at the Colts' 43, Manning hit a streaking Garçon, who initially beat Cromartie. Safety Brodney Pool was out of position, taking a bad angle toward the ball, and he couldn't get back in time to help out Cromartie. But judging from the fact that Ryan chewed out Cromartie on the sideline, it appeared as though it was Cromartie's fault for not playing tighter coverage on Garçon, who simply darted down the seam and into the end zone.
The Jets had their chance to get right back into it on their final possession of the half. Beginning at their 21, they moved to the Colts' 19. But Sanchez made a poor decision on third-and-10, rolling left to buy extra time and missing a wide-open Dustin Keller as he cut across the field from right to left. The pass floated high and was picked off by Justin Tryon at the goal line for a killer turnover.