Indianapolis Colts Fall to New York Jets in Playoff Opener

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And just as quickly as the Indianapolis Colts had risen, they have now fallen.

The Colts, who rode a four-game winning streak to the third seed in the AFC playoffs, fell 17-16 to the No. 6-seeded New York Jets in Saturday’s wild card matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium when Jets kicker Nick Folk hit a 32-yard field goal as the clock wound down to zero.

Just when everyone thought momentum had finally swung Indianapolis’ way, the Colts suffered their seventh one-and-done playoff appearance in 11 trips to the postseason during the Peyton Manning era. The team now has a 9-10 playoff mark in that time span, which dates back to January 2000 (for the 1999 season).

What went wrong this time for the Colts? As it turns out, several old Achilles’ heels, as well as an area generally regarded as a strength, plagued Indy and send it into the offseason disappointingly early.

  • Run defense. The Colts’ defense has long been identified by its struggles against the run. However, the unit was coming off a month in which it had held Jacksonville, Oakland and Tennessee — all strong rushing teams — to fewer than 100 yards on the ground. While many predicted a continuation of the stingy streak as the Jets had not been running the ball well entering the playoffs, New York found little trouble powering through the Colts, particularly in the second half. The Jets finished with 169 rushing yards, earning the bulk of them on two straight time-consuming touchdown drives — one to open the third quarter and a second that stretched into the final period. Running backs LaDainian Tomlinson (16 carries, 82 yards, both touchdowns) and Shonn Greene (19 carries, 70 yards) helped offset quarterback Mark Sanchez’s struggles in the first half and kept New York’s offense multi-dimensional enough to prevail.
  • Kickoff coverage. If the Jets’ rushing attack didn’t win them the game, then New York’s success returning kickoffs certainly did. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie returned two kickoffs for a total of 88 yards. His 47-yard return with less than a minute remaining in the game set up a five-play drive that culminated in Folk’s winning field goal. The former Chargers corner also returned the opening kick of the second half 41 yards to begin the first of two Jets touchdown drives. Four of New York’s nine drives started at or beyond the team’s 37-yard line while the Colts never started farther than their own 26-yard line. The Jets certainly won the special teams and field position battles.
  • Third-down efficiency. This was the head-scratcher for the Colts. Manning and the Indy offense have long been among the surest units in the league in converting third downs, but against the Jets, they converted just 6 of 13 such situations for a 46 percent efficiency. Among the misses were the Colts’ first three offensive possessions — each of them third-and-one situations. Perhaps if Indy had gotten off to a smoother start on offense, it might have scored more points. However, even after Manning and Co. got going, third-down success eluded the Colts as they were forced to kick field goals on the remainder of their scoring drives following Manning’s 57-yard touchdown toss to receiver Pierre Garcon in the second quarter. Manning also threw an incomplete third-down pass to receiver Blair White late in the fourth quarter that, if completed, could have used up more clock time and allowed kicker Adam Vinatieri to ice the game without giving the Jets the ball again.

Not to be lost in that analysis is the late play of Sanchez, who, despite finishing 18-of-31 for 189 yards with no touchdowns and an interception, made enough plays for New York to advance. On the Jets’ final drive, he threw a sensational 18-yard pass down the sideline to receiver Braylon Edwards that set up Folk’s game-winner.

While New York advances to face the top-seeded New England Patriots next Sunday in Foxborough, Mass., Manning, who went 18-of-26 for 225 yards and the touchdown pass to Garcon for a 108.7 passer rating, must endure the heartbreak of another crushing playoff defeat.

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