Caldwell’s curious time out decision allows Jets to upset Colts

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (R) hugs Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell (L) after the Jets defeated the Colts in their AFC Wild Card playoff football game in Indianapolis, January 8, 2011. REUTERS/Brent Smith (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

“Thanks for calling that time out, Mr. Caldwell. You really saved us. I owe you one, big cat.”

Here are six quick-hit thoughts on the Jets’ 17-16 upset of the Colts on Saturday night.

1. Caldwell blew it by calling that time out.
There’s no doubt that Jim Caldwell should not have called a time out with 29 seconds remaining in the game. The Jets were down to their final time out and were on the 32-yard line. Had Caldwell let the clock continue to run, the Jets would have likely only ran one more play before using their final time out and kicking a longish field goal. Instead, Caldwell used the Colts’ last TO (presumably to leave time for Peyton Manning) and Mark Sanchez completed an 18-yard pass to Braylon Edwards (who made a heck of grab) on the next play. After burning their final TO, the Jets won the game on a 32-yard Nick Folk field goal as time expired. Caldwell’s blunder was three-fold: 1) It stopped the clock, 2) it allowed Sanchez and his coaching staff to calmly gather their thoughts and choose their final offensive play and 3) it ultimately made Folk’s field goal attempt 18 yards shorter. I guarantee you Sanchez doesn’t even look Edwards way if his coaches didn’t tell him that play was open during the time out. And I can almost guarantee you that Folk doesn’t make a game-winning field goal on the road from 40-50 yards out instead of 32. One play or coaching decision never decides the outcome of a game. But this is one Caldwell we think about all offseason.

2) That said…
If Manning completes that 3rd-and-6 pass to Blair White on the prior possession, then the Colts would have ran the clock down and kicked the game-winner themselves. But because the pass fell incomplete, the Colts left time on the clock. And because there was time on the clock, Antonio Cromartie’s ability to bring the ensuing kickoff back to the 46-yard-line was huge. Does anyone believe that Sanchez would have marched his team into field goal range if he had to go 80 yards to do it? I was waiting for a pick-six myself. Caldwell’s decision to call a time out was bad. But the game would have never reached that point if one of the aforementioned situations doesn’t happen.

3) Sanchez finally makes a play when he has to.
Sanchez’s performance on the Jets’ final drive before halftime was brutal. He had zero touch on the pass that went over Dustin Keller in the end zone and the pass that Justin Tryon intercepted reeked of desperation. But give Sanchez credit: the throw he made to Edwards to set up Folk’s game-winner was right where it needed to be. Edwards made the play by going up and catching the ball at its highest point, then making sure he got both feet down and inbounds (where was that effort in Cleveland all those years?). But the throw was there. After he spent most of the game failing to make plays, Sanchez finally delivered when it mattered most.

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NFL Wildcard Playoff Preview: How the Jets can beat the Colts

New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan reacts on the sidelines in the fourth quarter against the Buffalo Bills in week 17 of the NFL season at New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on January 2, 2011. The Jets defeated the Bills 38-7 and advance to the playoffs. UPI /John Angelillo

As I did with the Saints-Seahawks preview, below I break down how the Jets can beat the Colts on Saturday and vice versa.

THE JETS WIN IF: Obviously Mark Sanchez needs to be productive for the Jets to have a shot, but I’m going to focus on Rex Ryan’s defense. If Ryan finally wants to get the Peyton Manning monkey off his back, he could learn a lot from watching how the Patriots, Chargers and Cowboys defended the Colts in Indy’s three-game losing streak in Weeks 11-13. In those three games, the Colts averaged just 2.6 yards per rush. Granted, they didn’t have Joseph Addai then, but the key to defusing Manning might start with taking away his running game. Obviously the Jets need to get pressure on Manning. All teams facing quarterbacks like Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers need to dial up pressure to beat those guys. But despite the popular belief that the Colts can’t run the ball, most of Manning’s success comes from Indy’s balance on offense. The Colts might not rack up a lot of rushing yards, but that doesn’t mean their ground game can’t be effective. The Jets need to focus on shutting down the Colts’ rushing attack first and make them one-dimensional. If Manning is constantly in third-and-long situations, then eventually the Jets will come up with a big play (just as the Patriots, Chargers and Cowboys did). Disguising blitzes and sending pressure from the secondary is all well and good, but those things won’t matter if the Colts can move the ball on the ground. Peyton is going to make plays – that’s just what he does. But it’s those times when the Jets force him to throw in third-and-long when they need to capitalize.

THE COLTS WIN IF: Peyton continues his domination of Ryan-led defenses. Over the past month of the season, quarterbacks such as Tom Brady and Jay Cutler were able to strike for big plays because Ryan constantly had to send extra defenders to help his feeble pass rush. If Manning can strike for a couple of long-gainers and put the Jets back on their heels, then it will force Mark Sanchez to beat the Colts with his arm. Another thing Indy must do is control the tempo. If the Jets are able to play their game (i.e. running the ball and playing good defense), then Manning may get frustrated that he can’t attack, attack, attack like he’s used to doing. Nothing infuriates him more than having to stand on the sidelines and watch the time tick off the clock. But if the Colts can establish rhythm early, get into the fast tempo they want to play and make Sanchez and the Jets’ offense scramble to catch up, then Indy wins this one running away.

Five reasons to tune into NFL Wildcard Weekend

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It’s the NFL Playoffs – we know you don’t need us to tell you to watch. But here are five storylines that will definitely peak your interest as you tune into Wildcard Weekend in the NFL.

1. Can the Seahawks do the unthinkable?
Everyone believes it’s a foregone conclusion that the Saints will beat the Seahawks by about six touchdowns. But if the NFL has taught us anything over the years it’s to expect the unexpected. It’s safe to say that the Saints aren’t the same team they were a year ago when they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. They still have Drew Brees to lead Sean Payton’s explosive passing attack and Gregg Williams’ defense can still bring the heat. But Brees has thrown 22 interceptions this year, Payton lost his inside runner in Pierre Thomas (who was placed on IR earlier this week) and Williams’ defense has been less opportunistic than it was a year ago. (They led the NFC in interceptions last year with 26, but picked off a league-low nine passes this season.) The Seahawks are easily the most overmatched team in the playoffs and the only reason why they’re playing this weekend is because they were fortunate enough to play in the NFC West. That said, you know Pete Carroll will rally the troops this Saturday and give the Saints all he’s got. It still may wind up in a six-touchdown defeat, but on any given Sunday (uh, or Saturday)…

2. Can Rex Ryan get the Peyton Manning monkey off his back?
In six games against Ryan-led defenses, Manning is 5-1 with 1,513 yards, 12 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. And the lone loss came in Week 16 last year when the Colts had already locked home field advantage and Curtis Painter played the majority of the second half as Peyton looked on from the sidelines. Ryan hasn’t had an answer for Manning yet and once again he must try to defeat Peyton in his house. Everyone was concerned with Mark Sanchez when these two teams met in the AFC Championship last year, but it was Ryan’s defense that failed as Manning shredded the Jets for 377 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Whatever Ryan has thrown at an opponent’s offense, Manning has diagnosed it and has figured out a way to beat it. Peyton is a film junkie and will never be caught unprepared. Thus, Ryan better come up with a new wrinkle or two if he wants to put an end to Manning’s hold over him.

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In the end, defense fails Jets – not Sanchez

All week, the game plan for the Jets was simple: Run the football, play good defense, and keep the game out of Mark Sanchez’s hands. In fact, that has been New York’s mantra all season.

But on Sunday, it was the defense that failed the Jets in their 30-17 loss to the Colts in the 2010 AFC Championship Game. They gave up a whopping 461 total yards, including 101 rushing yards to a team that can’t run the football. Peyton Manning threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns on 26-of-39 passing, while Pierre Garcon (11 receptions, 151 yards, 1 TD) and rookie Austin Collie (7 receptions, 123 yards, 1 TD) shredded New York’s secondary for big plays in the second half.

Outside of throwing an interception late in the fourth quarter in garbage time, Sanchez was pretty damn good. And not pretty damn good for a rookie – pretty damn good for any quarterback. He completed 17-of-30 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns, including an 80-yard bomb to Braylon Edwards early in the second quarter to give the Jets a 7-3 lead.

Sanchez was impressive. Several times throughout the game he used his feet to buy more time, threw the ball with confidence and took shots vertically instead of settling for the underneath pass. He played like a seasoned vet and although he couldn’t lead the Jets to a victory, he was also at disadvantage after rookie running back Shonn Greene left the game early in the third quarter with a rib injury.

Everyone knew that Sanchez wasn’t going to be able to beat the Colts with his arm. But the bottom line is that he wasn’t the problem – Manning shredded the Jets’ defense, which couldn’t limit the big play and didn’t make one clutch stop in the second half.

The one person everyone was worried about actually played pretty well. And had the Jets not gone with an ultraconservative to open the second half, then maybe Sanchez would have been able to lead them to Miami. Either way, at least this is a performance that Sanchez can build on heading into a promising second year.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Manning continues domination of Ryan, Colts heading to Miami for Super Bowl XLIV

It’s official: Peyton Manning owns Rex Ryan like Joe Namath owns awkward sideline interviews.

Manning shredded Ryan and the Jets’ No. 1 rated defense for 377 yards and three touchdowns on 26-of-39 passing in the Colts’ 30-17 win in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday. With the victory, Indy is headed back to Miami for Super Bowl XLIV.

In the first quarter, the Jets were able to fluster Manning with their pressure, racking up two sacks and limiting the Colts to just two field goals. But right before half, Indy used its no huddle to loosen up New York’s secondary and strike for a couple big plays. Manning capped the drive off with a 16-yard touchdown pass to rookie Austin Collie to cut the Jets’ lead to 17-13 at halftime.

The drive was an omen for the second half, as Manning completely took the game over with the Jets struggling to generate points. While New York concentrated on Reggie Wayne (3 catches, 55 yards), Manning attacked the seams with Collie (7 catches, 123 yards, 1 TD) and Piere Garcon (11 catches, 151 yards, 1 TD).

Manning was absolutely incredible. He put the ball in places where the defense had no chance to knock it down and had pinpoint accuracy all game. He knew exactly where he wanted to go with the ball on every play and took advantage of holes in the Jets’ secondary. It was as finest performance as I have seen out of Manning in the playoffs.

Manning is now 7-1 against Ryan-led defenses, with the only loss coming in Week 15 of the regular season after Jim Caldwell pulled his starters early in the second half. If the Jets continue to progress under Ryan, then this could be a storyline for years to come.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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