Three weeks ago, two days after Christmas, the Indianapolis Colts, by everyone’s admission, tanked a game (and a perfect season) against the New York Jets. The logic was sound: Colts coach Jim Caldwell wanted to keep his team healthy for the playoffs, and didn’t want to risk injury against a desperate underdog like the Jets. When the Jets ultimately won, fans, media, and even a couple of Colts players criticized Caldwell for tempting fate, for ruining the team’s chance at history. As it turns out, though, Caldwell missed another opportunity that day: He could have eliminated the Jets from the playoffs. Right now — improbably, amazingly, surreally — those Jets are all that stand between his Colts and the Super Bowl. One wonders if he wishes he would have taken care of them when he had the chance.
Right now, everything that Jets coach Rex Ryan could possibly have ever hoped for has come to fruition. The defense is relentless — Phil Simms was right: It does seem like they just know every snap count — the running game is revitalized behind a fresh and rabid Shonn Greene, and Mark Sanchez isn’t just (mostly) avoiding turnovers, he’s making big, veteran quarterback-like throws. (One might almost say he’s poised.) Ryan did his part, too, with a gutsy, fantastic call to put the game away on fourth-and-one in the last minute of the game. With all that, the Jets had a 17–14 win over the Chargers, and they advanced to their fourth conference championship game in team history.
Four weeks ago, Ryan thought his team was eliminated from the playoffs. Three weeks ago, they were handed a gift from the football gods. Two weeks ago, they said good-bye to the Meadowlands. One week ago, they took advantage of a beaten, exhausted, undermanned Bengals team. Now they’ve beaten a Chargers team that, for all its talent over the last decade, looks like it’ll never win that Super Bowl for LaDainian Tomlinson. Now it’s all set up for them.
The New York Jets will play the Indianapolis Colts next Sunday afternoon to advance to their first Super Bowl since 1969, since they came up with the name “Super Bowl” in the first place. Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez, Darrelle Revis, and the madness of this team’s monthlong run … they’re that close. Strap in, everybody. It’s going to be a crazy week.