2009 Week 16 Jets at Colts Photos
It was a surreal day, in the word of one observer, a confounding one, in the word of a reporter.
The Jets had gone from thinking they were out of the playoffs after last Sunday's ugly loss to Atlanta. But the next day they found out they were still quite in the postseason picture. Then a week later, on Sunday, they needed a trifecta of results at 1 p.m. — and got them with the losses by Miami, Baltimore and Jacksonville, which catapulted them suddenly back into control of their playoff destiny.
All they had to do was beat the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts at their home corral, Lucas Oil Stadium.
Which is just what they did, 29-15, with Brad Smith, Calvin Pace, Marques Douglas, Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene in starring roles ... only to get questions about the quality of their victory because Peyton Manning and many of the Colts starters exited midway through the third quarter as it was suspected Indy coach Jim Caldwell would rest his frontliners for their playoff push.
"Shoot, we're just happy as heck our guys got the win," head coach Rex Ryan aw-shucksed the victory. Then, in response to a question about a "cheapened" victory, he replied with a smile but a message, "Maybe in your eyes, but not in ours."
"I didn't pay attention to it much," Mark Sanchez, who played efficiently and turnover-less in besting, well, not Manning, who left with a 15-10 lead, but rookie backup Curtis Painter, said all the "scenario" talk. "We heard some murmurs, but we had something we needed to focus on in the Indianapolis Colts. We got the job done today and it was awesome."
The awesomeness is captured in the Green & White's new postseason picture: Beat the Cincinnati Bengals, now 10-5 and owners of the AFC North title, on Sunday at the Meadowlands, and the Jets will enter the playoffs the following week, for the first time since 2006, as the conference's fifth seed. As an additional reward, the NFL announced Sunday night that Jets-Bengals will be the final Sunday night game of the regular season, to be aired on NBC with kickoff coming around 8:30 p.m.
"We don't have to hope and wish and play and all that kind of stuff for somebody else to mess up," said LB Bryan Thomas. "Our main focus now is to just go out there and be successful against Cincinnati."
Oh, and in the process, end the Colts' undefeated season at 14 games and their regular-season winning streak at 23.
For a while, it was unclear if that would be done this day. Manning wasn't razor-sharp but sharp enough to lead the Colts to a 9-0 lead early in the second quarter and 9-3 at the half. But what would develop was one of the Jets' best all-phases efforts of the season — not one unit bailing out the other two but all three minimizing their mistakes and optimizing their opportunities.
Such as Smith with Pat McAfee's second-half kickoff. Taking the kick as usual 6 yards deep in his end zone, getting key blocks from Mike DeVito and Rob Turner on his wedge, weaving his way through traffic, all of a sudden the Indianapolis-born Smith was running free down the right sideline, skipping out of tackle tries by McAfee and Tim Jennings.
The result: the longest play of any kind in Jets franchise history, a 106-yard kickoff-return TD that suddenly gave the Jets a 10-9 lead.
"It was exciting — one of the most exciting plays in my life," Smith said. "It was a big boost for the team and it was something we needed. It wasn't just a single player or unit. As a team, we wanted to do it, whether it was offense, defense or special teams. It was something we needed to do."
Each unit made its contributions. For the specials, Jay Feely and his field goal operation went 2-for-2 after last week's 0-for-3 meltdown in the Meadowlands cold vs. the Falcons. Thomas blocked Adam Vinatieri's first PAT.
For the defense, just weathering the Manning storm that produced 15 points and 254 yards before leaving the field for the last time with 10:13 left in the third quarter was pretty good. But then came Curtis Painter's baptism by fire. When the rookie QB from Purdue, Manning's immediate backup after the recent IR-ing of Jim Sorgi, dropped back from his 20 for his second pass attempt as a pro, Calvin Pace was there to greet him.
Pace, rushing from his three-point stance against backup TE Tom Santi, roared to Painter's backside to strip the Purdue grad of the ball. Mike DeVito was in the backfield to prevent Santi from recovering the airborne fumble. And Marques Douglas did a spider crawl to recover the ball at the 1 and take it across the goal line. Now the Jets were up, 18-15.
And with that, the offense stepped up big-time against the Colts' backups. Sanchez continued his no-gifts quarterbacking, but now he was primarily handing off to Thomas Jones and rookie Shonn Greene. Jones finished with 5 yards more than 100, Greene with 5 less than 100, and the Jets' ground game finished with its fourth 200-yard rushing effort of the season, 202 to be exact.
When Jones finally gained the one foot he needed on his third try for the Jets' final TD of the game with 5:38 to go, this strange Week 16 game took a historic turn away from the Colts and toward a possible playoff appearance for this veteran team with the rookie head coach and quarterback.
"Guys were looking at the scoreboard and seeing all the teams we needed to lose, lose," said Jones. "That was definitely extra motivation for us. Now we're obviously excited about the win and the chance we have now in the game we have left."
Unlike Indianapolis, which had the bye week and homefield advantage through the playoffs clinched, Cincinnati could still take the AFC third seed away from New England next week, so it's a good probability that Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco, Laveranues Coles and company will be 60-minute men.
The Colts, meanwhile, are already hearing it — from their fans in the stands, for starters — about this organizational decision to have the team ready to roll for two playoff games and the Super Bowl at the expense of a shot at NFL regular-season immortality. The Jets, meanwhile, played hard against the team in the blue and white unis that Caldwell and his staff placed in front of them.
"We want to beat them at their best," veteran DE Shaun Ellis said with a shrug. "Hopefully if things go right, we can see them again."
Perhaps back here in Lucas Oil Stadium in three weeks.
Brad Smith became the sixth different Jet to return a kickoff for a touchdown under ST coordinator Mike Westhoff. The Jets have 12 KOR TDs under Coach Westy since 2002. ... Smith became the first Jet since Leon Johnson vs. Tampa Bay in 1997 to return the second-half KO for a score. ... The Jets scored two two-pointers in the same game for the first time in franchise history. ... Sanchez's two deuce completions don't count on his efficient 12-for-19, 106-yard, no-TD, no-INT passing line.
Jones had his seventh 100-yard game of the season, his 16th of his three-year Jets career. ... Bryan Thomas' blocked PAT was the second rejected kick of his career and was the Jets' first blocked PAT since Josh Evans turned around a Steve Christie extra point at San Diego in 2002. ... Vinatieri is 35-for-38 for his career on field goal attempts vs. the Jets, with all but today's 22-yarder coming as a Patriot from 1996-2005.