New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts, Sun 3:00 PM
We talked about this earlier, but Peyton Manning is PISSED this season. He’s pissed that he’s consistently put up the greatest statistical performances of an quarterback from any era, yet we still compare him to riff raff like Brett Favre. He’s pissed because he knows, just like everybody else knows, that this team had as good a shot as any at running the table to go 19-0, and instead gave up history for victory. He’s pissed because despite having a team that has never lost with its starters playing, and having beaten more varied opponents in more varied types of games than any other team this season, we all thought the Ravens had a shot last week, and people are talking about a Jets team that’s lucky to even be here as if they were a legitimate challenge and not a cute sideshow. So this Sunday, I expect that the Colts, taking a cue from Manning, along with his capos Freeney, Wayne, and Clark, will show up Sunday with the attitude of a team that has something to prove, regardless of their status as favorites for both this game and the Super Bowl. Truth be told, we haven’t seen this talented a team this angry since the 2007 Pats, and that team wasn’t anywhere near as likable as these Colts. After making short work of the Ravens, another brutal ground game with a focus on defensive football, there’s not a doubt in my mind that the Colts’ mission for this week is to send yet another message to the doubters, taking another dark horse contender and leaving their heads on spears for four quarters.
But believe me when I tell you the following: There isn’t a team in the AFC playoffs that the Colts wanted to see less than the New York Jets. The Bengals were too worn down to compete, the Pats had already lost Welker and were playing too injured to pose a threat, the Ravens don’t have a receiver quick enough to confuse zones, and the Chargers were too baby soft to win a shootout with the single deadliest vertical passer in the league. Any of those guys walk into Indy, we’re seeing strong faces masking shaking knees, and rightfully so, because this Colts team is the horror movie villain that won’t die. The Jets, on the other hand, aren’t just playing with house money; they’re making it rain on the dealers. Consider this: The Jets have executed to perfection for three games in a row now. For all the talk of them being one dimensional, isn’t someone going to have to prove they can stop Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene before we can call that a liability? Meanwhile, two straight quarterbacks have decided that they’re not scared of Darelle Revis, and both have paid dearly for it. The man is making passing offenses work with a hand tied behind their back, and Rex Ryan’s athletic blitz attack has prevented quarterbacks from thinking fast enough to make up for the difference (Bart Scott, in particular, deserves credit for confusing QBs as to whether he'll drop back, which he's athletic enough to do, or attack, which he loves to do). The whole thing has been loud, chaotic, yet surprisingly tight in its execution. Basically, it’s been the best party around for three straight weekends.
Still, it’s hard not to feel like the party might be over. Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer will go down as good quarterbacks; Peyton Manning, on the other hand, may get his very own Sphinx statue in Canton when it’s all said and done. I have trouble believing that this blitz attack supported by suffocating man coverage is going to faze Manning for any extended period of time. If he executes, the Colts will execute their game plan, and eventually, they’ll be able to answer the kind of slow, grinding touchdowns that the Jets have proven capable of creating with their run game. If the Colts have run into the first opponent that won’t be scared of them, the Jets have run into the first opponent with no reason to be scared of them. Manning is going to move the ball, regardless of how much time he has, and in a 17-14 squeaker, he’ll be the one engineering the final scoring drive. This is destiny, and the sands in the hour glass run only one way, people; it’s inevitable.
Except I’m not as convinced that the "inevitable" is, in fact, inevitable as it was a month ago. All week long I’ve heard about how this is the game where Mark Sanchez shows his true colors: A rookie quarterback nervous to be on a big stage and a little too bold considering his limited experience. The turnover is inevitable, and Braylon Edwards isn’t going to be there when it counts. I’m pretty sure Mike Francesa has devoted this entire week to reading his burn book entries on B-Easy and El Guapo. Great, but let me read the situation in a way that is equally truthful: The Jets have beaten a divisional champion and a Super Bowl contender without their quarterback or hyper talented receiver having good games. Mark Sanchez is due? You’re damn right he is; he’s due to make a team pay for pushing all their chips in on stopping the run. Somewhere, Braylon Edwards is repeating the words of his own father doubting him and getting pissed about his drops, and knowing that he, too, is due to taste the explosive game that inevitably comes to players of his talent.. And maybe, just maybe, this is that week. Sure, the Colts can beat the Jets we’ve seen up to this point, but that assumes that Edwards, Sanchez, and even Keller and Cotchery aren’t incredibly dangerous weapons in and of themselves. Mark Sanchez isn’t sick, and he isn’t a liability, and this week, this is the game where Mark Sanchez shows his true colors: A first round pick with the arm to make every throw, the talent to use his physical gifts, and the guts to take shots when he thinks they're there, with a receiving corps built on elite talents (Keller and Edwards) and the best hands in the AFC (Cotchery). And if THAT is the Jets team that the Colts need to beat, one that is ACTUALLY executing to perfection (and not just playing the really, really effective single dimension game that the media has mistaken for perfection), then I’m not sure even Peyton Manning can drag his squad to that finish line. Can it happen? Yes. Will it happen? Some might say it’s inevitable…
Saturday, January 23, 2010
New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts, Sun 3:00 PM