New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts: AFC Championship Game Preview

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New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts: AFC Championship Game Preview
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

It's amazing to me that Jets rookie head coach Rex Ryan did not receive a single vote for the NFL's coach of the year award.

Granted, they vote on the award before the playoffs start, but maybe they should wait until the postseason ends to vote on the coaching awards.

Nevertheless, Ryan and fellow rookie head coach Jim Caldwell find themselves sharing a field on Sunday, with the winner earning a trip to Miami on Super Bowl Sunday.

The last time Miami hosted a Super Bowl, Peyton Manning was the game's MVP following the 2006 season. Manning only has that one Super Bowl title on his resume, so perhaps Miami is his lucky charm.

However, the underdog Jets won their franchise's only Super Bowl title against the Baltimore Colts in Miami some 41 years ago.

History aside, the team that plays better on Sunday will have a chance to recapture that sunny South Florida glory.

You could not find more completely contrasting styles of football than the Jets and Colts.

The Colts have been ahead of the curve for years in the NFL when it comes to a high-octane, multiple receiver passing offense. We've seen the dawning of a new age in the NFL this year, with ten quarterbacks throwing for over 4,000 yards this season.

The Colts possess arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play in four-time MVP Peyton Manning.

They also were dead last in the NFL in running the football.

The Jets, on the other hand, are a throwback to the days when the forward pass was more of a novelty. The Jets lead the NFL in rushing yards per game, and notably have gotten the reputation for being the only team in football that refuses to abandon the run.

After mustering only 99 yards of total offense in the first half of last week's game against the Chargers, the Jets refused to abandon the running game, running the ball over and over, waiting for the big gain.

“We say that we’re chopping down a tree,’’ said Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold. “Today’s tree was a lot bigger than some other ones, so it took a lot longer than usual. But in the end, we got that thing down.’’

The "chopping down a tree" analogy has been thrown around a few times this week, echoed by Pro Bowl left guard Alan Faneca, and by Bill Callahan, the architect of the Jets' zone blocking running scheme.

No matter how many times the Jets run the football, the defense is always expecting it. And no matter how many defenders are in the box, the Jets will run it anyway.

Just ask the Chargers about the game-icing 4th-and-1 conversion at the end of the game.

"This is our bread and butter," right tackle Damien Woody said. "We're going to ride it until the wheels fall off."

There was lots of attention all season about the rookie quarterback the Jets traded up to draft this past April, and rightfully so. No team has ever made it to the Super Bowl with a rookie quarterback.

But it's been the running game that has gotten the Jets to within 60 minutes of their second Super Bowl appearance.

Thomas Jones had another outstanding season, and despite the loss of Pro Bowler Leon Washington, it was another rookie the Jets traded up to draft that's making the biggest impact on this postseason.

Shonn Greene became the first rookie running back in NFL history to rush for at least 125 yards and a touchdown in back-to-back playoff games. His 263 rushing yards in the two playoff victories are the second most by a rookie in NFL history, behind only Cowboys running back Duane Thomas, who had 278 postseason rushing yards in his rookie season of 1970.

Greene, the third-rounder out of Iowa knows that he's been a bit of an unexpected hero for New York. Greene was the one who delivered the "timber" blow to the Chargers, a 53-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

"A lot of people didn't know about me," Greene said, "but they know about the Jets."

After winning seven of their last eight games, a lot more people are paying attention to the Jets.

Especially the team that allegedly laid down and gave the Jets the invitation to the party, the Indianapolis Colts.

Ah, it seems like eons ago that the Colts decided to rest Peyton Manning among others in a Week 16 game against the Jets. The Jets, down 15-10 when Manning checked out midway through the third quarter, would go on to score 19 unanswered points to beat the Colts and keep their playoff hopes alive.

The Colts threw away a chance at an undefeated season on that day, in an attempt to keep their key players healthy for the playoffs, with the ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl.

This is where you scroll back up to that picture of Rex Ryan and start laughing at the absurdity of that big smile.

"A matchup that probably nobody wanted," Ryan said following the team's 17-14 victory over San Diego, "but too bad, here we come."
Indeed, the Jets and their "nobody believed in us!" mentality will go into Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday with a chance to prove that their victory a month ago was no fluke.
Ironically, the Colts will have to go through the Jets, the team that ended their perfect season, if they want to achieve their ultimate goal.
The Colts will try to solve the number one passing defense, number one in points and yards allowed, without even a semblance of a running game.
Last week, in an eerily similar matchup, I praised Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and predicted that he would find enough success against the Jets to advance. I was dead wrong.
Well, Jets fans, why ruin a good thing I've got going?
In a hope that I will be proved wrong again, I'll go out on a limb and say that Manning adds to his legacy and does enough on the field to make the Jets sweat.
On defense, the speed of the undersized Colts defense should be able to rattle the rookie Sanchez into a mistake or two.
I plan on going very in-depth with the on-the-field action in a postgame report next week.
Until then, I have the Jets miracle season coming to a satisfying but disappointing conclusion in Indiana.
Colts 24, Jets 17.

(For more Mets, Jets and Nets analysis, visit my personal blog, MetsJetsNetsBlog)

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