It had been three weeks since the New York Jets enjoyed a lead.
Once they finally got one, they remembered how to keep it.
Following consecutive home losses to San Francisco and Houston in which they were never in front, the Jets (3-3) took a 14-3 advantage on a pair of early second-quarter touchdowns a little more than three minutes apart, and never looked back during a 35-9 rout over the Indianapolis Colts (2-3) at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford New Jersey on Sunday.
After the teams began by trading punts, this year’s first overall draft pick, quarterback Andrew Luck (22-for-44, 280 yards, two interceptions, four sacks), badly overthrew tight end Dwayne Allen on third-and-goal in the end zone, forcing the Colts to settle for a 3-0 lead on a 20-yard field goal by kicker Adam Vinatieri with 6:10 left in the opening quarter.
The Jets answered though, by scoring a touchdown on each of their next three possessions, going on long drives twice and capitalizing on a short field after cornerback Antonio Cromartie intercepted Luck in Colts’ territory.
Rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill (three catches, 23 yards, touchdown) returned after missing two weeks with a hamstring injury and capped New York’s second possession – a 14-play, 80-yard march that consumed 6:49 – with a five-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Mark Sanchez (11-for-18, 82 yards, two touchdowns), to put the Jets up for good, 7-3, just 41 seconds into the second period.
Three plays later, Cromartie appeared to have a pick six for New York’s next score, but a very questionable personal foul penalty against linebacker Aaron Maybin wiped out Cromartie’s return. Instead, the Jets went 35 yards on five plays to extend their lead to 14-3 on a ten-yard touchdown run by running back Shonn Greene (32 carries, 161 yards, three touchdowns) with 9:52 left in the first half.
Indianapolis responded with an 11-play 53-yard drive but was held to a 50-yard Vinatieri field goal that trimmed New York’s lead to 14-6 with 6:11 to go before halftime.
Sanchez then threw a second five-yard touchdown to a target with the same surname that scored the Jets’ first touchdown, as wide receiver Jason Hill (his only reception) caught his first touchdown pass of the season to cap an 11-play, 70-yard drive that took 5:39 while increasing New York’s lead to 21-6 with 31 seconds remaining in the half.
Each team punted on its first two possessions of the third quarter before running back Joe McKnight (three carries 71 yards) broke of a run of 61 yards up the left side – the Jets’ longest of the season – to set up a four-yard touchdown run by Greene two plays later. That score, with 1:40 left in the third quarter, ballooned New York’s lead to 28-6, all but put the game out of reach for the Colts.
New York’s defense then bent but didn’t break again, allowing a third Vinatieri field goal fifteen seconds into the final period, from 47 yards, after Indianapolis drove that many yards on nine plays, in just 1:56.
Following a Jets punt, the Colts went 67 yards to the New York 13-yard line, but Luck was intercepted again, by cornerback Ellis Lankster in the end zone with 7:53 left in the game, to seal the win.
Another Jets punt resulted in a sack by defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, causing a Luck fumble (recovered at the Indianapolis 14-yard line), which New York turned into an exclamation point score, with Green scoring from two yards out to close the scoring with 1:18 left.
The victory was a far cry from the most important time the Jets beat the (Baltimore) Colts, way back in Super Bowl III, but it was much needed to New York back on track in advance of an AFC East showdown at first-place New England (3-2), next Sunday, at 4:25 pm ET.