FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – To sit or not to sit? That is the question.
The Indianapolis Colts, sitting pretty at 14-0 with homefield advantage throughout the playoffs already locked up, find themselves in a curious situation on Sunday.
Does head coach Jim Caldwell rest his starters, allowing his team time for repair and avoiding any chance for an injury, in preparation for a Super Bowl run? Or do the Colts, trot out Peyton Manning and Dwight Freeney, in an attempt to finish their quest to become only the second 16-0 team in league history, while simultaneously putting the kibosh on the Jets’ playoff hopes?
Faced with the prospect of a must-win game to save their season, Gang Green will be hoping for the latter. The Jets, one of the AFC’s six 7-7 teams, need victories in their final two games to have any shot at a playoff berth. While putting the clamps on the high-powered Colts offense at full strength would be a huge moral and psychological victory for the Jets, the prospect of that actually materializing is low.
Indy’s unflappable offensive attack has put up 28 points, over 380 yards of total offense and 297 passing yards per contest. Their banged up defensive unit has been just as stellar, yielding only 17.7 points per game.
“This is an outstanding football team,” gushed Jets head coach Rex Ryan, in regards to his opponent. “They’re well-coached. They kind of have a little machine going there on offense. Their defense I don’t think gets as much credit as they deserve.”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that the Jet’s best shot at a season-saving victory against Indianapolis hinges on the prospect of facing the Colt’s backups. And according to Colts DE Dwight Freeney, that very well may be the case Sunday.
“I think winning is somewhat important,” said the four-time Pro Bowler. “You don’t want to lose a game. As a competitor, as an athlete, you want to go out every single game and win. That being said, we’re going out there and playing hard every game no matter who is out there. Maybe the starters may not be out there the whole game, but that’s no excuse. We still have to try to get it done regardless.”
Colts head coach Jim Caldwell, was noncommittal when addressing the issue of who will play Sunday. “The plan is to attack it just like we do every week,” said Caldwell. “We’re going to prepare to go in and play hard and we haven’t made any declaration on who’s playing how long or anything of that nature, much like we did last week. We did the same thing last week and focused in on the ball game and adjusted as the flow of the game went on.”
“The competitor in you absolutely wants to see that,” said Jets head coach Rex Ryan in regards to facing the Colts’ starters. “But I’d just as soon not see it. I just want to win. It’s obviously going to be a challenge, whoever’s out there. But you know, obviously these are some of the premiere players in this game.”
Two of those “premiere players” are Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne. Together they have formed one of the most unstoppable quarterback-receiver duos in NFL history. Manning, a future Hall of Famer, has once again proven to be the league’s top signal-caller, passing for 33 touchdowns and over eclippsing 4,000 yards in 14 games, while closing in on the 50,000-yard mark for his career. Wayne, who has hauled in 92 receptions for over 1,200 yards in ’09, is the Robin to Manning’s Batman.
Jets corner Darrelle Revis came up with his own sports analogy for Manning and Wayne. “This game right here, said Revis. “It’s going to be Michael Jordan and Pippen versus me. It’s going to be something crazy.”
FB Tony Richardson isn’t buying into the idea that the Colts may rest their starters against the Jets. Regardless of who does play for Indianapolis on Sunday, the veteran believes it shouldn’t alter the team’s mindset.
“We just want to go in there and win the ballgame,” says Richardson. “Just get the win, by any means necessary. I don’t think they’re going to rest their starters. I just think there’s something to be said about going undefeated in this league. If they do, that would be a big surprise.”
Richardson recalled a game the end of the 2005 season, as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs went into San Diego, who had already had clinched a playoff spot and rested QB Drew Brees, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, and TE Antonio Gates. Kansas City ended up falling to the Chargers, 24-17.
“They pretty much rested their starters…and their backups beat the brakes off us,” said Richardson.
“If you start even thinking about ‘Oh they’re gonna play their backups, we’ll just cruise on’, you’ll get beat. So I never think about anything like that.”
It could be conceived that Rex Ryan is playing up the idea of the Jets being the one’s to deal Indy their first loss season, in attempt to further motivate his team. According to Rex, that is definitely not the case.
“I don’t think it’s about, ‘Well, let’s try to ruin their perfect season’,” said Ryan. “I think it’s more of the fact that you get to compete against that quality of a football team.”
“That’s not it at all. We’re just trying to keep our playoff hopes alive.”
Clearing up the playoff picture
If the Jets can somehow come out of Lucas Oil Stadium with a win, they’ll still need some help. In order for Rex Ryan’s group to be in a position to control their own destiny heading into the final week of the regular season, the following will also need to occur on Sunday:
A) The New England Patriots do their hated rival a solid, defeating the Jaguars in Foxboro
B) The Miami Dolphins lose at home to the Houston Texans
C) The Baltimore Ravens lose in Pittsburgh OR Denver loses to the Eagles at Lincoln Financial
Yet another roster move
The revolving door in Florham spun once again today as the Jets signed DL Ty Steinkuhler to the practice squad, and released LB Josh Mauga. Steinkuhler, a 6-foot-3, 280 pound rookie out of Nebraska, was with the team through training camp before being released in early September. The Lincoln native was a 2008 Honorable-Mention All-Big 12 coaches choice after registering 88 tackles, three sacks, and 17 tackles-for-loss in his college career.
WR Braylon Edwards, FB Tony Richardson and RB Thomas Jones all did not practice today, which Ryan labeled as a “coach’s decision.” None of their injuries appear serious as Ryan stated it was just a case of him wanting to get them “fresh and ready to roll.”
DE Shaun Ellis (knee) was limited. S Jim Leonhard (thumb), CB Dwight Lowery (ankle), QB Mark Sanchez (knee), CB Marquice Cole (knee) and G Robert Turner (knee) all participated in the full practice.
Sunday in Indy, the Jets will go up against an undefeated team in December for the second time in three seasons. Back on December 16, 2007, New York traveled up to Foxboro to take on the 13-0 Patriots. While the Jets were defeated 20-10, they held New England QB Tom Brady without a touchdown pass and limited the Pats to their lowest point total of the season.
Back in 1972, Gang Green faced off against the undefeated Dolphins twice, losing 27-17 in Week 4 and 28-24 in Week 10.
Stat of the day
Up until the Falcon’s game-winning, 73-yard drive on Sunday which concluded with a Matt Ryan touchdown pass to TE Tony Gonzalez, the Jets’ defense had not allowed a touchdown on their opponent’s last 33 drives.
According to Elias, this was the team’s longest streak since Mo Lewis and Kyle Clifton’s unit back in 1993.