A Rematch With The Superbowl At Stake

Well, they helped create this monster. Now the Peyton Manning led Indianapolis Colts finally get a second chance to end the New York Jets season. The 2010 AFC title game between the Jets and Colts  for the rights to go to  Super Bowl XLIV, pits two teams who are trying to set the record straight. The Jets aim to once and for all rid themselves of the “fraud” tag they were given last month by many, as a result of the “red carpet” circumstances that led to their playoff entrance. The Colts hope to finally justify forking over a chance at an undefeated season and an eternal “God like” football status for the comforts of injury free stars rested for a postseason run. Once again, for the second straight week, it’s a high powered air attack against the Ground and Pound. Jet fans are frothing at the mouth with the notion that a chance for the franchise’s biggest win in four decades is only days away. To do it, Gang Green will for the third time this January, have to pull of a playoff road upset. This time against the AFC’s top seed. It’s a daunting task but for a ball control team like the Jets. Yet for a team that beiieves so much in itself, whose confidence has grown exponentially since December, maybe immeasurable intangibles can help lead the way towards the promised land.

The Jets greatest achievment since their inception as the Titans, led by coach Slingin’ Sammy Baugh in 1960, was of course Super Bowl III. Their January 12, 1969 16-7 upset over the Baltimore Colts helped to once and for all legitimize the AFL as a league on par with the NFL (The creative Kansas City Chiefs out manuevered the stagnant NFL champ Vikings in Super Bowl IV the following year to further cement the AFLs legacy). Joe Namath guaranteed the win despite being a 17 point underdog. How did they do it? By running the Colts into the ground. Jet RB Matt Snell’s 30 carries for 121 yards helped control the clock while Colts QB Earl Morrall was picked off 3 times. Sound familiar? It should.

These 2009 Jets will look to implement the same approach Sunday. As they have throughout 2009.  Shut ’em down on D and pound the ground with RB’s Thomas Jones and rookie Shonn Greene. Greene this year’s third round steal out of Iowa, is on fire with back to back hundred yard games and two long TD runs in the postseason.  Shedding himself of fumble issues that plagued him midseason when he took over for the injured Leon Washington, Greene has become a force to be reckon with. A player that the Jet offense has been able to recently base itself around. These old school “smashmouth” Jets can complete a playoff run few could have envisioned a month back, if they can do as they did in San Diego; stay close going into the second half. Close enough to allow the run game to get moving downhill without burning out their own clock while trying to come back from way behind.

The Jets Colts history begins with the Jets Super Bowl III win in Miami. ironically, THIS years Super Bowl is in Miami.  The Colts have AGAIN been part of the story, connected to the journey. Back then it was former Colts coach Weeb Ewbank, who led the Colts to the famous 1956 OT win over the Giants in the greatest game ever played,  leading the way as head coach for the Jets (young head coach Don Shula coached the Colts that day). Rough and tumble former Colt S Johnny Sample also sought to burn the team that cut him. “I kept a little bitterness in me. I was almost in a frenzy by the time the game arrived. I held a private grudge against the Colts. I was really ready for that game. All of us were.” Eight time all star ( 4 times in the AFL, 4 in the NFL after the 1970 merger)  offensive lineman big Winston Hill was cut by the Colts five years prior. Hill gave his thoughts on THIS years “O” line saying “Our offensive line is one of the best. They don’t back down from anybody, period … The entire team believes in Rex. He’s not sending soldiers out there on the field; he’s leading them out there.”

This years link between the two clubs is simple. Week 16.  Nothing more needs to be said. In fact, the Jets 29-15 win was one that will go down in football lore like the “Heidi game” of 1968 (look it up).  A day where the Colts replaced their undefeated team with what Rex Ryan termed “the JV” in order to insure a healthy January march to the Super Bowl. The Jets took advantage with a season saving win that left Indy fans, fans of AFC teams fighting to stay alive, and the football world in general, angry and wondering what could’ve been. Personalities like New York sports talk host WFAN’s Mike Francesa, to this day is cocksure that the Colts would’ve knocked out the Jets and then gone on to beat the Bills to go undefeated. Francesa’s scenario would’ve sent the Steelers to the postseason, not the Jets. Could’ve would’ve should’ve. The Jets instead capitalized on what Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz has called A G-I-F-T GIFT GIFT GIFT (mocking the traditional Jets chant often led by Superfan Fireman Ed during home games). The good fortune of facing a 14-0 team looking to play it safe helped the Jets regain control of the their playoff destiny. A destiny that Gang Green embraced when it posted a convincing 37-0 win against the unmotivated AFC North champion Bengals in the final regular season game. The final game ever at Giants stadium. Since that “JV game,”  the Jets have been trying to rid themselves of the perception by many, that they don’t belong in the postseason. That they were simply let in on the day when Colts backup QB Curtis Painter became a household name. For all the wrong reasons.

How can the Jets overcome a Colts team that has future hall of fame QB Peyton Manning spearheading the charge? By making the Colts beat them in ways that include more than Manning.  By confusing the genius student Manning as often as humanly possible. Ryan was 0-4 against Manning as a coordinator for the Ravens but HAS gotten to him before. A 2006 15-6 playoff loss by the Ravens still limited the Colts to five field goals. The game included  a full menu of  Ryanesque  “come from anywhere” blitzes and two (of what should’ve been three) Ed Reed interceptions. A day of drive halting results that the Jets would be thrilled to obtain this Sunday. Manning said of that day “I can’t tell you how many different looks we studied,” Manning said afterwards. “I didn’t sleep well all week.”

The Jet front four, which includes ten year vet Sean Ellis and his “club” (thanks to breaking his hand on the first play out in San Diego) and the suddenly overachieving NG Mike Devito,  has to get SOME pressure on Manning. They will be aided by blitzing Jet defenders who will come from everywhere, rarely if ever repeating their paths. While the pressure makes its way towards one of the safest pockets in football, the Jets must do a top notch job defending receivers with tight  press coverage. A coverage the Jets switched to at the pleading of the defense to Ryan at halftime in San Diego. The Jet started out soft in zone coverage, which allowed the Chargers to move it well through the air early on. This Sunday, the Jets can’t allow perennial All Pro’s Reggie Wayne and TE Dallas Clark time to get into their routes consistently. Revis will switch from Wayne to Clark  as he did with Jackson and Antonio Gates last week. This means that risk taking ball hawk CB Lito Shepherd and steady CB Donald Strickland will have to continue their solid play. Perhaps even raise their level against speedy tough slot threat Austin Collie and tall strong WR Pierre Garcon. Collie hurt the Jets in week 16 with six catches for 94 yards while the Jets focused their attention on shutting down Wayne and Clark.

The Jets “Walk Around” defense, a mixture of defenders walking around never claiming any one spot before the snap, can resemble the aimless hustle and bustle of Grand Central station during rush hour. This heavily disguised style, confused Chargers QB Phillip Rivers (whose pass heavy offense averaged 28 points all season yet managed just 14 last Sunday) during the Jets divisional round victory. Rivers had trouble locating pre snap coverage. The hard to decipher alignment also contributed to three Charger false starts, wasted timeouts throughout, and precious time eroding late in the fourth as Rivers looked to find mismatches for quick scores. The “walk around” must do the same to Manning this week. If Manning can be derailed from consistently picking up coverage schemes, and the Jet line can get some help from timely blitz packages, perhaps the Colts can be taken out of THEIR rythym as well. It’s a look  that coach Rex Ryan  and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine worked to perfection against the Bolts. With Manning at the helm this week though, the task becomes greater of course. This is after all, the Colts and Peyton Manning we’re talking about here.

The Jet defenders especially the secondary will need to make plays, game changers, just as they did in San Diego. The way teams like the Chargers and Colts, and NFC title game opponents Vikings and Saints throw it, one could make a case that “secondary” has become the new “linebacker” in importance this year. The Jets have a secondary that CAN change games. In fact this unit is changing games even more as of late. It hasn’t just been  happening on Revis Island either.  S Kerry Rhodes had a key blitz last Sunday. S Jim Leonhard made the most of his chances. The gritty Leonhard forced an apparent fumble in the second quarter on a hard hit on WR Malcom Floyd then earned the payoff for a “lunch pail”style days work, by intercepting Rivers deep in Jet territory at the end of the third quarter. A turnover that proved to be the key momentum swing for the Jets. All pro CB Darrelle Revis made yet another key play in 2009,  with his intereception prior to the Leonhard pick. The Jets top defender thwarted top  Charger wideout Vincent Jackson on a pass catch attempt in the red zone. The play came on a mid third quarter drive where the Chargers sought to add to a 7-3 lead. A lead that could’ve proved tough for

the grind it out Jets to overcome. This week will HAVE to be more of the same from the strength of the Jet defense at this point, the secondary.

On offense there will be no suprise. Unless you’ve been away all year and haven’t yet heard of the Ground and Pound.  If you’re a Jet fan, it’s become your mantra. Run them into submission. It’s no secret that win or lose the Jets will look to run for glory against the NFL’s 24th ranked run defense. A defense that includes top ranked pass rushing ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.  All pros Nick Mangold and Alan Faneca join Damien Woody and 6’7 D’Brickshaw Ferguson to create a man made brick wall unlike no other team currently can in pro football. Line coach Bill Callahan has been phenomenal this season at devising intricate blocking schemes whose designs have helped pave the way for the Jets to become the league’s top rushing team. Rest assured this “hit em in the mouth until it hurts” approach will be featured on Sunday once again. Woody made that point known today saying that the Jets will run until they wear the Colts down.  The Jets can neutralize those bookend pass rushing threats Freeney and Mathis by running well on first and second down so as to keep 3rd downs manageable.

Rookie QB Mark Sanchez has gone from a turnover machine (20 ints in 2009) to a game manager capable of converting key throws when it counts. He’ll have to do the same Sunday and some. Dustin Keller has emerged in these playoffs. Keller’s big day in Cincy during the 24-14 Wildcard win over the Benglas, saw the former Purdue star haul in three important grabs for ninety nine yards and a TD. Keller is turning into the reliable safety valve Jet fans hoped he’d be early in the year. Sanchez and Keller are finally on the same page, thinking together. Need proof? Take the the ad libbed TD throw from Sanchez to  the double covered Keller for the go ahead TD in San Diego for example then. Add the always dependable WR Jerricho Cotchery into the mix and what you have is the ability for the Jets to convert third and short yardage situations. That is unless Ill advised picks by Sanchez in Jet territory a reverting back to the monsoon that took engulfed him in October, rear their ugly head on Sunday. Rookie mistakes by the Jets quarterback, something the former USC Rose Ball winner has avoided lately, will make an uphill battle become mountainous for New York.

Perhaps a key to the game could be the emergence of the long overdue WR Braylon Edwards. His two catches for 41 yards last week may appear minimal on paper. However it’s a step up from the previous weeks that saw a myriad of dropped TDs and long tosses from Sanchez. Ryan said heading into last week against the Bolts that Edwards ” is gonna break out sooner or later and let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.” Attempts by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to open the field up vertically early in the game by having “Sanchise” go deep to Edwards could catch the run focused Indy defenders by surprise. Whether he can hold onto the ball if and when it gets there is anybody’s guess. Then of course there’s Brad Smith. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a few wrinkles put into the gameplan by “Schotty” for Smith, the teams most versatile skill position player this week.

The Jets have only averaged scoring three points in the last nine games after the first quarter. That has to change this week. The Ravens kept it a 3-3 game into the second quarter in their 20-3 loss to Indy last week, but had way too many three and outs. The Jets  have to think bigger than that. The Colts MLB Gary Brackett is always active from sideline to sideline and often lands around the ball. S Antoine Bethea is solid in run support and helps out a secondary that lacks a true shut down corner. You already know about Freeney and Mathis.  Gang Green can and must find a way to mix in some deep shots against the Colts defense while moving the chains in the first half. The Colts won’t lend the Jets a hand in keeping it close by burning out the clock out on the ground early. The way pass happy Chargers coach Norv Turner uncharacteristically did.

The Colts  ended the regular season dead last in the NFL in rushing. Their tandem of Joseph Addai and UCONN rookie Donald Brown combined for just a 3.5 average in ’09. Much like the Charger game, if the Jets can continue to keep opposing running backs bottled up, the Jets may benefit from 3rd and long situations. Downs that will allow Ryan to dial up the heat or at least not have to risk too many defenders at the line of scrimmage, in order to help the Jets retain possession.

The Colts this year won four games straight by a total of ten points. One of those included the Patriot game, a win aided by Pats coach Bill Belicheck’s decision to go for a 4th and 2 deep in Pats territory with the lead and two minutes to go. The plan backfired as the Colts stopped New England a yard short before Manning hit Wayne for the game winner. The Colts also had eight come from behind fourth quarter wins in 2009. Resilient? Yes. Dominant? No. If the Jets can keep Peyton from controlling the game, force the Colts running attack to provide some help, make the Colt defenders stop the Ground and Pound for an extended amount of time, the Jets will be in this game.

The media friendly Ryan added to an infinite list of bombastic quotes this week saying he’d “be shocked” if the Jets didn’t win. The rookie head coach’s mindset is being followed by a Gang Green

team that appreciates their coaches faith. Ryan is the anti Jet. The coach who seems to own the remedy for curing a cursed franchise that along with it’s fan base, can’t stop wallowing in self pity,

negativity, and self fulfilling prophecy. Players like LB Bart Scott say that these are the “New” Jets. That this current crop has no link towards the many tragic endings that have symbolized

so many Jet seasons.

Then  there’s the added motivation. the Jets have grown weary of hearing how they didn’t belong in the playoffs. The Jets are tired of hearing that the Colts, who were only up 15-10 with 5:38 in week 16, before coach Jim Caldwell pulled key starters, handed them the game. The Jets will be fired up to prove that they belong among the league’s elite.The Colts meanwhile have dealt with their own headaches perpetuated by those in the media as well as many of their fans, who feel that “laying up” to stay healthy was the wrong approach.That momentum can only be sidetracked by slowing it down for a month.  That a football immortality stemming from having a perfect season was worth fighting for. Sunday is President Bill Polian and the Colts chance to prove to the football world, that the choice to remain healthy in order to go into a championship game with your best foot forward now, made pulling the plug then, worth it.

These Jets now have youth leading the way. Rookies Sanchez and Greene, second year man Keller, the all world 24 year old Revis, have become the playmaking faces of this team. However chances like these don’t come around so easily. For the Super Bowl Champion Jets, they never saw the playoffs again after their 1970 13-6 loss to KC in the AFL title game at Shea Stadium. The followup campaign to their improbable upset in ’69. The Jet franchise had to wait twelve more years before returning to the postseason.  A drought that included to many three and four win seasons. The Jets playoff return in 1981 culminated in a dramatic 31-27 Wildcard loss at home to the Bills. This thanks to a last minute Richard Todd interception in the end zone to Buffalo’s Bill Simpson. Twelve years. That’s a long time. Jets fans of late, despite the “Same old Jets” headlines that follow tough losses,  have not suffered this type of pain. In fact the Jets have actually been to the playoffs five times in the past decade. So it’s fair to say that given the current young talent the Jets possess, coupled with GM’ Mike Tannenbaums proven ability to find players both through the draft and free agency, a long playoff drought may be avoided this time around.  Nonetheless, Gang Green is here. They are here now. On the cusp of doing something Super. Chances like the one the Jets have in Indianapolis on Sunday can be awfully hard to come by. No matter who you are. Just ask Joe Namath.

“I’ve dreamed about playing in a Super Bowl my whole life. It’s every player’s dream.” long snapper James Dearth said Wednesday. For Dearth and the Jets the dream is alive and it’s for the taking.  If Ryan’s number one defense can dial it up at the right time and slow down Manning just enough, if Shonn Greene can stay hot and Sanchez can stay cool, the Jets have a chance. A great chance, in a game where the stakes haven’t been as high since Apollo 4 was gearing up to land on the moon. It’s hard to believe, but a Jet return to a Super Bowl in Miami really does hang in the balance on Sunday.

It wasn’t long ago that the notion of the Jets going to Miami was far fetched. Even the idea of it, moments after Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez turned Giants Stadium into a mortuary in week 15 was laughable. Better yet, a sick joke to diehards who remember Al Woodall. Painful for the ones who can still see the “Klecko’s Klan” and “In Todd We Trust” banners that blew wildly along the windy walls of Shea. Nightmarish for those who remember Gastineau’s late hit on Kosar, or the passion that came from those bouncing stands ready to collapse when Barkum beat the Dolphins. Now that 10-7 Falcon loss that even had Ryan saying the Jets were dead and buried, couldn’t be farther away. That’s because somehow, miraculously, with time running out on the 2009 Jets, the landscape changed. They got help, then they helped themselves. For Gang Green and the many who live and die with them each and every Sunday, the reality of being Super has all of a sudden become only sixty precious minutes away.


SLOW DOWN MANNING: Little more has to be said. Peyton is 8-8 in the playoffs. It can be done. Rex was 0-4 lifetime against him before the “JV game” but has made Manning look pedestrian before. He and Pettine will have to coach their best game of the year in order to give the Jets a chance.

DON’T PULL A RAVENS: The Ravens were tied 3-3 for a good long time last Saturday. Too long. Too many three and outs. The Jets didn’t get a first down on their first four drives against the Bolts and the Colts aren’t San Diego, they are a step up in class with Manning. .Assuming the Jets can keep it close Sunday, they’ll have to do better than go three and out and give it back to the Colts who won’t help the Jets burn the clock by running it as much as the Chargers did in the first half. Jet defenders will tire chasing this receiving corps if this week is a repeat of last week’s slow start.  Move the chains guys.

Do it from the get go, it’s a must.

BROADWAY BRAYLON:  We’re calling for him again. Jones and Greene will pound it, the O line with lead the way. Can you imagine  the back pages on Monday with a shot of Edwards holding up the ball after catching the first of two TD passes though? We can. That’s because we see that as one of the ways that the Jets can shock the Colts again. 41 years after the fact.

follow tjrosenthal on twitter@thejetreport

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