Top 'o the afternoon to you, Jets fans. You giddy bunch, you. Stephen Haynes back in the Docks for the 19th installment of GDL: the AFC Championship Game. Kind of a big deal. So join us for the in-game updates, stats and of course, the useless pre-game analysis.
You’ve seen those cognitive recognition questions on tests. Four objects or shapes and one of them is not like the other. You know where I’m going. In this final four, the Jets are that red and orange tetrahedron among the orange and red quadrilaterals. The high-powered Saints, Vikings and Colts… and the single-engine Cessna that we weren’t sure could, but has.
Look at like this: The Jets are “new money.” They won the lottery and got a foot in the door and from there, made sage investments, shrewd business moves and flipped a tenfold parlay to join the Billionaire Boys club. Luck got them in, but it’s them that got themselves here. So “team of destiny” is as much of an empty term as “house’s money.” And even if either was real – or mattered – it goes out the window when a team goes this far and gets this close. Two more wins? Yeah. Two more wins is what they need; all they need.
Standing in the way, though, is Obstacle 3: the Colts, by record, the NFL’s best team this season. But it can be done. Actually, personnel-wise, Indianapolis might be a better matchup for the Jets than the Chargers were.
The Colts won the coin toss and chose to receive... On a third-and-8, Manning is sacked by a blitzing David Harris at the 35 and the Colts are forced to punt. Jerricho Cotchery fair catches the McAfee punt at the 29....The Jets drove to the Colts’ 21 after a 20-yard catch and run by Edwards on a slant. But Shonn Greene is stuffed for two yard losses on consecutive runs and Wallace Wright picks up just a yard on the 3rd down slip screen. And the Jets squander a scoring chance as Jay Feely’s 44-yard field goal goes wide right by a couple yards.... Manning is sacked by Harris (again) on first down on a 3-linebacker blitz, sending the Colts back to the 27. On third-and-12, Manning’s pass for Dallas Clark on an out route (about five yards short of the marker) is tipped and knocked down by Donald Strickland. Cotchery takes the punt back 12 yards to the Jets’ 24...After an incomplete pass and a 2-yard run by Tony Richardson, Thomas Jones runs for three yards on third-and-8. Weatherford’s punt (61 yards) rolls to the Colts’ 11...The Colts got to the Jets’ 45 on Garcon’s 27-yard reception (caught a short slant, broke a tackle and cut toward the middle to pick up the extra yards). Strickland got hurt while making the tackle. Sheppard came and was immediately burned by Garcon on a go route from the Z position that went for 36 yards (over-the-shoulder catch) down the 9. And the Jets call timeout with 1:02 left in the quarter...The Colts did themselves no favors in the red zone. Donald Brown ran for no gain and then Manning overthrew Wayne on a post in the end zone before Ryan Diem flinched for a false start on third down. The Colts, seeing an all-out blitz by the Jets, audible to a bubble screen to Garcon, which gets them only to the 6 as the quarter ends. Matt Stover will attempt a 25-yard field goal to start the second quarter.
Stover hit a 25-yard field goal at the start of the quarter, capping an 8-play, 82-yard drive by the Colts. 3-0, Colts.
But the Jets answered immediately. Braylon Edwards burned the Colts secondary on a go route (up the left sideline at split end) for an 80-yard touchdown at 14:56. No one-hand catch, just a simple over-the-shoulder snare. He had about five yards of separation on cornerback Jacob Lacey. The play was the Jets' longest of the season. 7-3, Jets.
The Colts drove 79 yards (on 12 plays) to the Jets' 1 but stalled. Manning went nowhere on a third-down QB sneak and Indy settled for a 19-yard field goal by Stover at 8:49. The big play on the drive was a 22-yard catch and run by Collie. 7-6, Jets.
The Jets get to the 12 on Brad Smith's 45-yard pass to Cotchery (yes, they threw from the Tiger formation) on a second-and-7. Smith took the snap, rolled right and as the defense clamped, Cotchery broke open on a go route on the right. It would've been a touchdown, but Smith underthrew the deep ball and Cotchery had to slow down to make the catch, allowing the defender to catch up.
Jets touchdown. Sanchez hits Keller on a well-run out route (fighting off the jam) for a nine-yard touchdwon with 4:59 left in the half. Sanchez released the ball just before he got popped, showing good poise and patience in the pocket. It finished off a 7-play, 77-yard drive. 14-6, Jets.
The Colts turn it over. Calvin Pace shot the 'A' gap and came in unblocked just as Joseph Addai took the handoff. Pace made the hit, Addai fumbled and Jim Leonhard dove in immediately to scoop the fumble at the Colts' 34. He took it back five yards, setting the offense up at the 29 with 3:40 left in the half.
A false start and a Thomas Jones run for a loss of 4 setup a third-and-16, Jones runs for five yards to put Feely in position for a 48-yard field goal. And it’s good. After a miss in the first quarter from 44, Feely drills the 48 and sends it right down the middle at 2:16. 17-6, Jets.
The Colts march down the field in a hurry to answer. Manning hit Collie for a 16-yard touchdown (open in the end zone off a missed assignment) with 1:19 left in the quarter. The Colts went 80 yards in 58 seconds. The big play was Collie's 46-yard reception (up the middle on a seam, splitting the safeties) that got them to the the 16. 17-13, Jets.
Halftime: The Jets lead, 17-13, and have been more aggressive offensively than was expected. Mark Sanchez is 5-for-7 with 124 yards and two touchdowns and Brad Smith connected with Cotchery on his one attempt for 45 yards. Shonn Greene (27), Thomas Jones (17) and Tony Richardson (2) have combined for 46 yards. Greene and and Jones had each carried eight times. Braylon Edwards has two catches for 100 yards and a touchdown. His 80-yard score on a go route (aided by Sanchez's pump fake) was the Jets' longest play of the season. Davis Harris leads the defense with five tackles and two sacks... Peyton Manning 11-for-18 with 218 yards and a touchdown. Joseph Addai has 32 yards on eight carries and Austin Collie, who's been able to get behind the defense a couple times, has five catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. Pierre Garcon has three receptions for 70 yards. It's all been coming in chunks for the Colts... The teams have combined for 466 yards of total offense.
The Jets get possession to start the second half and Brad Smith takes the kickoff three yards deep in the end zone and gets to the 27. The Jets drive to the 34 but stall (Sanchez threw it out of bounds on a third-and-7) and the Jets opted to attempt the 52-yard field goal. Feely's kick went wide right.
(Shonn Greene is headed back to the locker room, walking gingerly. He carried twice on the Jets drive before coming off the field. He limped off after his second carry, a sweep off right tackle that picked up seven yards and a first down.)
The Colts retake the lead. Manning hits Garcon on a corner route (over-the-shoulder like a fade, though) for a 4-yard touchdown at 8:08. The Colts got into the red zone on Addai's shake and snake on a slip screen for 13 yards that got to the Jets' 15. Addai could've been dropped for a loss as he made the catch, but Leonhard and then Ellis missed tackles. The next play was an 11-yard slant to Garcon, setting up the touchdown. How quickly things can change. 20-17, Colts.
(No word on what Greene's injury is, but his pads are off and it looks like he's out for the game.)
The Jets pick up 19 yards on the drive, but it stalls at their 49. A holding penalty and a false start set them back. Weatherford's punt goes to the Colts' 12 and Rushing takes it back to the 16.
After a 17-yard run by Addai up the middle on first down, the Colts fail to advance the ball more than three yards. McAfee's punt goes 52 yards and Cotchery makes the fair catch at the 11.
(Greene is back out on the sideline. He's jogging back and forth and it looks as if he'll come back into the game at some point. He's got an extra pad under his jersey, protecting what's believed to be a rib injury.)
The third quarter ends with the Jets facing a second-and-10 at their 23.
The Jets' drive stalls at the 43 (on third-and-8, Sanchez avoided the rush and overthrew Edwards deep; it was his only semi-open receiver). Weatherford's punt bounds into the end zone for a touchback.
Touchdown, Colts. Manning, off a play fake, connected with Clark for a 15-yard touchdown on a post with 8:57 left. Clark was wide open over the middle. The drive went 80 yards on seven plays and took 3:33. All but four of those yards were on passes. The Colts moved it methodically, getting receivers open underneath the coverage and in the intermediate range. 27-17, Colts.
The Jets go 3-and-out as Sanchez's third down pass for Cotchery on an out is swatted on a dive by Kelvin Hayden. Weatherford's punt goes 49 yards and out of bounds at the Colts' 26 with 8:02 left.
A 16-yard run by Addai gets the Colts to the Jets' 36 with 4:58 left... Garcon makes a lunging 23-yard catch on a corner route for a first down that gets the Colts to the 12 with 4:12 left.
On third-and-8, Addai runs a counter off left tackle and picks up seven yards. On fourth-and-1 the Colts offense lines up but calls timeout with the play clock at zero. They'll kick the 21-yard field goal with 2:33 left... Stover's kick is good; pushed wide but sneaked just inside the right upright at 2:29. 30-17, Colts.
The Jets offense will start at the 32 with 2:22 left as "Hells Bells" begins to play in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Sanchez's pass to David Clowney is a little high, deflects off the receiver's hand and is picked off by Kelvin Hayden at the 43. Hayden takes it back three yards and the Colts offense takes over with 2:11 left, all but ending the game.
The Colts have a third-and-10 with 1:54 left and the Jets are out of timeouts. After a 3-yard run from Mike Hart, the up back, brings up fourth-and-7, the Colts punt. McAfee's boot goes 41 yards to the Jets' 10, where it's fair caught by Cotchery with 1:06 left.
And it's over. Thomas Jones was tackled after an 18-yard catch and run over the middle as time expired.
Final: The Colts win, 30-17, and advance to the Super Bowl with a 16-2 overall record. The Jets finish their season at 11-8.
Sanchez was 17-for-30 with 257 yards, two touchdowns and a late interception. Cotchery had five catches for 102 yards and Edwards had two for 100 and a touchdown. Keller had six receptions for 63 yards and a score. Jones ran for 42 yards on 16 carries and Greene, knocked out with a rib injury in the third quarter, finished with 41 yards on 10 rushes. David Harris led the defense with 11 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble.
Peyton Manning took control of the game in the second half and led the Colts' comeback from down 17-6. He was 26-for-39 with 377 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers. Addai ran for 80 yards on 16 carries. Pierre Garcon terrorized the Jets secondary late, going for 11 catches, 151 yards and a touchdown. Austin Collie had seven catches for 123 yards and a scoure and Dallas Clark had 35 yards and a touchdown. All that offset the fact that Wayne, covered by Revis, was held to four catches for 55 yards. Gary Brackett, who made eight tackles, led the Colts defense which shut the Jets down after Feely's 48-yard field goal with 2:16 left in the second quarter.
The last time the teams met, in Week 16, the Jets came from behind to win after the Colts pulled some starters (in particular, Peyton Manning) in the second half. The Colts essentially sacrificed a shot at a perfect season in doing so. Which means a heap of pressure on them to win this one. Because they’ve been a league superpower for the better part of the last decade and they pooh-poohed history, passing on a chance to match or surpass something their hated rival accomplished, thinking it would serve them better in the pursuit of a title, it’s big prize or nothing. The Colts chose to see what’s behind Door No. 2, and if it turns out to be a duffle bag full of rocks… that’s a pretty big matzah ball hanging out there. And for them to get knocked off by the same team they gave a freebie would be ironic and quite embarrassing.
The last time the teams squared off in the playoffs, the Colts were embarrassed. The Jets routed them, 41-0, in the 2002 Wildcard round behind Chad Pennington’s 222 yards and three touchdowns and LaMont Jordan’s 102 yards and two scores. Manning was 14-for-31 with 137 yards and two interceptions. Things have changed since then. Manning has elevated himself from superstar to all-timer, won four MVPs, and the Colts have jumped the hump and won a Super Bowl. Still, that sting probably lingers.
Indianapolis leads is 40-25 in the regular season against the Jets, but the Jets have won both playoff meetings. It’s been 41 years and 12 days since the greatest win in Jets history – the Super Bowl III triumph over the Baltimore Colts, 16-7. A win today would likely be etched into the top 3 all-time victories for the franchise.
Keys to the Game
Keep on keepin’ on. The Jets’ offensive success, for the most part, has been a result of the running game. Consistent short gains that drain the clock and then bursts off the edge or cutbacks that go for big yards. That will have to continue, possibly (probably) with a few new wrinkles thrown into the base and Tiger formations. They’re facing a defense that saw this offense in Week 16, desperate and in an absolutely-positively-gotsta-have-it game. There probably wasn’t too much the Jets would’ve held back. That plus usual weekly film study and game-planning means the Colts have a good idea of what to look for from the Jets. Which means Brian Schottenheimer will have to throw out some stuff that they haven’t shown yet. If there’s a forkball, slurve or Eephus pitch in the repertoire, today is a good day to break it out.
The Colts defense was eighth in points allowed (19.2) but 18th in yards (339.2). Their pass defense has been solid, holding quarterbacks to a collective 80.6 rating, but the rush defense – as is usually the case with them – has been an issue. They’ve surrendered the ninth most yards on the ground (2,024). It’s not so much the quality of the runs (4.3 YPC), but the number of attempts that has boosted that total. Only six teams were run against more often than the Colts (467) and those were the cellar dwellers including the Rams, Bucs and Raiders – teams that regularly fell behind early and had offenses go conservative against them. Why are the Colts among them? Probably because they’ve long carried the stigma of being a team that’s soft against the run so teams test them often and, this year, because they haven’t dominated. They’ve played in a lot of close games and had several decided in tooth-and-nail fourth quarters. They don’t blow teams out anymore. Which means the Jets will probably have the opportunity to play their style and not be overly pressured into a Sanchez vs. Manning chuck-a-thon.
The Colts have linebackers with good range and coverage skills, so Dustin Keller likely won’t be running free too often. Still, it would behoove the Jets to get him involved early (if even quick outs underneath) and establish him as a receiver to get the Colts linebackers thinking about him as a threat. The more divided their thoughts, the less locked in on the run they’ll be.
Figure the Jets’ game plan will be conservative, but they should get the opportunity to take a couple shots down field if they can get a receiver deep on a safety against Indy’s cover 2 or cover 4. Melvin Bullitt, starting in place of the oft-injured Bob Sanders (on IR), isn’t really a coverage safety. In 14 games this season, he’s got no interceptions and just one pass deflection. Which means he either isn’t around the ball a great deal or hasn’t been able to get his hands on it. Don’t be surprised if the Jets switch Jerricho Cotchery to split end and Braylon Edwards to flanker and look to get Edwards on Bullitt deep.
The Colts are giving up 5.57 yards per carry at right end. Yep, that’s at Dwight Freeney. He’s a very talented edge rusher, but he often thinks pass rush first, which comes at the expense of playing the run. He’s got just 24 tackles this season and 13.5 are sacks. You can do the math. When he isn’t tackling the quarterback, he isn’t doing much tackling. The Jets only ran off left tackle 10% of the time this season, but they can take advantage of Freeney’s over aggressiveness with some draws, counters and traps that way. And when the Jets do pass, D’Brickashaw Ferguson (first-time Pro Bowler) will have to be on-point and ready for to defend Freeney’s Taz-like spin move.
Manning was sacked just 10 times in the regular season. The Colts offensive line is a good pass-blocking unit, but the paucity of sacks is a great reflection of Manning’s quick release, his ability to decipher defenses, the effectiveness of the Colts’ bubble screens and quick slants, and the fact that Manning has reliable targets underneath on hot routes. He completed 69.3% of his passes against the blitz and had a 118.5 QB rating (10 touchdowns, two interceptions). All this means the Jets, who aren’t a great pass-rushing team, would be better off focusing on coverage instead of rushing.
They’ll have to show different looks and formations and mix up coverages to keep the passing attack from getting into a rhythm.
They can single Darrelle Revis on Reggie Wayne, double-team Dallas Clark with a safety and linebacker and have Dwight Lowery (it’ll be him and not Lito Sheppard today) focus on containing Austin Collie.
A positive (really, a windfall) for the Jets is Indy’s inability to run effectively. They were 32nd in the NFL with 80.9 yards per game on 3.5 yards per carry. Joseph Addai, who has been an explosive slash-n-cutback runner, had just 828 yards in 15 games. Even his effectiveness as a receiver has diminished. He caught 51 passes, but his per catch average dipped from 8.2 to 6.6.