The New York Jets beat the Indianapolis Colts 17–16 tonight, and you'll forgive anyone who played the game, watched the game, or has to write about the game for still being a bit stunned by its ending. This was a game that ended three or four different times. We're still not quite convinced it's really over, and probably won't be until the Jets kick off in Foxboro next Sunday.
This is the way football works sometimes. With 53 seconds left, you had to wonder if the Jets could possibly trust any future supposed "championship runs" to Mark Sanchez, and you wondered if Antonio Cromartie would be a goat for years to come. Both men had several opportunities to avoid the Jets having to make a wild, last-53-seconds run long before it got to that point. And then, in that last crazy 53 seconds, they both saved the seasons.
Cromartie, who had struggled in coverage all day (and was basically the only player on the Jets defense not to have an excellent evening), took the kickoff after Adam Vinatieri's 50-yard field goal all the way back to the Jets' 47 yard line. So the game was again in Sanchez's hands. The Jets had come back from a 7–0 halftime deficit by not relying on Sanchez; coming into that last drive, the Jets had run the ball 22 times and thrown it only eight in the fourth quarter. Sanchez's wretched three passes at the end of the first half cost the Jets a chance to tie the game before halftime, and he'd missed on a key pass in the fourth that might have put the game away. (And inspired Rex Ryan to push the run from then on, to excellent effect.)
So there he was. Two terrific passes got a first down, and then LaDainian Tomlinson ran for two yards up the middle. With one time out, the Jets sat on the Colts' 34 with 29 seconds left. That's a 51-yard field goal: That's asking a ton of Nick Folk. Then the Jets, amazingly, called the exact play that Sanchez had failed to connect on earlier, a fade route to Braylon Edwards, and Sanchez nailed it. Sanchez did not play that well tonight, and at times, you felt he was going to cost the Jets everything. And then, on that last drive, he was perfect. Folk nailed a not-as-easy-as-it-seemed 32-yard field goal, and the Jets, amazingly, advanced. As NBC couldn't stop talking about when the game was over, Sanchez is 3–1 in the playoffs, and Peyton Manning is 9–10. We're flummoxed how Sanchez is actually doing it, but stunningly, he is.
The Jets will play the Patriots next Sunday after all, and we'll have a full week to worry about that. But now, thanks to that last 53 seconds, the Jets are alive, they are not a failure; this whole year, so far, isn't a stupid joke everyone would ultimately be embarrassed about. The Jets are still alive, and they are alive because of a hulking offensive line, a at-last-familiar defensive performance, a timely Antonio Cromartie return, and, yes, Mark Sanchez. What a wild, insane year. It'll continue for another week.
We think. Probably. The game's finally over, right?