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The Dream Ends in Indy: Jets Fall, 30-17


2009 AFC Championship Game -Jets at Colts

The Jets have been on a roll like few other runs in their history. They've been one of the most entertaining, THE most expert-confounding teams of these playoffs.

But that wasn't enough to send them to Miami in February on the NFL's most important business trip. They fought hard and led Indianapolis through a good portion of the middle of the game. But league MVP Peyton Manning and the Colts roared from behind in the third quarter and didn't give the lead back in posting a 30-17 victory in the AFC Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium this afternoon.

"We wanted to create a mentality," head coach Rex Ryan said of this remarkable season. "We wanted to have a tough team, a blue-collar team that can run the football and play defense. For the most part we accomplished that. We have a good football team. But today wasn't our day, no question."

The Jets have, no question established a foundation around Ryan, QB Mark Sanchez, that top-ranked rushing attack and that top-ranked defense. They could easily be back in this game and in Dallas for Super Bowl XLV a year from now.

But Indianapolis showed its quality as well, and all the Jets from Ryan on down, gave the winners the credit they deserve. The Colts will be the AFC representative at Super Bowl XLIV — their second Super Bowl in four seasons — after mounting a 461-yard offensive, 377 through the air on Manning's 26-for-39, three-TD passing, against the Jets' tough, talented but, on this day, undermanned D.

"It's not hard to notice when somebody's on like that," said Sanchez, who came to the podium clean-shaven for the first time in eight weeks, or since the Jets caught fire themselves in moving from 4-6 to 9-7 and into the conference's fifth seed. "That's something that comes over time. Peyton's a heck of a layer, it was great to play against him and I wish him the best in the Super Bowl."

But as Darrelle Revis, thrown away from all game by Manning, put it, "I just think today as a defense we didn't step up to the plate."

But back to Sanchez, who Ryan said "played great." He completed 17 of 30 for 257 yards and his second quarter was sensational — an 80-yard strike to Braylon Edwards off a super play fake and a nice slant-and-go by Braylon, then a 9-yard throw as he was getting crushed in the pocket to Dustin Keller, who rolled over Melvin Bullitt for his third TD in three playoff games. He also got first downs on a regular basis by finding Jerricho Cotchery, who had five catches for 102 yards, his second playoff 100-yard receiving game and 10th overall.

Add on Jay Feely's 48-yard field goal after Calvin Pace's forced fumble by Joseph Addai that Jim Leonhard recovered in plus territory, and the Jets were looking at an amazing 17-6 lead with 2:11 left in the first half.

"We felt great," said Keller. "Against most any team, you feel comfortable with an 11-point lead. But when the ball's in Peyton Manning's hands, anything's possible."

And the possible began right after Feely's only field goal on three long tries. Before the half, Manning and the offense went four plays in 80 yards. The last three were completions to Austin Collie of 18 yards, 46 yards just over the outstretched hands of Drew Coleman, and 17 yards for the TD as Leonhard closed too late.

"We still felt good about our chances," Kerry Rhodes said as the Jets took a 17-13 lead into their Lucas Oil locker room. "We said, 'Let's go back out in the second half and do that again.' But they turned it up a little bit after halftime and Peyton got in the groove."

For Manning's next act, he turned a short field after Feely's missed 52-yarder into an eight-play, 57-yard TD march. He hit six of his last seven passes on the drive, including the go-ahead 4-yard strike to WR Pierre Garcon over Dwight Lowery on the side of the end zone. The Colts led, 20-17, for the first time since going up, 3-0, early in the second quarter.

Once Indy got that lead, the Jets couldn't get close enough to try to tie it with a try by Feely, who also missed from 44 yards in the first quarter. Then the Colts applied an 80-yard kill drive with Manning hitting TE Dallas Clark in stride over the middle for a 15-yard score that gave the Horseshoes a 27-17 lead with 8:52 to play.

Finally, Matt Stover added his third field goal of the day, from 21 yards out with 2:29 to play, boosting Indy's edge to 30-17.

The Jets' fall from grace had many components. David Harris sacked Manning on back-to-back first-quarter dropbacks but after that the Colts' legendary QB was barely touched or moved off his mark. As Ryan said, "If you can't disrupt his rhythm, he's gonna kill you."

And the secondary had issues. They began with Ryan and his staff's decision to sit down Lito Sheppard in the base defense in favor of Dwight Lowery. Sheppard was not even on the field in nickel packages until nickel CB Donald Strickland left the game with a groin pull late in the first quarter and didn't return.

DE Shaun Ellis played with the modified cast on his left hand, but the Big Katt said, "I feel I could've played a lot better. I was out there. I'm not going to make excuses. I just couldn't get going." Neither could LB Bart Scott, hobbled by his ankle sprain and limited to two tackles.

Then rookie Shonn Greene was sidelined by a rib injury he got on the first drive of the second half, also not to return, as the Jets' ground-and-pound attack, No. 1 in the regular season in rushing yardage, was outgained by the Colts' 32nd and last-ranked ground game, 101 yards to 86.

Obviously, the Jets were distraught by the outcome, which ended their five-game road winning streak, and their seven-of-eight run overall, and which prevented them from victory in their third AFC Championship Game and from getting to their second Super Bowl.

But even in the gloom of the room, many players and others found some goodness out of this season, which, need we remind those with a lack of imagination, was nothing like the same old Jets.

"Yeah, yeah," guard Alan Faneca said after pondering for a second if there was a certain amount of pride in what the Jets accomplished since Ryan's late January arrival. "It's hard to be proud right now, but we came a long way, we fought through a lot of stuff, we came together as a team. And, um, yeah, there's stuff to be proud of."

"We dispelled the myth. It's onward and upward," said owner Woody Johnson. "On the one hand, we did really great. On the other hand, we were close but didn't get the job done. Hats off to the Colts. ... But under the circumstances, I can be proud of this team and I look forward to doing to next year."

But Ellis suggested one goal to make the Jets' road in 2010, playing in their new Meadowlands stadium, just a little easier. "We've got to get homefield advantage," he said. "We've got to get some home games in the playoffs."

No doubt if the Jets write that one down, they'll get it done. They had a whole bunch of goals in Ryan's first year at the helm and got almost all of them done.

Game Notes

Sanchez was hot in the first half with 5-for-7 passing for 124 yards, two TDs, no INTs and a 153.3 passer rating, which was his best one-half rating this season. ... Cotchery and Edwards both put up 100-plus receiving yards, the first time two Jets receivers went three figures since Cotchery and Laveranues Coles did it against Houston in 2006. ... Harris had a game-high 11 tackles, all solos, including the two early sacks, plus a forced fumble on Reggie Wayne that the Colts' No. 1 receiver recovered.

The Jets' offense averaged 6.5 yards per play at Indy, the best one-game average this season. But the defense yielded 7.1 yards per play to the Colts, the worst one-game average this season. ... Manning's 377 passing yards were the most by an opposing QB since Matt Cassel put up 400 in last year's Week 11 overtime loss to the Jets at New England.

Garcon (AFC Championship-record 11 catches, 151 yards) and Collie (7-123) also had top receiving games, with both clearing 120 yards with a touchdown catch apiece. ... Hayden, burned on the Smith-Cotchery completion in the first half, came up with the first INT of Sanchez with 2:05 to play in the game on a deflection off David Clowney's hands. ... Tony Corrente was the referee for the Jets' 2002 AFC Wild Card victory over the Colts and Manning by 41-0. However, he was also the ref for the Colts' XLI win over the Bears. Striped karma was a wash.

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