It took a year, but the Jets have finally moved beyond the AFC championship loss last year.
The Jets 17-16 win over Indianapolis on Saturday night avenged last year’s loss in a game where the Jets were within a half of making just their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. While the wild card win of this past weekend pales compared to the magnitude of last year’s defeat in the playoffs, the Jets come away from Lucas Oil Field with a win that was the antithesis of last year’s game.
Fresh off last year’s scintillating performance that ended the Jets postseason run, New York’s defense in fact, made Colts quarterback Peyton Manning look very ordinary.
Manning had but one touchdown pass, a 57-yard hookup with Pierre Garcon in the first quarter, but the Jets effectively employed a “bend don’t break” mentality against Manning’s prolific offense. Loading the box with just six players, the Jets appeared to run a modified version of their nickel package nearly every down against the Colts. The scheme cut down on Manning’s ability to consistently link with Reggie Wayne and Garcon for big pass plays.
Linebacker Bart Scott said that the goal of the defense was to keep Manning from going over the top of the Jets secondary and forcing him into short yardage and underneath routes. Head coach Rex Ryan called it a “Herculean effort” from his Jets team.
For Ryan, it was his first win over Manning in the playoffs in two tries and Saturday night was a chance for the defensive mastermind to erase the memories of last year’s playoff loss.
“I’m a stubborn guy but I’m not that stubborn. I wasn’t going to take the same kind of butt kicking that I usually take from him,” Ryan said. “We definitely mixed our coverages, played it more straight up, mixed in some loaded zones and very rarely came after him.”
Manning rarely made mistakes against the Jets en route to finishing with a healthy 18-for-26 for 225 yards and leading the Colts on a total of four scoring drives. But stacked against last year’s championship game effort against the Jets where he threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns, the fact that Manning’s lone highlight from Saturday night was his first quarter touchdown to Garcon underscored the effectiveness of the defense.
All told, his Colts were on the field for just 26:53 as the Jets ran the ball, eating up the clock and limited Manning to just 46 percent on third down conversions, forcing Indianapolis to punt four times.
“You can’t say enough about our guys on defense, they fought and baled us out on offense at times,” quarterback Mark Sanchez said.
There were no excuses for this unit as it was a defense that was built around winning this game.
In the offseason, the Jets traded what will be a second round pick in this spring’s NFL draft for Antonio Cromartie to add a lockdown cornerback opposite of Darrelle Revis. Ryan also added first-round pick Kyle Wilson to the team as an additional cornerback to add to the team’s nickel package. And the Jets signed Brodney Pool as a free agent, an athletic safety who added versatility to the secondary and a penchant for making plays. One of the additions, Cromartie, had two key kickoff returns in the second half and Pool finished third on the team with six tackles in what was a solid night for the safety.
The personnel game of chess went the way of the Jets this time after last January’s loss where they looked out of options to stop Manning in the second half, but it was a player with the team last year who stood out. At the beginning of the year, cornerback Darrelle Revis was working on his fitness following a prolonged holdout which cost him the entirety of training camp and preseason. On Saturday night, Revis limited Reggie Wayne to one catch for one yard.
Most impressive was that Revis limited the explosive Wayne while in single coverage.
“You only do that if you have Darrelle Revis,” Ryan said. “An amazing player, a once in a lifetime player.”
And while the Jets have Revis, a player Ryan called, “the best player in football,” will they have enough for this Sunday?
Now they have to see if they have enough to stop Tom Brady, the most successful quarterback of his generation. The task ahead of Ryan’s defense on Sunday against New England will be even stiffer, with the memories of the Jets Week 13 loss at Foxborough still fresh in their minds. In the 45-3 Monday night loss, the Jets conceded four passing touchdowns and 326 yards passing from Brady in the humiliating drubbing that handed the Patriots the AFC East title.
But after getting revenge for the playoff loss of last year, now the Jets have a second chance at revenge in as many weeks.
“It’s a brand new season,” linebacker Calvin Pace said. “Now it’s either win or go home and we get the chance to go back up for a second time and play one of the all-time quarterbacks in Tom Brady.”