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.

4) The Colts’ run defense let them down again.
Their run defense was one of the reasons the Colts finished hot down the stretch. But they allowed the Jets’ offense to wake up after halftime by leaving gaping holes for LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene to run through. Up until that point, the Jets couldn’t do much offensively. But once they were able to take the game out of Sanchez’s hands, they were highly effective. They started to gain confidence because of their running game and that wouldn’t have happened unless the interior of Indy’s run defense hadn’t turned to Charmin tissue paper. The Colts’ biggest concern in preseason came back to bite them and it was one of the reasons they’ll be watching from their couches next week.

5) The Colts needed more out of Manning.
What I’m about to write probably isn’t fair. Manning completed 18-of-26 passes for 225 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Some people will ask what more he could have done. My answer? I don’t know…more. He just needed to do more in the biggest game of the year. The Jets’ offense was brutal in the first half and Manning failed to sustain drives. Credit Darrelle Revis for shutting down Reggie Wayne and Rex Ryan for daring Manning to throw by often going with only three down linemen and 28 defensive backs. But for a guy who has owned Ryan-led defenses in the past, Manning’s performance certainly left a lot to be desired. Again, that’s probably not fair given his final numbers and he definitely wasn’t one of the reasons they lost. But this is the playoffs and Mark Sanchez certainly didn’t do enough to earn a win (yet he did).

6. What’s next?
How crazy is it that the two conference champions from last year were knocked out in the first round this year on the same day? While the Colts head home for the year, the Jets have earned another date with Tom Brady and the Patriots. If the game next week is anything like the 45-3 drubbing that New England laid on Ryan’s squad in December, then make sure you hit your local Red Box beforehand to ensure you have a backup plan for the night.

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