The undefeated streak the New York Jets snapped on Sunday was of a different complexion than their 34-13 dismantling of the 10-0 Tennessee Titans in November 2008. That victory was met with grandiose declarations of Super Bowl contention.
Gang Green’s 29-15 win against the 14-0 Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium was met with disdain. This time around, the agony of defeat is credited to Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell and not the Jets’ top-ranked defense.
That’s irresponsible. Accusing Caldwell of sabotaging a perfect season by resting select starters, including MVP-candidate Peyton Manning, is an irrational oversimplification.
On a day where league leaders on opposite ends of the statistic spectrum met—the Colts’ prolific passing attack and the Jets’ stingy pass defense—the only crime Caldwell committed was disallowing the fans of finally answering what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.
“We tried to score as many points as we could,” admitted Manning during his postgame press conference. The Jets top-ranked defense was the reason they couldn’t.
The writing was on the wall: The Jets were not going quietly into the night, and the Colts were benching themselves.
Allow me to paint the picture with the masterful strokes of a classically-trained artist.
This Is Not a Recap — It’s a Pattern
Manning commanded two touchdown drives before becoming a spectator, but his disappointment was captured by CBS’ cameras long before he took to the sidelines.
Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne may have helped Manning become the fastest player to eclipse 50,000 passing yards in a career yesterday, but they were also a step slow, missing opportunities against a defense that doesn’t give many.
Outside of dissecting Jets’ cornerback Lito Sheppard, Manning struggled to build a rhythm in the passing game. The Colts’ offense relied on running backs Joseph Addai and rookie Donald Brown to score the team’s only touchdowns.
Jets’ safety Eric Smith set the defensive tone on the first play when he flipped a leaping Austin Collie upside-down for a one-yard loss. That was Caldwell’s first warning.
When linebacker Bryan Thomas blocked Adam Vinatieri’s extra point attempt following Addai’s 21-yard dash to the end zone, the momentum shifted right back into the Jets’ favor despite the two-score deficit.
Brad Smith’s franchise record-setting 106-yard kick return for a touchdown to start the second half gave the Jets a 10-9 lead, proving the Jets were going to find ways to score against Caldwell’s Colts.
And then the Colts nearly snatched the momentum back from the Jets when Manning orchestrated an impressive nine-play, 81-yard drive, capped off by Brown’s one-yard rumble into the end zone.
The momentum was short-lived when the Jets stuffed the two-point conversion attempt.
Caldwell’s decision to introduce backup quarterback Curtis Painter was met with a sack and forced fumble by linebacker Calvin Pace. The forced fumble was met by defensive end Marques Douglas for a shuffle into the end zone and go-ahead score.
And the Jets took a solid three-point lead when quarterback Mark Sanchez lofted a pass into the hands of tight end Dustin Keller for a successful two-point conversion.
Extra points were stopped on the field, the Colts were trying to score, and all they could muster was an uncomfortable 15-10 lead with a perfect season on the line against a tenacious team in pursuit of a playoff berth.
That is the anatomy of an upset in the making.