Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets coach just fed the 'shark'

Wide 3-point try from 52 yards beginning of end

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Rex Ryan betrayed himself and everything his New York Jets have stood for this season with a single bad decision early in the second half of Sunday's AFC Championship Game.Leading 17-13 and faced with a fourth and long, the Jets head coach sent placekicker Jay Feely out to try a 52-yard field goal. Not surprisingly, Feely missed and Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts were handed a short field and, in essence, a trip to the Super Bowl.

Manning shredded the Jets defence on the ensuing drive to put his team in front at 20-17 for their first lead of the game after trailing 11-0 early. One, two, BBQ. Foolish decision, season over.

The Colts went on to win 30-17 and will now face the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl.

The Saints were 31-28 overtime winners over the Minnesota Vikings in the late game to end the magical run of the Vikes and ageless quarterback Brett Favre.

Ryan and his upstart Jets had gotten to within sniffing distance of the Super Bowl playing great defence and displaying patience on offence on the back of a strong running game.

Key to that strategy is field position and never rolling the dice. The Jets held the lead and the field-goal attempt was not a calculated risk. Far better would have been a punt inside the 20 in an effort to leave Manning a long field and more opportunities for the Jets defence to make a play and perhaps create a turnover.

Manning is a shark that feeds on confidence and when he saw Ryan flinch and abandon his game plan, the future Hall of Fame quarterback licked his lips and then stuck a shiv in the Jets' playoff balloon.

The Saints punched their first-ever ticket to the Super Bowl by going after the heart of the Vikings and doing their best to stop it from beating.

New Orleans defensive co-ordinator Greg Williams sent his men after Favre with merciless abandon and hit the future Hall of Famer on 15 occasions, and not all of the blows could be termed as legal.

The Vikings had five turnovers, including a Favre interception in the final seconds of regulation with Minnesota in field-goal range and seconds away from the NFC title.

The Saints won the coin toss and drove down the field in OT before kicking a field goal for the victory.

Favre was heroic in this defeat and in many ways was the story of the NFL season. From his arrival in Minnesota to leading his club within a breath of the championship game, Favre was brilliant and inspirational.

For the record, we spouted all season that the Favre signing would end in defeat, and while on the surface that prediction was correct, in spirit it was off the mark. Our belief was that Favre would crash and burn and not make the Super Bowl, and while that was the case, it was not his fault.

Too many of his teammates were below standard on this day and Favre did his best to drag them towards a chance at immortality.

A great season for Favre and Vikings fans; just a slightly better campaign for the Saints and the city of New Orleans.

SWEET PICKS: After a rocky start to the post-season, a 1-3 straight--up mark and a 2-2 record against the spread on wild-card weekend, we stabilized in the division round and went 2-for-2 both ways before hitting the sweet spot and going a perfect 2-0 straight up as well as 2-0 against the spread in the conference round.

THINGS WE LIKED, DISLIKED AND JUST DIDN'T GET: Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez grew as a player over the final six weeks of this NFL season, playing in the blast furnace of one-and-done tournament conditions. Sanchez made few mistakes and established himself as a quarterback with confidence and now experience in the twilight of the season. The Jets have a winner in Sanchez... Jets defensive back Jim Leonard plays in the shadow of Derrell Revis but was more of a factor for his team in this game... The Colts got the ball with just under eight minutes left in the fourth quarter leading 27-17 and took almost six minutes off the clock before kicking a field goal to complete the job. Big drive at just the right time; championship football...New Orleans safety Darren Sharper didn't get much love in terms of defensive player of the year, but he had a monster year and has put together two fine playoff games... Reggie Bush muffed a punt at the end of the first half, but we don't get why he wasn't instructed by the Saints coaching staff to call a fair catch. The Vikings let them off the hook with their own fumble.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 25, 2010 C3

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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