INDIANAPOLIS - When he caught the ball 6 yards deep in his end zone on the kickoff to start the second half, Brad Smith figured he'd do the sensible thing and take a knee. Then he caught a glimpse of his teammates' expressions.
"I did have some hesitation coming out, but once I saw the guys in front of me, they were like, 'Let's go,' " Smith said.
So he went.
He took the ball out of the end zone, dashed upfield and headed to the right sideline, where he outraced the Colts' coverage team all the way to the end zone. The 106-yard play was the longest in franchise history.
"The guys were tired of dealing with touchbacks and kneeling," Smith said. "You could see it in their eyes that they were waiting for me, so I decided to take it up."
It was a decision that paid huge dividends in the Jets' playoff push.
The touchdown gave the Jets a 10-9 lead over the unbeaten Colts. Indianapolis scored on its next possession, then decided to take out key starters to make sure it was healthy for the playoffs. The Jets then rallied for a 29-15 win; a win over the Bengals next week at home, and they'll be in the playoffs.
"When it happened, it didn't really feel like a big momentum-changer," Smith said. "I just felt like I was doing my job. That's what Westhoff always tells us. But looking back on it, I think it was a game-changer."
And maybe a season-changer.
Jets coach Rex Ryan initially was incredulous that Smith decided to run back the kick.
"I'm like, 'Well, stay in and take a knee,' " Ryan said. "Then I'm like, 'Uh-oh' and then, 'Great job.' We felt good about our return chances, and Brad did a great job. He had super blocking. It really lifted us."
No one on the Jets' bench was happier to see Smith's touchdown than rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. And not just because it gave the Jets the lead.
"Big plays seem to happen when we're making the right decisions at the quarterback spot, if that makes sense," said Sanchez, who threw for 106 yards and didn't have an interception. "There might be no correlation, but when you don't throw interceptions, things bounce your way. We didn't turn the ball over and Brad made a huge play. We turn the ball over and maybe things change."