I've been too busy smiling from ear to ear to start writing this post. After a tight football game throughout, the Jets made just enough plays in the 4th quarter to pull out a 17 to 16 win at Lucas Oil Stadium over Rex Ryan's personal nemesis, Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.
The first half was as sluggish as one could imagine, with the Jets failing to put up a single point. Mark Sanchez was awful. There's no sugarcoating it. He was terrible in the first half, missing a lot of throws high and long, negating the fact the Jets were running the ball with success. When the Jets finally got in scoring range, he made an ill-advised and poor throw that was intercepted by Justin Tryon.
Fortunately, the defense was great. The first three Colts drives ended in three-and-outs, and it wasn't until their fifth drive where Peyton Manning found paydirt. Pierre Garcon burned Antonio Cromartie and Brodney Pool, and Manning did not miss him. Cromartie was beaten badly, and Pool took a bad angle to the football, leading to the 57-yard touchdown.
Just like last year, Garcon was the difference-maker offensively for Indianapolis. He had less than half the receptions this time with 5, but he still had 112 yards and that long touchdown. Antonio Cromartie struggled to deal with Garcon's quickness, particularly on a few slant patterns. On the other side of the field, even Darrelle Revis's biggest fans probably wouldn't have guessed Reggie Wayne would be as non-existent as he was. Wayne ended up with one catch for one yard. Revis was all over him all game long, and Manning, like most quarterbacks this season, would not test him. For good reason.
The Jets would get the ball to start the second half, with a 7-0 deficit. Rex Ryan ripped into his football team in the locker room, particularly the offense and Cromartie for allowing the long touchdown. The team responded. Led by a dominant offensive line, the Jets gashed the Colts on the ground in the second half. With Sanchez struggling, the Jets kept the ball on the ground more, and it worked. In their first drive, the Jets marched 63 yards on 10 plays, 8 of them rushes.
The Colts responded with a decent drive of their own, culminating in a 47-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal, but the Jets picked up where they left off on their second drive. Starting off at their own 13 yard line, the Jets, drove the length of the field, with no play going longer than 11 yards. 10 minutes of game time later, the Jets were in the endzone, giving them their first lead of the game of 4 points.
Once again, Manning got the ball, and once again, he moved the ball well before the Jets finally stiffened and forced another field goal, holding the lead. The last play of the drive was a 3rd-and-7 draw play to Dominic Rhodes. It was the third time in two drives that Manning audibled to a draw play on a 3rd-and-7 or more, but this time, the Jets were there to stop it. Vinatieri made the kick, and it was a 14-13 Jet lead.
The Jets appeared to go three-and-out after Santonio Holmes dropped a catchable pass on third down. But Taj Smith of the Colts ran into Steve Weatherford, prompting a five yard penalty, and giving the Jets new life. Once again, the Jets ran, ran, threw incomplete, and punted, and this time, nobody ran into Weatherford who booted his fourth touchback of the night, tying his season total in that stat.
From there, it appeared to be a slow death for Gang Green. Manning went from his own 20 to the cusp of field goal range in just four plays. But when Manning needed one more first down to ensure the Jets not getting another chance, his pass barely fell incomplete on 3rd down. Vinatieri was given a 50-yard field goal attempt to take the lead, and Vinatieri did what he normally does, drilling a clutch kick in the playoffs to give his team the lead.
Only the Jets weren't done. Antonio Cromartie returned the kickoff 47 yards to the Jet 46. Sanchez then settled down, finding Edwards on a slant for 9, Holmes on an out for 11, and finally Edwards down the sideline for 18 yards to set up Nick Folk's game-winning field goal. Folk made it, saving his Jet career and the season, and sending the Jets to New England.
It certainly wasn't perfect. Sanchez looked horrible for most of the game. The defense couldn't force any turnovers. But the Jets regained their identity of a ground-and-pound running team, finishing with 169 yards on the ground. As a result, they won time of possession by 7 minutes and held Manning to just three drives in the second half.
The Jets have been a resilient team most of the season, and today was no different. They were down 7 at halftime, and they trailed with under a minute left. But they made the plays when they had to. That's the bottom line.
Can the Jets beat the Patriots? That's the key question now. New England is usually dominant at home and after a bye week, but the way they've played for the last month, a week off couldn't really make them much better than they are now. The same questions remain: can Sanchez make enough plays? Can the Jets get any pressure on Tom Brady?
All that matters now is that they have the opportunity. That's all you can ask for at this point. After getting revenge against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year, now they have a chance against the team that embarrassed them just over a month ago. Stage one of the gauntlet has been complete. It's one thing to defeat a banged up Colts team. It's another to knock off Tom Brady and the 14-2 Patriots. But anything can happen. Just look at the Seahawks knocking off the Saints. Or, if you want a Jets' example, look back to week 2 this year, when Gang Green handed the Pats one of their two losses. It won't be easy, and Sanchez needs to play light years ahead of last season. But if the Jets can continue to play solid defense and run the ball like they did today, they have a chance.