NFL: Jets look to bright future after loss to Colts
By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — The scraggly beard was gone. Mark Sanchez didn’t need it anymore.
The New York Jets’ surprising season was over, and their superstitious franchise quarterback was looking ahead to a bright future for himself and his team.
“I started to become the quarterback that this team needs,” Sanchez said after a 30-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game Sunday.
Sanchez started growing a beard early in New York’s playoff run and refused to shave it until they lost. The razor finally came out after this one.
“This one stings,” said Sanchez, who was 17 of 30 for 257 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. “It’s hard to swallow.”
He had put the Jets in position to make their first Super Bowl appearance in 41 years, and was 30 minutes from becoming the first rookie quarterback in the big game until Peyton Manning took charge for the Colts.
“I started making the decisions that a quarterback who makes it to the AFC championship game makes,” Sanchez said. “I’ve still got a long way to go. I haven’t arrived. I haven’t figured it out. I haven’t made it.”
Nope, but he gave the Jets a reason to feel good about a season that ended two wins short of rookie head coach Rex Ryan’s lofty goal.
“We’re close,” Ryan said. “There’s no question. Really, we accomplished a heck of a lot this first year. We thought we could win it all. We really did.”
And for two quarters Sunday, there was no reason to doubt Ryan, who early in the postseason declared the Jets the Super Bowl favorites.
“We thought we had the Colts where we wanted them,” safety Kerry Rhodes said.
After bottling up Manning for much of the first two quarters, the Jets’ big-talking defense couldn’t contain the four-time MVP quarterback and blew a 17-6 lead.
“With Peyton Manning, if you can’t disrupt his rhythm, he’s going to kill you,” Ryan said. “And, we couldn’t disrupt him enough.”
Ryan desperately tried to come up with some sort of plan to slow Manning, but never found one.
“We tried everything,” the Jets coach said, shaking his head. “We tried man, tried two-man, zone, you name it, but you’ve got to give him credit, man. He’s one heck of a quarterback and we definitely had some issues there.”
Ryan boasted all season that his defense was a force to be reckoned with and deserved its No. 1 ranking. But this time, Ryan could only eat his words.
Manning picked apart the Jets’ defense, which also had the top unit against the pass, throwing for 377 yards and three touchdowns. The Colts finished with 461 net yards against a defense that allowed an average of just 252 during the regular season.
“We couldn’t get off the field,” Ryan said. “They kept marching it down the field on us.”
Despite their lofty ranking during the regular season, Ryan and the Jets were irritated by suggestions they weren’t a big-time defense.
Their performance Sunday proved why.
“You’ve got to get some stops and we never got enough of them,” Ryan said.
It wasn’t the first time the Jets’ defense couldn’t come through. It blew late leads in games against Miami, Jacksonville and Atlanta and earned a reputation for not being able to come up with big stops.
Still, Ryan was confident all week, saying his team would be the most loose AFC championship squad anyone would ever see. It turned out the defense was way too loose against Manning & Co., allowing three touchdown passes in a game for the first time this season.
“Once we stopped getting pressure on him, he had time to pick up where he wanted to go with the ball,” Rhodes said.
Now, it’s on to thinking about next year for the Jets, who got further than most imagined when they were 7-7 and needing a whole lot of luck to get them into the playoffs.
“We were by no means satisfied with the outcome,” wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. “We do have some things to look forward to.”
Such as a young quarterback with two playoff wins already under his belt. While many worried about how Sanchez would handle himself in this type of spotlight, he was the least of the Jets’ worries. It was the defense — Ryan’s specialty — that failed to get the Jets to Miami.
Looking nothing like the turnover machine he was most of the season, Sanchez was poised and even outperformed Manning early.
His perfectly placed 80-yard touchdown throw to Braylon Edwards midway through the second quarter gave the Jets a 7-3 lead. He also found Dustin Keller at the front of the end zone while taking a pop from Raheem Brock for a 9-yard touchdown that put New York ahead 14-6.
“We were almost there,” Sanchez said. “I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world. That fire’s still in there. It’s burning, and it’s hot.”