This weekend’s AFC Conference Title Game between the New York Jets and the Indianapolis Colts is about payback. It is about payback for past indiscretions that left the Colts franchise scratching their collective head. Since the Jets pulled the playoff upset of the year against San Diego last Sunday, both Indianapolis media and national outlets have been waxing poetically about the symmetry of the coming showdown at Lucas Oil Stadium and the Joe Namath’s underdog Jets of Super Bowl III.
If you are reading this column then I presume you have enough sports acumen to remember that Super Bowl III is regarded as one of the greatest and most important games in NFL history. A young and brash Joe Namath guaranteed victory against the heavily favored Baltimore Colts; more importantly, Joe Willie delivered on his promise and led the Jets to an improbable 16-7 victory.
This New York Jets win back in 1969 legitimized the AFL–forefather of the present day AFC–which, until this game,was thought to be inferior to the NFL. It really is a great story, but that’s all it is at this point.
The Colts of Indianapolis share little else with their Baltimore predecessors other than the name. Yes, it is the same franchise, but the Baltimore Colts were the Colts of Johnny Unitas, we here in Circle City follow the Colts of Peyton Manning. The New York Jets still have the same name, but the Jets of Super Bowl III actually played in the state of New York. Today, the green machine should really be the New York Jets of New Jersey since they call the Meadowlands of Secaucus, New Jersey home.
The two oldest players taking the field this weekend in either conference championship game are Indianapolis Colts place kicker Matt Stover 41, who was less than a year old during SB III,and Brett Favre 40, was little more than a twinkle in his daddy’s eye at the time.
So forget all of the made up symmetry others have presented to you. The payback the Jets have coming stems from games that were played within the last 10 years, a time frame that actually matters.
Most recently, Week 16 of this past regular season the Jets were given the gift of life from Jim Caldwell and Bill Polian when they decided to rest key starters for games that matter, like the playoffs. At the time, I wrote that it was a bad decision to allow a potential playoff team the chance to advance and play you again in the playoffs. And, while the decision still may come back to haunt the Colts, I never imagined a potential rematch occurring in the AFC Championship. Indianapolis sports fans could not ask for a better match up in this game.
Sunday is a chance for the Colts to show the Jets what they are really made of. Gang Green now has to face four quarters-worth of four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning instead of the half-and-half Manning/Painter combo seen last month. The difference is night and day, but for you visual folks out there, think of it this way. Peyton Manning is one of the premiere athletes in all of professional sports whose on-field capabilities have lead to more endorsement deals than once thought possible. Curtis Painter’s performance against the Jets in Week 16 has only lead to one such offer.
|Curtis Painter might be looking for a new job next year. Here is one company that reached out for an endorsement deal.|
This weekend in downtown Indianapolis, there will be a chance for vindication for the Colts, and a way to apologize to the legions of fans who were so disappointed in the teams decision to put health in front of perfection.
But, there is more history involved that most are overlooking. History that I feel is the biggest motivating factor for the Indianapolis Colts this weekend.
In the wild card round of the 2002 NFL playoffs, the Indianapolis Colts traveled to New Jersey and lost 41-0 to the New York Jets. You know why this is important for this weekend’s game? The players who played in that game.
Only three players on the Jets sideline this Sunday were involved in the 41-0 shutout back in 2003, James Dearth, Shaun Ellis and Bryan Thomas. For the Colts the list is not much longer, however, it is much more important. There are seven players from this year’s squad who played in the Colts worst playoff loss ever.
Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Jeff Saturday, Ryan Diem, Raheem Brock, Dwight Freeney and Justin Snow. Even though the list is only seven deep, that is an impressive list of impact players. And, after being blown out by the Jets that year, the Colts went on to draft Robert Mathis, Dallas Clark and Gary Brackett that offseason. This means that the first memory of their new team that these three future stars had is of a disgraceful blowout.
We are not talking about a few scrubs who see limited playing time and are just holding on for the ride. We are talking about nine (sorry Justin Snow) of the key players in Sunday’s game. All of whom are leaders both in the locker room and on the field.
Peyton Manning is often thought of as one of the most cerebral players the game of professional football has ever seen. If you don’t think Manning has been thinking about the 41-0 game at least once a week since it happened, you don’t know the man. I would not be surprised if he could give you his stats from that day. I would be surprised if Peyton Manning was talking to you though.
As for the game itself, the Colts are playing on Sunday because they are good, the Jets are playing because they are lucky. The Colts played so well for 14 regular season games that they had the option to sit out the final two. The Jets were given the gift of life by both Indianapolis in Week 16 and Cincinnati in Week 17. The Jets then went on to beat an already defeated–both emotionally and physically–Bengals team again during the wild card weekend.
Last week the Colts played a tough, expereinced Ravens team and handled them well.
Last week the Jets played the best game they possibly could and still needed the most accurate place kicker in NFL history to miss three field goals. Add to the mix that San Diego had been touted as the best team in the NFL for so long that they believed it, and vola…you have an upset special.
There is always a chance the Jets could win, but so much needs to happen for them to do so.
Mark Sanchez would have to be perfect; the Jets running game would need to score at least two touchdowns and New York would still need either a third TD from special teams or off a defensive pick 6. This is not too farfetched since the Week 16 match up saw the Jets return the second half opening kickoff 106-yards for a touchdown. Also, the Jets defense did score in Week 16, even if it was against the “Opps I crapped my pants” poster boy.
So much has been said about shutdown corner Darrelle Revis and his impact on games. The man has had a great season, but Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne have had a decades worth of great seasons. I don’t think it this weekend will see Revis taking Wayne out of the Colts offensive game plan as much as Manning & Co. taking Revis out of the Jets defensive game plan.
Last week, Manning found seven different receivers to complete passes to, Darrelle Revis is only one man. Also, in the Week 16 game, Austin Collie ripped the Jets other cornerback Lito Sheppard apart. The rookie wide out had 6 catches for 94-yards. Add to the mix that Pierre Garcon did not play in Week 16 and the Jets have many concerns when the ball goes up towards the heavens.
Plenty of talk surrounds the New York Jets running game and it ability to wear defenses down, and score big points late in the game. The problem with this style of thinking is that the game needs to be close for the Jets to have the option of running. The Colts defense looked very good in shutting down the run game of the Baltimore Ravens last week, which consisted of two backs that are better than the Jets running backs.
The overall key to the AFC Championship game between the New York Jets and the Indianapolis Colts is the second quarter.
In the first quarter, you are going to see several things. The Colts offense might look tight and pressed for plays, but Peyton will be reading the defense and looking for the holes to exploit later on.
The Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will be creative in the first quarter. He will throw everything including the kitchen sink at the Colts, in hopes of getting an early score to hand the defense. As with many of the Indy’s games this year, the Colts will need to weather the storm, make their adjustments and execute.
That is why the second quarter is so important for both teams. If the Colts can go into halftime with at least a two score lead, than the Jets have to get serious production out of their rookie quarterback. Likewise, the longer the Jets can keep it close, the better chance they’ll have of continuing the streak of upsets.
Colts need to eliminate big plays on the special teams and have to limit turnovers, if they do this they will win. The Jets need to play PERFECT football on Sunday to advance to the Super Bowl. Their biggest problem is this: if I know what they need to do than so do the Colts.
My prediction is not so much that the Colts will win, it is that the Colts will win handedly. I see a big first half for the Colts were they will put up too many points for the Jets to recover.
Two more points of interest. Whichever team wins will be bringing a rookie head coach to the title game for only the fifth time in NFL history. Also, Miami is home to the SuperBowl this year. The last time the Jets won a Super Bowl was January 12, 1969, in Miami, Florida, the last time the Indianapolis Colts won a Super Bowl was February 4, 2007, in Miami, Florida.
This game will come down to making smart plays, and no team is smarter than the Indianapolis Colts.
To add to the excitement that will be rocking Lucas Oil Filed on Sunday, the Colts have asked Edgerrin James to be an honorary co-captian and retired head coach Tony Dungy will be in attendance.
Come on back Monday morning as I wrap up what the Colts put down.