The Jets Rode the Horse Until She Bucked Them

Defense's struggles come as a shock

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Getty Images
    The Jets will not be at Super Bowl XLIV

    It's fitting that Monday morning broke with grey skies and rain around New York.

    It's a sad day for reflection on what might have been, with the only ray of sunshine provided by the chance to watch Brett Favre destroy another team's season late on Sunday night. That fleeting moment of joy aside, Sunday was a bad, bad day.

    There's a school of thought that pins the blame on Sunday's loss to the Colts on Rex Ryan for not being aggressive enough after Jim Leonhard recovered a fumble late in the second quarter. Mark Sanchez was playing his best game and the chance to go up 21-6 should have outweighed the risk of coming away with no points at all, or so the argument goes.

    It's a reasonable point, but it ignores that they did exactly what got them there. They pounded the ball on the ground, exactly what was prescribed for a successful game, but the offensive line couldn't open holes and they settled for a field goal. The offensive line's struggles, which were there all day, were the first sign that the Jets' formula wasn't going to get it done on Sunday.

    The second and more glaring sign came on the Colts drive that followed the kickoff. Peyton Manning drove the team for a touchdown in four quick plays, three of them completions to Austin Collie at the expense of Dwight Lowery and Drew Coleman. That was the moment where it became clear that the Jets were in trouble because it was the moment where Manning revealed that he'd figured out just how to attack the Jets for the rest of the afternoon. Short of cloning Darrelle Revis, the Jets couldn't counter and their vaunted defense was shredded the rest of the way.

    That's the problem with blaming the playcalling on that one drive for the loss. The defense was going to have to stop Manning whether the Jets were up 17-6 or 21-6 and there's absolutely no reason to believe that they could have done that. Theoretically, a touchdown there goes for the jugular and crushes the spirit of the Colts, but theories like that are made for Manning to tear apart.

    If you did want to get on Ryan, the moment to pick was the decision to go for a 52-yard field goal on the first drive of the second half. Jay Feely missed, Manning had a short field and the game was quickly in the Colts' hands. The Jets got to the AFC Championship Game by avoiding unnecessary risk, but Ryan took one there and it was, more or less, the final straw in the game.

    The Colts were ultimately the better team, but not because of Ryan. It was because the running game and the defense, the two pillars of the Jets, abandoned them at exactly the wrong moment. It's nice to have someone to blame, but blaming the Colts feels more apt.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.