The New York Jets' improbable run to their first Super Bowl appearance in 41 years came to a screeching halt on Sunday with a 30-17 defeat at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts. What was already a season of up and downs took its final descent for the worst as the team could not hold off a stingy Colts offense led by none other than Peyton Manning.
Gang Green would have the first scoring opportunity, allowing Jay Feely to attempt from 44 yards following a 10-play drive. However, Feely's kick would be wide right, a possible sign for believers of karma after the team benefited from missed kicks against Cincinnati and San Diego.
Neither team would get on the board for the quarter and, after being sacked only 10 times all season, Manning already found the turf twice courtesy of David Harris. The Colts would respond early in the second quarter with a Matt Stover 25-yard FG to open the scoring.
It would take the Jets and Mark Sanchez just one play to rebuttal as he hooked up with Braylon Edwards on play-action for an 80-yard bomb to go ahead 7-3. Stover would add another FG to quickly cut into the lead 7-6. The Jets would respond once more with a seven-play drive where Sanchez found TE Dustin Keller to give them a 14-6 lead.
Feely would then add his first FG of the game, this one from 48 yards, to extend the lead to 17-6. At some point during the last drive, Manning remembered who he was and how he got there and finally woke up, orchestrating a flawless 80-yard, four-play drive in under a minute in which he found Austin Collie for a 16-yard TD.
With the lead now down to 17-13, the Jets would get the ball back with 1:13 left and two timeouts to use, but instead of utilizing an impressive Sanchez, head coach Rex Ryan opted to play it safe and run the ball until halftime.
Granted, anything could have happened, such as a turnover with plenty of time for the awakened Colts, but Ryan should have known his lead was not enough against the brilliant offense across the field.
After getting the ball back at halftime, Gang Green would allow Feely to set up from 52 yards and, just like their first drive of the game, this FG would be missed, costing the team six points. Had he made both of his kicks in the ideal conditions of the dome the team would be up 23-13.
The teams would reverse roles for the second half and the phrase "never wake up a sleeping giant" came back to haunt the Jets as Manning would continue his mastery on offense, finding Pierre Garcon on the following drive to regain the lead 20-17. The Jets would continue to get little from their offense and would punt the remainder of the game as the Colts scored without haste.
Manning would find Dallas Clark to extend the lead to 27-17, capping off a seven-play drive. Manning would finish with 377 yards and three TDs and would become the first player with seven 300-yard postseason games.
Stover finished out the scoring with his third FG of the game and Sanchez was picked off by Kelvin Hayden in an almost fitting end for the QB who threw 20 picks in the regular season.
In almost a blink of an eye, all of the Super Bowl dreams and hoopla disappeared into thin air. But with it also went the mantra of the "same ole Jets." Those Jets would not have made it past the first round in Cincy, they would not have stunned the Chargers, and they most certainly would not be holding a halftime lead against a team with just two losses in the AFC championship.
These Jets can match the bite of their bark; they have earned the respect of the NFL with their defense and have proven that when all odds are against them, they will not back down or make costly mistakes. Yes, they did lead the Colts only to see the lead evaporate, but it was only against a Hall of Fame-bound QB who is arguably the best of all time.
They didn't lose to the Cleveland Browns or some team with no business being there. Feely might have missed those kicks but, the way Manning came back firing, nothing was going to stop him.
While it was a bittersweet end to a rollercoaster season, I can't count the number of times I had walked out of the Meadowlands dejected, already thinking about next year. The murmurs of the "same old" haunted my ears as I headed for the exits week in and week out, but by the time the team closed out the stadium with the stomping of the Bengals in the final week, clinching that all elusive playoff spot, those murmurs and ghosts of old weren't to be seen or heard from.
Instead, the beloved chant of "J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS" roared through your ears and spilled into the various parking lots and groups of people heading for their cars. The pride had seemed to be restored.
So hopefully as the team opens up their brand new stadium next year, those ghosts and murmurs wont make their way across the parking lot to haunt a franchise that looks to have turned the other cheek.