The magical run comes to an end one game short of its ultimate goal.
The Jets gave a valiant effort but Peyton Manning's brilliance overwhelmed the defense, and the offense simply lacked enough firepower to keep up.
Gang Green jumped out to a 17-6 lead after a 48-yard field goal by Jay Feely split the uprights. But when Manning got the ball with a chance to score with 2 minutes left in the 1st half, he took full advantage, finding Austin Collie for two big plays to cut the lead to 17-13 at halftime.
At halftime everything looked great for the Jets. Mark Sanchez had two touchdown passes, the defense had contained the Colts twice in the red zone, and they had the lead getting the ball. But after Shonn Greene ran for a first down to start the 2nd half, he left the game with a rib injury and did not return. Thomas Jones continued his struggles, and the Jets' run-first gameplan quickly proved that it would not work without Greene or any other halfback on the roster besides Jones.
Greene's injury killed the Jets offensively, and the defense never gave them any big plays to set up points. The defense then could not hold up against Manning's multi-faceted attack, led by Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. The two receivers burned Dwight Lowery and Drew Coleman all day, and the Jets didn't even bother using Lito Sheppard much in the 2nd half after being burned a few times early.
The Jets' magic number on defense all year has been 20. Allow 20 or less, and the Jets can win. Allow more, and the Jets are in deep trouble. It was a tall order for the offense even with Greene in the game. Without their rookie back, they had no chance. After taking a few hits early, Manning picked apart the Jets' defense in the 2nd half.
Give the Jets a lot of credit, but they needed to play a near-perfect game to win, and it was clear from the start that wasn't the case. Feely missed a 44-yard field goal on the Jets' first drive, and he missed a 52-yarder later in the game. Neither kick was easy, but had both gone in, the Jets would have been right there until the end.
The Jets are too over-reliant on their defense at this point. Mike Pettine's crew is good enough to beat the vast majority of offenses, but Peyton Manning is too good and dissected everything the Jets wanted to do. When Donald Strickland got hurt early in the game, the Jets simply lacked the talent at defensive back to hold up against Manning and his variety of weapons. Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne did very little in this football game. It was all the secondary receivers.
The tackling also was not very good in this game. The Colts ran the ball effectively for 98 yards on almost 5 yards per carry. If you told me that the Colts would outrush the Jets in this game, I would have thought that Indianapolis would have won by 30.
Sanchez held up very well in his first AFC Championship game. This may have been the best game of his young career. He made a couple of rookie mistakes taking risks throwing the ball away, but they didn't end up hurting him. He threw a perfect strike on a deep ball to Braylon Edwards after pump faking to keep Dwight Freeney from killing him. He threw his other touchdown pass right as he was getting hammered. The kid played tough. His final numbers were 17-30 for 257 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Both Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery, who played a very good game making plays on 3rd down, had 100 yards on the game.
The Jets had the Colts right where they wanted them. It's the 2nd consecutive AFC Championship game for this team where they have blown a double digit lead, making this tough to swallow. In this game the injuries to Greene and Strickland turned the Jets' two strengths into weaknesses in the 2nd half, so Jets fans can always play what-if with this game. The Jets dressed just three runningbacks, so when Greene went down, Jones and fullback Tony Richardson were all they had, and that was not nearly enough to wear down this fast and effective Colts' defense.
But the Jets have a very bright future. The Jets desperately need a pure pass rusher and another cornerback or two if they want to make this defense elite, but bring back Leon Washington and Kris Jenkins, draft another piece to the defense, and watch Sanchez mature, and this team will be one of the early favorites in the AFC next season.