- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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WHAT IT MEANS: The New York Jets conquered their Peyton Manning demons with a thrilling 17-16 win over the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC wild-card game. The Jets have pulled out last-minute wins all season, using that formula when it mattered most. They always said those experiences would serve them well down the road, and they were right.
REX-ORCIST: Rex Ryan, tormented by Manning throughout his coaching career, called this "personal." Well, Ryan finally beat Manning, and his defense was marvelous, holding the Colts to a touchdown and three field goals.
FOLK HERO: Nick Folk, who nearly lost his job in November when he hit a slump, made one of the biggest field goals in Jets history -- a game-winning, 32-yarder as time expired. If he had missed, he would've been linked with Doug Brien, the kicking goat from the 2004 playoffs, but Folk delivered after a four-play, 40-yard drive by Mark Sanchez & Co.
GROUND AND POUND: This was Rex Ryan football. The Jets dominated the Colts in the trenches, outrushing them 169-93. The Jets rushed for 64 yards in the third quarter, wearing down the Colts' undersized front seven with heavy doses of LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene. The two backs, benefiting from a week off, rushed for a combined total of 152 yards. The Colts' run defense (ranked 25th) had improved in recent weeks but was gashed between the tackles. The Jets sprinkled in some misdirection, dusting off the "swerve" play from early in the season. This was Tomlinson's best performance since October.
A TAJ GIFT: A Colts receiver named Taj Smith will live in infamy, committing a running-into-the-kicker penalty on a punt by Steve Weatherford with 3:02 remaining in the fourth quarter. It came moments after a third-down drop by Santonio Holmes, and it gave the Jets a new set of downs and a chance to milk the clock. But they went three-and-out and punted back to Manning.
OFF THE MARK: Sanchez, who played so well last season as a rookie in the postseason, didn't have his A game for 3½ quarters. But he rallied in crunch time, hitting Braylon Edwards and Holmes for big passes on the game-winning drive.
Prior to that, Sanchez (18-for-31, 189 yards and one pick) struggled with his accuracy, perhaps the result of rust. Remember, he didn't attempt any passes in last week's cameo appearance. Ryan wanted to protect his young quarterback and his ailing right shoulder, but it was a risk because he knew Sanchez's track record for struggling after extended layoffs.
Sanchez misfired on three straight passes at the end of the first half, overthrowing an open Dustin Keller at the goal line and compounding that with a horrible third-down pass that was intercepted at the goal line. The Colts dropped nine into coverage and Sanchez forced a ball across the field into traffic, breaking several Cardinal rules of quarterback. The Jets were in field goal range at the 19, and he should've just thrown it away and taken the three points.
BLOWN COVERAGE: The Jets traded for Antonio Cromartie, in part, because they felt they needed another premier cornerback to beat the likes of Manning. So what happens? Cromartie came up small, partly responsible for a 57-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon. This was a three-man breakdown by the Jets' secondary: Nickel back Drew Coleman failed to jam Garcon in the slot, Cromartie failed to pick him up in coverage and S Brodney Pool took a horrible angle on the catch-and-run. Afterward, Cromartie received an earful from Ryan on the Jets' bench. Unofficially, Cromartie surrendered five catches for 112 yards.
REVIS ISLAND: Manning was afraid of CB Darrelle Revis. Yes, the Great Manning refused to throw the ball in Revis' area code. Revis covered WR Reggie Wayne the entire game, limiting him to one catch for one yard. Wayne was targeted only once. Mind you, Wayne averaged 11 targets per game during the regular season.
BIG PAIN: All-purpose weapon Brad Smith suffered a quadriceps injury in the first quarter and didn't return until the third quarter. His prolonged absence was a significant blow to the Jets. That forced them to change part of their game plan on the fly. It meant they had to limit their Wildcat package, one of their offensive staples. The injury also cost them one of the league's top kickoff returners. For some reason, they let the hobbled Smith try a return even though Cromartie had a long return in his place.
WHAT'S AHEAD: This is the rematch the Jets wanted -- another shot at the New England Patriots, who humiliated them 45-3 in Week 13. After the game, a defiant Ryan said he was ready to get back in the ring with the Patriots. Well, now he gets a chance to back up the big talk.
There will be no shortage of storylines for next Sunday's AFC divisional game, starting with Ryan. The Jets coach took a swipe at Tom Brady the other day, suggesting he's not as smart as Manning. We can also resurrect Ryan's famous line about Bill Belichick, the one about him refusing to kiss Belichick's Super Bowl rings. The Jets' defense, shredded by Brady, gets a chance for redemption. It also gets another crack at Danny Woodhead, the Jets castoff-turned-cult hero. There's nothing better than Jets-Patriots in the playoffs.