Updated, 7:00 p.m. ET
What the Jets have left for 2012 still remains to be fully revealed, but the Green & White answered their fans, their critics — and, most important, themselves — by showing they still have a lot of gas left in their tanks to keep up the fight.
On offense, the Jets, with Shonn Greene in the lead with a career-high 161 rushing yards and three touchdowns, ran the ball like they hadn't all season to the tune of 252 yards, while Mark Sanchez was efficient like he hadn't been since the opener, leading the Jets on three second-quarter TD drives, throwing two TD passes to guys named Hill and not turning the ball over once.
The defense, meanwhile, ignored the hype of the young gun Andrew Luck throwing to the old hand, Reggie Wayne. It kept the pressure up all game on the rookie QB, forcing him into a 22-for-44 passing game and Wayne into three catches in the first three quarters.
Add in just enough Tim Tebow-to-Nick Bellore (?!?!) on special teams, and the result was a solid 35-9 Jets triumph over the upstart Colts at MetLife Stadium, enabling them to salvage their three-game homestand with a much-needed victory that got them back to .500. And with New England's loss at Seattle, Miami's win over St. Louis, and Buffalo's survival in overtime at Arizona, it's suddenly crowded in the AFC East with all four teams tied for the lead (and last place simultaneously) at 3-3.
"It's huge. We needed it, there's no doubt," head coach Rex Ryan said. "You can't afford to lose three games in a row at home. We're a tough team and we can overcome a lot, but we really needed this win. We talked about it last night and knew what it meant. We gave them our best shot and it was good enough this week."
It also brought back some of the enjoyable vibes of big Jets wins of the recent past. It was only the fourth time in the last 10 years they had outscored an opponent by at least five TDs, and only the third time in the last decade they had gone 5-for-5 in red-zone touchdowns.
In short, the victory was just what the doctors (and trainers) ordered as the Jets got TE Dustin Keller and WR Stephen Hill back into the lineup from their hamstring injuries and got back on track in time for their annual trek up I-95 to play the Patriots in Foxboro next Sunday.
"It was nothing that they did. It was all about what we created out there," said safety LaRon Landry, who played a muscular role as usual on the back end along with Antonio Cromartie. "Rex really hung his hat on that. He told us, 'Stick together and you'll see a victory,' and that's what we did."
"We really focused in practice on competing and not worrying about everything else, letting Sunday happen," said Sanchez, who completed more than 50 percent of his passes (11 of 18) for the first time in five games and was happy not to have to throw more than he did with the ground game motoring along as it did. "I feel like we're growing closer as a team as the weeks go by. ... It doesn't always work out on the field. I mean, that's just the way it goes. But to be able to bounce back after Monday says a lot about the locker room and the guys we have."
Green and Pound in the Second Half
With the pace of the game established in their 21-6 first half, the Jets eased to a mere 91-yard touchdown march on their third series of the third quarter. The big play was Joe McKnight's 61-yard rush, perhaps all of it after first contact and the longest Jets rush since Thomas Jones went for a 71-yard TD vs. Buffalo in 2009.
Then Greene sealed the deal with a 2-yard TD run to make it 28-6 with 1:36 left in the third quarter.
"When you're down and the running game's not going as well as you want, it's easy to just give up on it and be like, 'whatever,' " said Greene. "But we keep working every week at practice. We just keep grinding and grinding and say it's going to come along, and it did today."
The Colts still couldn't move when it counted. The Jets D, with Quinton Coples (his first 1.5 pro sacks) and Muhammad Wilkerson (first strip sack as a Jet) keeping the pressure on, held the Horseshoes to Adam Vinatieri's third field goal of the game, from 47 yards out 20 seconds into the final frame.
Then when they marched into the red zone and threatened to at least score a moral-victory touchdown of their own with seven minutes left, Luck's ball for Donnie Avery in the back of the end zone was intercepted on its way by Ellis Lankster for a touchback and his first pro interception.
With 3:52 remaining, the Jets got their best lick on Luck, a strip sack by Wilkerson with the fumble recovered by LB David Harris at the Indy 14. And Greene capped his career day with his third touchdown, burrowing for the 2 yards to the goal line with 1:05 left on the clock. With 2 seconds left, the Jets' Demario Davis came up with his first pro takeaway, a fumble after Wayne's final reception, pried out by Kyle Wilson. It didn't seal the deal — that was done a while before — but it put the final exclamation point on the triumph.
"Just watching the film during the week, we felt we were more talented than them up front," said Wilkerson. "We definitely felt good about the way we played. Coples had two [sacks] and we were all happy for him. That's how we played today and how we have to play the rest of the year."
"It feels great. It's truly a blessing," Coples said. "We're looking forward to next week and getting to the quarterback again."
Second-Quarter Offensive Eruption
The game presented a familiar opening. The Jets won the toss and chose to defer for the second straight game. The Colts moved into Jets territory but stalled. Pat McAfee's drop punt was downed at the Jets 3. The Green & White offense went 3-and-out. The Colts took over at their 41 and moved into the red zone before the Jets held and Vinatieri came out for a 20-yard field goal. The visitors led, 3-0, after almost nine minutes of play.
It took a while but the Jets finally struck and they did it with two weapons that hadn't been seen a lot in the last several games — the rushing attack and Stephen Hill.
Greene carried five times for 37 yards, including a 21-yard burst up the middle, his longest run of the season, as the Jets amassed 57 rushing yards in the opening quarter — their most in any quarter in the last 11 games. Then as the second frame began, Sanchez found Hill in the back of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown strike.
For Hill, who had missed the previous 2½ games with a hamstring pull and hadn't had a catch since the opener, it was his third TD catch of the year and his first since the opener vs. Buffalo. And it gave the hosts a 7-3 lead with 14:13 left in the first half.
Three plays later, the Jets hurried Luck into a quick pass that Wayne deflected into the waiting arms of Antonio Cromartie, who took it all the way for what appeared to be his second INT-return TD of the season. Aaron Maybin, who applied the hurry, was called for a personal foul on the return, though, wiping out the TD. But the Jets still had the ball at the Colts 35.
And in short order they had it in the end zone again. On second-and-a-foot from the 10, Sanchez handed off to Greene again and he barged through the left side of his line for 10 yards and the score. It was the Jets' longest TD run since Greene's 25-yarder to end the scoring at Washington in last year's Game 12. And it gave them a 14-3 lead with 9:47 left in the half.
The home side wasn't done. Cromartie had his second INT-return TD wiped out by penalty, this time his own, for interfering with Wayne before the pick. But the defense still stopped the Luck offense, including with a blitz sack by Antonio Allen — his first pro sack in his first pro game — and Vinatieri had to boot a 50-yard field goal.
"To me coming into the game, I knew I had a little role," Allen said. "I knew I would be blitzing or playing man. And when I blitzed on that play and got the sack, it felt great. It was the best feeling in the world."
And with 6:06 left, the now juggernaut Jets offense was off on another drive, this one for 70 yards, featuring a fourth-and-11 Tebow fake-punt pass to a wide-open Bellore for the first offensive catch he could ever remember making, a 23-yard gain that set up another Sanchez-to-Hill 5-yard TD pass. Except this time it was Jason Hill on the receiving end in the back of the end zone.
"Tim put it right on me. It was an easy ball to catch," said Bellore, who's had an interception or two in his football career but no receptions. "I would've liked to have scored there, but I'm not going to get too bent out of shape about it.
"I think it's huge. We needed this win, there's no other way around it," the special-teams mainstay added. "We needed to build momentum for a big game next week. Especially at home, this was a really good team win. I thought we played well on defense, offense and special-teams-wise. It was a complete win and that's just what we needed."
Two weeks after the Jets were outrushed by 200 yards by the 49ers, they flipped the script on the Colts. Their 252 rush yards was their most since their 276-yard Game 16 vs. Buffalo in 2010. Indy's 41 rush yards were the least by an opponent since the Bills' 37 in that same game. And the Jets' plus-211 rushing-yardage margin was the fifth-best in franchise history and the second-best since 1973.
Greene's three-TD game was the 12th time in franchise history that a player ran for three scores in a game. Shonn's done it twice in the Jets' last 11 games. ... And Greene's 161 rush yards are the second-most by a Jet in the last eight seasons, trailing only Jones' franchise-record 210 yards vs. Buffalo in '09. ... The fake punt was Tebow's third successful fourth-down play in the last four games and was the first successful fake-punt pass since Brad Smith and Eric Smith hooked up for a 27-yarder at Tampa Bay in 2009.
The defense got four sacks of Luck in all, Coples leading the way with his 1.5. Aaron Maybin split the final sack with Coples for his first sack-tivity of the season. ... The Jets' plus-4 takeaway margin was their best again since the '10 RS finale vs. Buffalo, when the Jets were plus-5. ... Vinatieri's long FG was his second 50-yarder against the Jets and his 3-for-3 made him 40-for-43 in his long career vs. the Green & White.