Games  New Music  Weather  Contests  Operation Uplink  Rent DVDs Free

National Football League

AFC Standings | NFC Standings | Schedule | Scoreboard | Scores - Previous

Jets host Colts in first-round showdown

(Sports Network) - A pair of former division rivals will kick off the NFL’s Wild Card weekend at the Meadowlands, as the AFC East champion New York Jets will host the Indianapolis Colts in Saturday’s early game.

The Colts lost out on a chance to capture the AFC South crown by losing the season series to Tennessee, but head coach Tony Dungy managed to get the team into the playoffs in his first season with the club. Dungy is the third head coach in franchise history to reach double-digit wins in his first year with the team, joining Ted Marchibroda (1975) and Don McCafferty (1970). Now, Dungy must face a close friend and former colleague in the first round of the playoffs.

"I know [Jets head coach] Herm [Edwards] and he knows me," said Dungy, who employed Edwards as his right-hand man in Tampa Bay from 1996-2000. "We aren’t people who are going to change. We aren’t going to come up with something totally different just because we’re in the playoffs and because we’re playing the Jets.

"They win because they do what they do very well. We do what we do. There aren’t going to be a lot of secrets. I think it’s going to be a game of execution and who goes out there and makes the plays. At this point, you don’t have to guess about any gimmicks or what they’ve been saving all year. That’s not the case with them."

Since taking over the Jets before the 2001 season, Edwards has led the club to playoff appearances in both of his seasons at the helm. He’s the first head coach in team history to accomplish that feat. New York qualified for the playoffs last season with a huge road victory in Oakland in the regular-season finale. However, the team’s reward for making it was a return trip to the Bay Area the very next week. The Jets lost in the first round of the playoffs last year to the Raiders, 38-24.

The Jets were left for dead this season after a 1-4 start, but Edwards’ decision to start Chad Pennington at quarterback over Vinny Testaverde sparked the team to its second all-time AFC East crown. New York became the first team since the 1970 merger to win its division after a 2-5 start. But that was just the first step for the team with a dream.

"This is just part of the goal," said RB Curtis Martin. "We are AFC East champions, but I’m sure everyone would like to say world champions. There is no reason why we can’t. We are not going to look too far ahead right now. But I feel we are playing as good as anyone."

SERIES HISTORY: The Colts and Jets were AFC East rivals from 1970-2001. Including the postseason, the Colts lead the all-time series 38-26. Indianapolis has beaten New York more than it has any other team in its history. The Colts, who have captured five of the past seven meetings, lost to the Jets in the teams’ previous encounter on December 23, 2001. In that contest at the RCA Dome, Testaverde threw a six-yard TD pass to Anthony Becht with 58 seconds remaining to give New York the victory. The last meeting between the two teams at the Meadowlands came on September 9, 2001. Indy was led to a 45-24 victory by Edgerrin James’ 135 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Peyton Manning also threw a pair of TD passes in the contest.

Dungy (0-2) has never beaten the Jets in his career, while Edwards is 1-1 lifetime versus Indianapolis.

PLAYOFF SPOTLIGHT: The Colts, who are making their first playoff appearance since the 2000 season, are 10-12 all-time in the postseason. The Jets own a 6-8 playoff mark.

These two clubs last met in the playoffs in Super Bowl III. Behind Joe Namath’s famous guarantee, the Jets won their first and only Super Bowl title by topping the Colts 16-7.

Dungy, the former head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has taken his teams to the playoffs in five of the past seven years. He is the third-winningest coach since 1999 with a 40-24 (.625) mark, trailing only Tennessee’s Jeff Fisher (44-20, .688) and current Bucs coach Jon Gruden (42-22, .656).


It’s never easy beginning the playoffs on the road, especially for a team that plays its home games in the climate-controlled RCA Dome. However, the Colts had some good success on the road this season, finishing with a solid 5-3 mark away from home.

Indianapolis played a .500 first half of the season only to make a playoff push by winning six of its last eight games. Included in the second-half surge were road victories in Philadelphia and Denver -- two of the tougher places to play for a visitor.

"I think it helps a lot, just from preparation standpoint," said Dungy of having won some big road games this season. "We’re not feeling like we have to do something different than we’ve done before. We’re not doing anything for the first time. We’re going on the road to a tough place to play playing a good team, but we’ve done that four times in the last half of the season. So, I think that is going to help us, for sure.

"[Playing well on the road] becomes a mentality, just doing what you do. If you do, it doesn’t matter where you are. Noise can’t play the game, fans can’t play the game, weather can’t play the game. Atmosphere and the stadium can’t play. Only 11 players on each team play, so it really shouldn’t matter where you play."

The leader of the Colts’ offense is Pro Bowl QB Manning, who owns a 5-3 career mark against the Jets. Manning finished third in the NFL this season with 4,200 passing yards, which also made him the first QB in NFL history to pass for 4,000 or more yards in four straight seasons. Not even Dan Marino or Dan Fouts accomplished that feat.

"I take great pride in what I do," said Manning, who took every offensive snap in 2002 and has missed only 43 of a possible 5,060 snaps in his five-year career. "But this is a team game. The good of the team always comes first and we need to rally together and play our best game of the year here coming up against the Jets."

Manning is a master of the play-action pass. However, the Colts have had a hard time making opponents respect their running game. For the second time in as many years, James failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark after galloping for 3,262 yards in his first two NFL seasons. The former All-Pro hasn’t been the same since blowing out his knee last year, leaving much of the rushing load to undrafted rookie James Mungro, who led the Colts with eight rushing touchdowns.

The Colts’ offense ranked ninth overall this season in total yards per game (351). However, that number is quite misleading. Indy had the No. 4 passing offense in the league (253.4 yards per game) but ranked 26th overall running the ball.

The Manning-to-Marvin Harrison connection was better than ever in 2002. Harrison set a new NFL single-season mark for receptions with 143 to go along with his 1,722 receiving yards (fourth-most in league history) and 11 touchdowns. In the last meeting with the Jets, Harrison caught 12 passes for 127 yards and a score.

With veteran receiver Qadry Ismail on injured reserve, WR Reggie Wayne and TE Marcus Pollard must pick up the slack in complementary roles to the All-Pro Harrison. Wayne, who was second on the team with 49 catches for 716 yards, has the speed and hands to make the Jets pay for overplaying Harrison. But the big key could be Pollard, who could find some big holes in New York’s Cover-2 defense.

While the Colts will need to run the ball consistently with James and Mungro to keep New York’s defense honest, Indy’s success will come down to the play of Manning. The Tennessee product, who was sacked just 23 times this season, threw four less interceptions this year than last (19 in 2002, 23 in 2001). But Manning still struggles at times by throwing picks in bunches. He must avoid turning the ball over since he’s already battling the harsh January weather of the East Coast and a rowdy pro-Jets crowd.

"New York is a tough place to play and being on the road makes it a bigger challenge," said Manning, whose 27 TD passes were second only to New England’s Tom Brady. "[The Jets] will have the crowd behind them and they have great fans there. There are a lot of things stacked up against us.

"When you go into the playoffs, you can draw back on all 16 games -- a play here, a situation there. We’ve faced a lot of situations this year, especially on the road. Whatever the situation is, we feel like we’ve faced it."

It will be interesting to see if Indianapolis can score big points against the Jets’ defense. New York is coming off a huge victory over Green Bay that helped it into the playoffs. In that contest, the Jets limited Brett Favre to 16 completions for 172 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Confidence and momentum are two of the biggest factors heading into the playoffs, and the Jets have both. However, New York’s defense surrendered a lot of yards this season (341.4 yards per game, 24th in the NFL). Still, the club managed to rank in the middle of the pack (14th) in points against (21 per contest).

One of the biggest keys for the New York defense is Pro Bowl DE John Abraham, who had a team-high 10 sacks this season making him the first Jet since Mark Gastineau to post back-to-back double-digit sack seasons. Indianapolis doesn’t give up a lot of sacks, but Abraham and the rest of the Jets’ defensive line can be just as effective if it can force Manning out of the pocket where he’s less comfortable. The Jets are 14-6 when Abraham has at least one sack. Abraham and fellow end Shaun Ellis have combined for 10 sacks in the past five games. Despite the recent success, the Jets are determined to take the postseason one game at a time.

"We’re definitely not trying to get caught up in going to San Diego yet," admitted DT Josh Evans, who was second on the team with six sacks. "We know we’ve got a long way to go so we’re trying to stay focused."

CB Donnie Abraham, who played for Dungy in Tampa Bay, led the Jets with four interceptions. Abraham and fellow CB Aaron Beasley will look to prevent Harrison and Wayne from making big plays in the Cover-2 zone defense. However, the key to this matchup will be the effectiveness of the Colts’ running game. If James can make a few big plays on the ground, then the Jets will have no choice but to play eight men in the box. This will open up some space downfield for Manning to operate with play-action passes.

"I definitely think we have a good shot. Right now, anybody has a chance to win [the Super Bowl] the way the records have all been even," added Beasley, who had two interceptions in his first season with the club. "We just have to go out and play the way we’ve been playing by taking it one game at a time. It’s anybody’s Super Bowl."


The New York Jets have momentum on their side entering Saturday’s first-round playoff game versus Indianapolis. The combination of luck and a great performance in the regular-season finale made the Jets AFC East champions, but it wasn’t always such a clear path.

When the Jets took the field for the start of their game last week versus Green Bay they didn’t know if they were playing for a division title or pride. The importance of the Jets-Packers matchup, from New York’s perspective, hinged on what was going on up north in Massachusetts between the Patriots and Dolphins.

Cleveland wrapped up its victory over Atlanta with an impressive goal-line stand that made fans across the country wonder why Falcons head coach Dan Reeves didn’t call Michael Vick’s number to get the job done. In any case, a Browns victory coupled with a Dolphins win over New England would have rendered the Jets-Packers game meaningless for New York.

But the Patriots exhibited the heart of a champion one last time. Super Bowl XXXVI hero Adam Vinatieri tied the game with a 43-yard field goal with just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter that sent Jets fans at the Meadowlands into a frenzy. The Dolphins blew a 21-10 halftime lead only to see their fate rest on an overtime session. Vinatieri sealed the deal with a 35- yarder in the extra session that gave the Jets and their fans new life.

"We didn’t have to look at the scoreboard," said Edwards. "We knew what was going on by the reaction of the fans. I just went down the bench and told everyone, ‘Hey, we have another chance here. We have an opportunity to win this division, so let’s get it done.'"

Behind the spirited play of Pennington, the Jets held up their end of the deal with an impressive 42-17 triumph over the playoff-bound Packers to set up this matchup against Indianapolis. The victory gave the Jets the AFC East title while knocking Miami and the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots out of the AFC playoff picture.

"This is exciting. We’re playing some pretty good football right now and the scary thing is we can be even better," said Pennington, who completed 17-of-24 passes for 196 yards with four touchdown passes and no interceptions last week against the Packers. "This team believes. We really showed what we are made of...but we’re still hungry. We have a chance to make history."

Pennington is certainly something special. Since taking over for the veteran Testaverde in Week 5, the Marshall product has led the Jets to eight wins in 12 games and the franchise’s second AFC East title. Better yet, the 26-year- old Pennington wasn’t fazed by playing against a future Hall of Famer -- Favre. In fact, Pennington’s final numbers dwarfed Favre’s (16-of-33, 172 passing yards, one TD, one INT).

"Chad didn’t try to overdo things," Edwards said. "He didn’t try to compete with Brett Favre. All he needed to do was be Chad Pennington, and that was good enough."

Pennington, who finished the regular season with a stellar 22-6 touchdown-to- interception ratio, will get his first taste of playoff football on Saturday against Indianapolis.

The Colts fired Jim Mora and hired Dungy in an effort to turn around the team’s defense. The defensive-minded Dungy has indeed made a big difference this season for the Colts’ defense, which ranked seventh in the NFL in points against (19.6 per game) and eighth in total defense (306.8 yards per game).

Expect Dungy to throw all kinds of looks at the Jets’ young quarterback in an effort to confuse and rattle him. But that’s easier said than done. Pennington has played like a 10-year veteran this season in his first full-time action as a starter.

New York will employ a lot of three-WR sets with Laveranues Coles, Wayne Chrebet and Santana Moss. While Coles, who led the team with 89 receptions for 1,264 yards, is the Jets’ most dangerous wideout, the Colts will have to contend with New York’s multiple-receiver sets with a less-than-stellar nickel package.

While the Colts had the No. 2 pass defense in the league this season (182.3 passing yards per game), the Jets have favorable matchups against Indy’s defensive backs. CB Walt Harris is Indy’s best player in the secondary, but Nick Harper and David Macklin are both vulnerable. Dungy also has a pair of unreliable safeties in Idrees Bashir and David Gibson.

DE Chad Bratzke, who was third on the Colts with six sacks this season, played sparingly in the regular-season finale against Jacksonville after suffering a left leg injury. However, Bratzke, who gave way to rookie Raheem Brock last week, is expected to play on Saturday against the Jets.

Indianapolis will need a consistent pass rush from Bratzke, Brock and rookie phenom Dwight Freeney, who led the team with 13 sacks. Freeney, who makes up for his lack of size (6-1, 265) with great speed, will be matched up against Jets veteran OT Jason Fabini. Freeney, who had eight sacks in the Colts’ final six games, can really be a disruptive force coming off the end. While Fabini is bigger and stronger than Freeney, the rookie defensive end has a distinct speed advantage that could wreak havoc on Pennington.

The biggest weakness of Indy’s defense is its play against the run. The unit allowed 124.5 yards per game on the ground this season -- 20th in the NFL.

To make matters worse for the Colts, Martin is playing his best football of the season right now.

"This is the best moment of my career," said an emotional Martin after the win over Green Bay. "We've been through so much together this year. At one point in time, we were not only at the bottom of our division, but the entire league. We were becoming the laughingstock of the NFL. And to win the division, I tip my hat to this team."

Martin ran for 83 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries against Green Bay. After a slow start to the season, Martin rushed for 316 yards in the last three games of the year to top the 1,000-yard mark for the eighth time in as many pro seasons.

The Jets have a balanced offense with Pennington throwing the ball and Martin handling the ground attack. Still and all, the Colts’ biggest concern might be stopping Pennington, who has quickly established himself as one of the best young signal-callers in the game.

"You also have to remember that we are still just 9-7," Pennington said. "We are still just trying to win another game. We are by no means finished. We are not looking at that [win over Green Bay] as an end-all, that 'OK, we’ve made the playoffs and now we can relax.' That’s not our goal and our focus. Our focus is to be in San Diego and we won’t be satisfied until we get there."

01/02 13:59:47 ET

powered by The Sports Network




© 2003 Clear Channel Communications