AFC Wild Card Report: Jets-Colts
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Grading out the performances from the Jets' thrilling 17-16 road win over the Colts ....
Quarterback: Mark Sanchez is a long way from the Hall of Fame, but this year he's displayed a certain John Elway-like ability to play poorly for large stretches -- but then make plays that help win games late. He showed that flair again Saturday night. Sanchez completed 9 of his last 11 passes (one drop) to make up for some early mistakes, such as a bad red-zone pass in the first half to Dustin Keller that was picked off by Justin Tryon. His last pass was his best: A short, back-shoulder throw to Braylon Edwards for 18 yards. Instead of a 50-yard game-winning attempt, kicker Nick Folk needed only to convert an easier 32-yard. At the end of the day, Sanchez once again made enough plays to win and is now 3-1 in postseason play. Grade: B
Running Backs: LaDanian Tomlinson showed shades of his younger Hall of Fame self, with 16 attempts for and 82 yards and two tough second-half scores. He again split ball-carrying duties with Shonn Greene, with the 1-2 combo racking up 152 yards on 35 carries. Grade: A-
Receivers: New York's pass-catchers did little of note until the last offensive play: Edwards jumped athletically for a Sanchez pass -- as safety Emanuel Cook went flying the wrong way -- and came down with an 18-yard reception that set up kicker Folk's game winner. Former Super Bowl MVP (with Pittsburgh) Santonio Holmes might have played the role of goat: He dropped a sure first-down pass late in the fourth quarter. It ultimately proved a non-factor as the Jets kept the ball thanks to a special-teams penalty against the Colts. Overall, wide receivers Edwards, Holmes and Jerricho Cotchery combined for 10 receptions and 125 yards; tight ends Keller and Ben Hartstock added four for 47. Grade: C
Offensive Line: New York's offensive line took over the game with two monster drives on the team's first two possessions of the second half. The first chewed up 10 plays and 63 yards (8 for 43 on the ground) and ended with a Tomlinson one-yard TD run. The second was a monster of 17 plays and 9 minutes, 54 seconds -- again largely on the ground. It ended with another one-yard TD run by Tomlinson to give the Jets their first lead of the game. The two drives, dominated by New York's offensive live, changed the complexion of the game. Left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, meanwhile, spent much of the night swallowing up Indy pass-rushing specialist Dwight Freeney. Grade: A
Defensive Line: Jets fans got out of the New York defensive front exactly what one might expect. The team was very good against the run this year, surrendering 3.57 YPA on the ground. The Colts averaged 3.44 YPA on Saturday. The Jets had trouble pressuring quarterbacks all year, and they had trouble pressuring Peyton Manning again Saturday night. Grade: A-
Linebackers: Few memorable plays, especially from Bart Scott, who seemed to disappear for large stretches of the game. But at the end of the day, one of the league's most prolific offenses was frustrated for much of the night and scored just one touchdown. The linebacking crew deserves credit for limiting Indy's big-play, big-scoring capabilities. Grade: B
Defensive Backs: Darrelle Revis was considered the game's top shutdown corner in 2009; he struggled to regain that rep after holding out early in 2010. He earned that rep back during the season and lived up to it again Saturday night. He held Reggie Wayne to one catch for 1 yard. His ability to shut down the Colts' top weapon played a huge role in neutering one of the league's best quarterbacks and most prolific offenses. Antonio Cromartie was much less effective against Pierre Garcon, who was the game's top offensive star (5 catches, 112 yards, 1 TD). Free safety Eric Smith was the game's leading tackler (10 total). Grade: B+
Special Teams: Cromartie made up for his second-rate play at corner with a huge day returning kicks. He made arguably the play of the game with a 47-yard kick return in the final minute of the fourth quarter after the Colts had taken a 14-13 lead. His effort put the ball in great field position at his own 46. Folk booted the game-winner just five plays later. Grade: B+
Coaching: Rex Ryan is clearly a divisive personality. Even Jets fans can tire of his bluster. But the Jets certainly have the feel of a team that rallies behind its coach despite one controversy after another. And Ryan on Saturday night betrayed his pompous blowhard persona behind the microphone with a steely patience on the sideline. He refused to put too much of the game on the shoulders of his quarterback, and faithfully relied on his offense to grind out long drives, especially in the second half. He's now one win away from being the first coach in Jets history to lead his team to two straight AFL or AFC title games. Grade: B+
Quarterback: Peyton Manning led a clutch fourth-quarter drive that ended in Adam Vinatieri's 50-yard field goal and a 16-14 Indy lead with 53 seconds to play. But overall, his ability to come up small in the playoffs is nothing short of remarkable. Manning's popular image is one of a quarterback who's routinely hamstrung by a woeful defense. But Manning's Colts are 9-10 in the postseason because the offense disappears in most years. They've failed to score more than 18 points in nine of those 10 losses.
He ended Saturday night with nice numbers, completing 18 of 26 for 225 yards. But more than a quarter of those yards came on a single touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon in the second quarter. Manning's Colts have now failed to win a single playoff game in seven of 11 postseason appearances. The quarterback earns heaps of praise for all those points and all those years of double-digit wins in the regular season. Maybe he deserves criticism for all those punchless games and one-and-done efforts in the postseason. Grade: C-
Running Backs: Dominic Rhodes made a couple nice runs late in the game, particularly when he converted a 3rd-and-7 midway through the fourth quarter by gashing the middle of the New York defense. But overall, the Indy offense didn't have the ball enough (54 offensive snaps) to generate a whole lot of production out of their ball carriers (27 attempts, 93 yards). Grade: B-
Receivers: Garcon made the offensive play of the game when he hauled in a pass from Manning for a 57-yard score in the second quarter. He led all wideouts with five catches for 112 yards and the only receiving score of the game. But Reggie Wayne did his best impression of former Indy great Marvin Harrison (2 TDs in 16 playoff games) and was a non-factor (1 catch, 1 yard). Grade: C
Offensive Line: The Colts have done an incredible job protecting Manning for several years now, but 2010 was a season for the ages. Manning attempted 679 passes, just 12 shy of the single-season record, yet was sacked just 16 times. It was one of the lowest sack rates in NFL history. Indy's O-line did another great job in pass protection Saturday night as Manning was barely touched (1 sack in 27 dropbacks). The Colts had their moments opening holes in the ground game, too (27 attempts, 93 yards). Not a bad day, especially considering that right tackle Ryan Diem was a late scratch and was replaced by undrafted rookie Jeff Linkenbach. Grade: B
Defensive Line: The Colts entered the playoffs with one of the worst defensive fronts in football. We saw why Saturday night. As we learned during the regular season, Indy couldn't stop the run, and despite the "big names" in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, they couldn't pressure the quarterback much either. They largely failed on all counts again against the Jets. Grade: D
Linebackers: The linebacking crew showed some signs of life, especially Pat Angerer's violent snuff out of Shonn Greene in the third quarter, dropping him for a two-yard loss. Kavell Conner led the team with eight tackles. Team leader Gary Brackett did not look like the force he usually is when the Indy defense is clicking on all cylinders. And the big hits and big plays were few on a night when the team needed just one more big play on defense. Grade: C.
Defensive Backs: Antoine Bethea forced a fumble (recovered by the Jets) and Justin Tyron hauled in the game's only interception, preventing a score deep in Indy territory. Indy's decimated crew of DBs held the New York offense without a single long play in the passing game (the longest was a 24-yard catch by Braylon Edwards). Grade: B-
Special Teams: Indy's special teams had quite an adventurous final three minutes. Punt rusher Taj Smith committed what could have been the biggest gaffe of the game by running into Jets punter Steve Weatherford late in the fourth quarter. The Jets got an automatic first down, but then failed to convert and had to punt. The NFL's all-time Mr. Clutch kicker, Adam Vinatieri, walked on the field a few minutes later and coolly converted a 50-yard field goal dead center through the uprights to give the Colts what looked like would be a 16-14 win. But then the kick-return team was gashed by Cromartie for 47 yards. Grade: C+
Coaching: Not much controversy in this one. And, regardless, hard to pin much blame on head coach Jim Caldwell or his staff. They didn't do a lot of things wrong. They just didn't have the horses to win Saturday night: Combine a defense that's weak up front and riddled with injuries in back with an offense that typically disappears each postseason, and there's not a lot more Caldwell and Co. could have done to change the outcome. Grade: C