There's an unfamiliar feeling in Jets land this week, one that I wish I could feel about my other favorite sports teams.
Yes, despite seeing their top-ranked defense get picked apart by Peyton Manning, the Jets have nothing to be ashamed of this season, going from 4-6 midseason to being 30 minutes away from a Super Bowl appearance.
I'll take this time to break down the game and look ahead to the future.
Early on, it was no secret to what the Jets would try to do. Pound the Colts defense with the No. 1 ranked defense, and try to blitz Manning and disrupt his rhythm early and often.
For the first time this postseason, the execution of the gameplan didn't pan out, and the Jets were victimized by what could possibly be the best playoff performance in the amazing career of arguably the game's smartest and best player in Manning.
Early in the game, the Jets were able to hit Manning, with two big sacks by David Harris. That would be essentially the last time the Jets were able to even breathe on Manning, who midway through the second quarter looked like he had the answers to the test pre-snap.
The Jets offense, however, looked brilliant in the first half. Mark Sanchez executed a "sluggo" route to Braylon Edwards perfectly for an 80 yard touchdown in the second quarter.
On the play, Edwards fakes a slant route after a play-action fake to the running back. The rookie corner, Jacob Lacey, got caught looking in the backfield and couldn't recover after Edwards ran the "go" part of the route.
A beautiful throw by Sanchez and a (gasp) clean catch by Edwards gave the Jets a 7-3 lead with the momentum on their side.
The Colts responded quickly, picking up the blitz easily, and driving inside the Jets 5-yard line before settling for a field goal. Jets fans could breathe a sigh of relief, but seeing the Colts offensive line absolutely dominate the Jets defensive line began to worry me.
The Jets, determined to use every trick in the book on this day, lined up on the next possession with Brad Smith at quarterback in the "Tigercat" formation, with Shonn Greene behind him. The Colts expected the option right, a play the Jets ran over and over against the Cincinnati Bengals in their 37-0 season ending victory in Week 17.
However, the ex-Mizzou Tiger quarterback Smith added another weapon to his arsenal, an option pass the Jets had not run outside of practices this entire season, seemingly waiting for the right moment to surprise an unsuspecting opponent.
The execution was tremendous. The Jets offensive line slid protection to the right, and Smith did a great job selling the run, as did Greene, who looked ready for a pitch at any moment. Jerricho Cotchery, one of the more unsung heroes on this Jets team, snuck behind Kelvin Hayden, ran a corner route, and was wide open.
Smith quickly gathered himself and lofted a bomb towards Cotchery, a bit under-thrown but on target, for a 45 yard gain. Hayden made a good recovery to tackle Cotchery from behind and prevent a touchdown.
Three plays later from the nine-yard line, Sanchez impressively stood in the pocket and threw a dart to Dustin Keller for a touchdown as Raheem Brock came down on him. Brock appeared to stunt from his defensive end spot past D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Alan Faneca and got through virtually untouched.
It was a very emotional day for Keller. The native of nearby Lafayette, Indiana who was a local star at Purdue was playing with a heavy heart after the death of his uncle. Keller's uncle Tony Kendall was like a second father figure to Dustin and his brothers, who lost their father at an early age.
"The last thing Uncle Tony told me to do was to give everything on Sunday," Keller tweeted last Thursday.
Although I'm sure he would have liked to have dedicated a win to Tony, Keller made his uncle proud by catching a touchdown pass in his third straight playoff game, after catching two in the regular season.
The Jets would go up 17-6 after a 17-point outburst in the second quarter, but the offense was derailed by a rib injury to Shonn Greene that caused him to miss the rest of the contest. The Jets offense stalled after that, with the speed of the Colts defense being too fast for Thomas Jones, the only healthy active running back left on the roster who was playing very banged up.
With the Jets offense unable to do anything without Greene, and Peyton Manning figuring out the Jets defense, it was inevitable, even with an 11 point lead, what was going to happen.
With less than two minutes left in the half, Manning began to look like Zach Galifianakis's character in "The Hangover" when he's sitting at the blackjack table. Manning all but had numbers and names flying around his head pre-snap as he shouted out protection calls to his offensive line.
From this point on, on virtually every single snap, Manning correctly identified the pass rushers and the Jets were unable to fool the Colts offensive line, leading to great protection for Manning.
With all day to throw, Manning could survey the field and pick apart the weak spots of the Jets defense.
Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark were afterthoughts for most of the game. However, injuries to cornerbacks Donald Strickland and Dwight Lowery forced fifth-string cornerback Drew Coleman into the game.
Coleman's first assignment was Austin Collie, the fifth-round rookie sensation from BYU. The momentum shifted to the Colts for good on a 46-yard bomb over the middle from Manning to Collie that was perfectly thrown over the leaping arms of Coleman.
From that point on, the Colts dominated the game in all areas. Offense, defense, the Colts even out-rushed the Jets. The last-ranked rushing offense out-rushed the top-ranked rushing offense.
You just have to tip your cap if you're a Jets fan. The Jets gave it all they had, but Manning was just too great on this day. Unlike the Vikings, the Jets did not give the game away. The Jets played pretty well, but could not cover the young receivers of the Colts. Pierre Garcon had 11 receptions for 151 yards, and Collie had 7 for 123.
I won't make excuses for the Jets, even if the injury bug that for the most part avoided them all year, hit them hard during the game. The Jets got this far without explosive playmakers Kris Jenkins and Leon Washington.
"No injuries, no excuses," Rex Ryan said going into the game.
However, losing Bart Scott and Donald Strickland killed the Jets. No excuses for James Ihedigbo, filling in for Scott and blowing coverages left and right, up and down. No excuses for Drew Coleman, Dwight Lowery, and the rest of the Jets pass defense. They just got flat out beaten by a worthy adversary.
(For more Mets, Jets and Nets analysis, visit my personal blog, MetsJetsNetsBlog)
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