In 2009 the Jets needed two wins to end the season just to make the playoffs, then two more road victories to reach Indianapolis for the AFC Championship Game against the Colts. This season, their trip to Lucas Oil Stadium comes in the wild-card round after a game in which running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene were able to rest.
"There's a lot of respect that I have for them," said Tomlinson, who faced the Colts twice in the playoffs when he was with the Chargers, winning both. "I've been on both sides of the coin, win some against them and lose some. I've beaten them up there in a playoff situation. I think that helps understanding."
The 10th-year man out of TCU will be crucial in determining the outcome of the Green & White's matchup with Peyton Manning and the rejuvenated Indianapolis defense. In last year's title game, the Colts held Greene and Thomas Jones to 86 yards on 29 carries, and the production dipped big-time once Greene left the game with a rib injury.
This season Tomlinson is in the fold. Guard Brandon Moore evaluated his and Greene's styles.
"Of course, LaDainian likes to get on the edge and get a little bit more space in front of him and make cuts and make reads and things like that," Moore said. "Also, I think with LaDainian, he can take the ball anywhere. We have plenty of plays where it's been designed to go one way and he's taken it a completely different way and make a big gain out of it. With Shonn, he'll hit the hole, maybe one cut, and he'll run a couple people over."
Jones' and Greene's styles were similar, which emphasized head coach Rex Ryan's Ground and Pound philosophy, but this season the Jets are able to use more than one pitch, to use a baseball analogy.
Last season Greene only carried the ball 108 times while Jones carried it 331 times. This season there's been more balance, with Tomlinson getting 219 carries (and 52 receptions) and Greene 185 carries.
And as these last two regular seasons have come to a close, Greene's production has increased. In fact, Greene had 304 yards on 54 carries in the three playoff games last season before going down with the rib injury. This year he had 70 yards on only 12 carries against the Bears and appears to be in prime health for the playoff run.
"I just know how he really looks forward to this time of year," Moore said of Greene, "when people are kind of worn down and he's still strong. That's the benefit of having two backs in this league nowadays and keeping guys fresh. I just have a bunch of confidence in him and LT to get the job done. It's just going to start with the preparation this week."
While Indianapolis is ranked 25th against the run this season, it has improved from 30th just six weeks ago. In the last three games — all victories — the Colts defense, led by LB Gary Brackett, has held Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew to 46 yards, Oakland's Darren McFadden to 45 and Tennessee's Chris Johnson to 39.
"They're going to be stoked to try to stop it again like they did in the championship game," Moore said. "I think the key is staying productive on offense and that really helps us with being able to run the ball. And with play action and Mark being able to feed off of that with the passing game, I think that really helps us be efficient on offense. Whether its 100 yards or 200 yards, I think we just have to be able to efficiently run the ball."
A major difference between last year's 30-17 outcome and the game Saturday night will be the type of offense that the Jets bring to Indianapolis. They are now fully equipped to have a balanced attack in their second consecutive playoff trip there. Last season quarterback Mark Sanchez was a rookie and wide receiver Braylon Edwards was still being integrated into the offense. This year, with Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller and Tomlinson each having at least 50 receptions, Sanchez has proven to be efficient and to have the ability to come through in the clutch.
"Mark has an uncanny ability to focus in on the 'If you lose, you go home' mindset that you have to have in this situation," Tomlinson said. "I think that mindset alone allows him to relax and just play football."