AFC Championship Game Preview | Indianapolis Colts versus New York Jets at Lucas on Sunday, January 24. . .
Indy Football Report Editor John Oehser breaks down the AFC Championship Game between the Colts (15-2) and the New York Jets (11-7) .. . .
THE VIBE . . .
The vibe is very much a conference championship game vibe, and that means that as the Indianapolis Colts and New York Jets prepare for the AFC Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday, there’s an obvious, simple theme:
It’s finally here.
No more talk. No more speculation. Not much more time for match-ups, analyzing or hypothesizing, either.
No more talk of what ifs, or history, or who played in December when the teams met and for how long.
Is Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan confident? Or cocky?
Should Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell have been Coach of the Year? Have the Colts’ fans forgiven he and Colts President Bill Polian for forgoing 16-0 and resting players for the postseason? Will that forgiveness hold should the Colts not make the Super Bowl?
All were themes this week as game-time neared, and there were more.
Is Jets CB Darrelle Revis the best cornerback of his generation? Is he potentially one of the best ever? Did he shut down four-time Pro Bowl WR Reggie Wayne in the team’s first meeting in December, or did Wayne simply leave — read: get removed — too soon to get enough opportunities?
Can the Jets run effectively against the Colts? Can Colts QB Peyton Manning beat the Ravens’ blitz?
Throughout the week, players answered those questions around the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, and because it was title-game week, there was an energy, but at the same time, there was a calmness about the Colts. They have been here before, most of them, and those who haven’t been — the young players who have contributed to the Colts’ season in ways few thought possible six months ago — listen well enough and are mature enough that it’s hard to imagine them being overwhelmed. That calmness, that professionalism, almost has to bode well for the Colts. It’s a good mix, because on the one hand the Colts know the difficulty of getting here, two victories from their ultimate goal, and at the other, they are enjoying the moment. It’s almost as if they know from experience, the Colts veterans, that while there may be more opportunities, there may not be. If the 2006 run to the Super Bowl was dramatic, heady and somewhat unexpected, this one has a different feel this week: the Colts aren’t arrogant enough to expect to be here, but they’re experienced enough to not be shocked by it, to know the opportunity must be seized when it’s here because the future holds no guarantees.
History is at hand for the Colts, and considering the Jets are a No. 5 seed, they’re expected to make it. This game isn’t about what happened against the Jets in December, it’s about the Colts having an opportunity to play in the biggest game. They know those opportunities don’t come around often. Knowing that can make a team go one of two ways. It can be overwhelmed, or it can seize the moment. So far this season, the Colts have seized every moment that mattered.
THE BIG CONCERN . . .
There are many concerns for the Colts against the Jets, but the biggest may be the Jets’ defense, which held the San Diego Chargers to two touchdowns in an AFC Divisional Playoff game last Sunday. The Chargers led throughout the first half, but managed just a touchdown and at halftime it felt like one of those games where one team had had too many opportunities and not take advantage of enough of them. That team was the Chargers and it just felt like they were in trouble, and in the second half, the Jets kept running and running and running and eventually took control. The Jets’ defense almost certainly will blitz and blitz often and it will make running difficult for the Colts, who don’t dominate on the ground against normal defenses, much less one as good as the Jets. That makes the Colts’ biggest concern taking advantage of the blitzes and hitting big plays early. If they get an early lead, this game’s probably a route. If not . . . well, ask San Diego, “if not?”
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