Rarely have the Jets in their entire history, been on the right side of bizarre events. Sunday was the exception. The Jets found a giant gift wrapped present under the Christmas tree before taking the filed against the undefeated Colts on Sunday as Miami, Jacksonville and the Ravens had ALL lost. This left the Jets miraculously in control of their destiny heading into kickoff. Then more good fortune arrived. Future hall of fame QB Peyton Manning was benched for Purdue rookie Curtis Painter with
the Colts up just 16-10 in the third. Painter then lost the ball on his own ten and the Jets DE Marcus Douglas ran it in. Gang Green never looked back. Colts coach Jim Caldwell’s decision to keep Indy’s stars healthy rather than chase a perfect 16-0 season helped the Jets to a 29-15 win that leaves the Jets inexplicably a win away from the playoffs. The last time the Jets stunned the Colts, they still belonged to Baltimore. On that day in 1969, Joe Willie Namath was wagging his finger in Miami after a Super Bowl III upset that changed pro football forever. This one will not carry the same weight of course but it is a win that has left many stunned. Not only because of it’s implications in the AFC wildcard race, but because of the drama surrounding whether a top ranked team with nothing to play for like the Colts, should ever essentially mail it in.
Few knew if and when key Colt players would be pulled. The Colts were very secretive all week as to how they’d play a game that meant nothing other than perfection since they had already obtained the number one seed last week.
The Jets to their credit were able to keep it close enough so that when the switch was made, the chance presented itself. When Painter got stripped by Calvin Pace and Douglas took it into the end zone for the lead, the landscape of the AFC playoff race changed dramatically. The Jets now somehow were racing towards control of their own fate.
Up 16-10, Thomas Jones (105 yards 1TD) and Shonne Greene (95 yards) then hammered the “ground and pound” run attack that Jet fans have become accustomed to, to close it out. The league’s number one rushing team lived up to their billing. When Jones powered home a two yard TD plunge to put the Jets up 29-15 with 5:30 left., it was all but over. A Dwight Lowry interception on the Colts next posession then sealed it.
Earlier, Brad Smith returned a 104 yard kickoff for TD, the longest in Jet history, to give the Jets a brief 10-9 lead on the first play of the second half. Peyton Manning, in what would be his last drive of the day, answered, driving the Colts down the field where Donald Brown fought off tacklers to break free for a two yard TD to the outside and a 16-10 lead. The Jets then punted and that’s when Caldwell decided to pull the switch to what NBC’s Bob Costas called “injury protection.” Should Caldwell have tried to go up two scores before making the switch to Painter, a 5th round pick signed off the practice squad only weeks ago? Perhaps. With long time backup Jim Sorgi out for the season, the move certainly left a perfect season in serious peril. Caldwell has maintained that a Super Bowl ,not a perfect season was the goal this season. He reiterated that same viewpoint afterwards as well.
After a three interception game against the Falcons following a one week layoff due to knee injures sustained while scrambling, QB Mark Sanchez (12-17 106 yards) was efficient. In a game that the Jets could ill afford to be sloppy in, Sanchez had no ints. The Jets had no turnovers all day. The Jets shut down cornerback Darelle Revis was able to hold down Reggie Wayne while both Manning and Wayne were in the game (Wayne, TE Dallas Clark and Manning all left the game in the third quarter.. WR Austin Collie (7-94yds) benefitted from the attention on Wayne in helping the Colts to a 16-10 lead. Manning also missed a few close shots at widening what was a 9-3 lead at the half for Indy. Manning barely missed Wayne in the end zone in the second quarter in what resultedin a FG. Then Manning narrowly missed hitting TE Dallas Clark for a big gain that couldve set up another scoring drive.
Nonetheless the Jets were able to keep it close then reap the benefit of a Colts personnel change that had to infuriate Steelers ,Dolphins and Broncos, who needed the Jets to lose Sunday.
The Jets now head home to face the Cincinnati Bengals in what will be the final game in Giants Stadium. The Giants ended their Giants stadium career Sunday, on the wrong end of a blowout loss to Carolina 41-12. How ironic it would be if it was the Jets who close out the 33 year life of a stadium that doesn’t have their name on it, with a big win.
A win next Sunday and the Jets head to the playoffs. The Bengals, who may be monitoring the health of the oft injured RB Cedric Benson and nicked up QB Carson Palmer, may face a similar situation as the Colts did. The risk of playing injured starters may not be worth the reward for a team that can’t obtain a bye next week.
Two tragedies have befallen the Bengals this season. The wife of their offensive coordinator saldy passed away this season. Most recently WR Chris Henry, out for the year since late November with an injury, died due to injuries sustained after falling out of a pickup truck in a domestic dispute weeks back. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis will have to decide whether gaining rythym and momentum outweighs the risk of resting players like Benson and Palmer for a portion of the game.
For the Jets ,the song remains the same as this week. Play the situation, not the players on the other side of the ball. The situation is win and you’re in. This for a team that left itself for dead prematurely last week when head coach Rex Ryan declared the season over after a horrible 10-7 loss to Atlanta at home. Oakland later saved the Jets with a wild last minute win over Denver. Now this. Yet another chance for a franchise that has had nine lives this year.
“We’ve had more help than any team in league history,” safety Jim Leonhard said last week. Add even more help to Leonhard’s quote now, thanks to the three eraly game losses and Manning’s controversial benching. The Jets may now be rallying around those who kicked dirt on their 2009 season too early. “Misson improbable is in its last stages. Don’t take that hammer and hit that final nail in us yet.” LB Bart Scott said following the big win over the now 14-1 Colts. For the Jets, the biggest task lies ahead. One that has more often than not, alluded this franchise. That’s the task of closing the deal. Finishing the job. Heading into week 16, few would have thought that for the Jets, destiny is in their hands again.
A LOOK BACK AT THE THREE KEYS AGAINST INDY:
SANCHEZ GET IN THE TIME MACHINE: We hoped Sanchez would regain that early season swagger. He never needed to show it. With Manning out, the second half became all about managing the game. Still, the Sanchise threw a goose egg up there interception wise. Mission accomplished.
STOP THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE: Manning Wayne and Clark were the fear. Manning came out and then so did Clark and Wayne. While they were in, Manning was hard to stop, Wayne was covered and Clark just missed some big plays.
The triangle was stopped, but in big part to Jim Caldwell’s choice to play it safe and rest them.
DESPERATION: MOTIVATION The Jets needed to play desperate while hoping the Colts would coast or take the day off. Again, mission accomplished. How many times have the Jets LOST to a no name backup QB or RB? Remember when backup Bubby Brister rescued the Eagles down 17-0 and Randall Cunningham knocked out of the game years ago? We do. Not this time though. Not today. Way to stay focused fellas.
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