Jets 17, Colts 16

Colts booted by Jets

. . . which inspired quite a celebration by the Jets receiver. . . . which inspired quite a celebration by the Jets receiver. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / January 9, 2011

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INDIANAPOLIS — It’s on. Again.

The Jets and Patriots will tussle for a third and final time this season at 4:30 p.m. next Sunday for a spot in the AFC Championship game after New York scored a 17-16 walkoff victory against the Colts last night at Lucas Oil Stadium in an AFC wild-card game.

The Jets won Round 1 against the Patriots, 28-14, in Week 2 at the New Meadowlands. The Patriots emphatically returned the favor with a 45-3 victory at Gillette Stadium Dec. 6.

This time it counts. Big time.

It looked like the Patriots would have to wait until today’s Ravens-Chiefs game to find out their opponent when former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri boomed a 50-yard field goal with 53 seconds left to give the Colts a 16-14 lead.

But cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who was at least partially responsible for the Colts’ first touchdown, returned the ensuing kickoff 47 yards to the Jets’ 46 to give them hope.

Two short passes and a run by LaDainian Tomlinson left the Jets on the edge of kicker Nick Folk’s field goal range. But quarterback Mark Sanchez, who had been erratic the entire game, lofted a perfect pass to Braylon Ed wards, who made a leaping catch on the right sideline for an 18-yard gain to the 14. The Jets called time out with three seconds left.

Folk then calmly knocked the 32-yard field goal through the uprights as time expired, sending the Jets sideline sprinting onto the field.

Jets coach Rex Ryan got one big monkey off his back by finally beating Peyton Manning in a playoff game in three opportunities.

Now it’s on to Foxborough, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady. Ryan gave the quarterback all the bulletin-board material he needed last week when Ryan said Brady “likes to think’’ he studies as much as Manning.

Brady must have been sitting in his Back Bay home watching the events unfold with a big grin on his face.

If you thought Brady was motivated in Week 13 as he threw for 326 yards and four touchdowns in a game the Patriots needed to win the division and earn a first-round bye, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Ryan, stunningly, declined to talk about facing the Patriots again.

“Right now I’m just going to focus on the Colts,’’ Ryan said. “I think we earned about 12 hours of enjoying this victory. This is a great football team. We beat them at their place, beat Peyton Manning at their place. I don’t know if that’s been done a whole heck of a lot..’’

After beating the Bengals to set up the showdown with the Patriots in Week 13, Ryan’s gums were flapping:

“Clearly, they’re the best team in football. That’s what all the experts say, except me.’’

But after knocking off the Colts, the Jets seemed to go out of their way — possibly on postgame orders from Ryan — not to say anything incendiary.

Do the Jets have a chance against the Patriots this time around at a place where they flopped in a big game in front of a national television audience?

They do if the Jets play like they did in the second half against the Colts.

It took the Jets until then to ignore the hype and embrace their true identity. But once they did it was a sight of physical football to behold.

In the first half the Jets ran 33 plays and unwisely put the ball in the hands of Sanchez on 20 of them.

While running backs Tomlinson and Shonn Greene combined for 74 yards on 13 carries (5.7-yard average), Sanchez completed just nine passes for 84 yards and one interception for a rating of 38.0.

After Ryan challenged the Jets — and likely offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer — at halftime, the Jets transformed into what Ryan always envisioned for them: a team that relied on its defense and an offense that runs behind a good and well-paid offensive line.

Trailing, 7-0, the Jets opened the second half with a 10-play, 63-yard touchdown drive that featured eight runs for 43 yards.

The second drive was an all-timer: 17 plays and 87 yards as Tomlinson’s second touchdown put the Jets up, 14-10, with 9:59 remaining. New York ran 12 times on that drive.

Sanchez completed 9 of 12 passes for 105 yards in the second half and Tomlinson and Greene combined for 78 yards on 22 carries as the Jets saw their first downs go from eight in the first half to 25 by game’s end.

“I challenged our guys, especially at halftime, to be able to come back into that locker room and be able to look each other in the eye and you’ll know and your teammate will know that you gave everything you had and that’s what it showed today,’’ Ryan said. “After we challenged them at halftime, they went out there and dominated the game and dominated the clock. Man it feels good.’’

That type of run-first, ball-control offense could give the Patriots trouble when the trilogy is completed next Sunday.

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