THE POLIAN CORNER

Week 18, Jets at Colts

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Q: A 20-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC Divisional Playoff Saturday, which sets up the AFC Championship Game between the Colts and the New York Jets at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday . . .

A: I think when you put it in context, if you make the playoffs, you've had a good season. If you can get home-field advantage and a bye, you've had a great season. If you make it to the championship game, you've had an extraordinary season. We'll see beyond that, so it has been an extraordinary season thus far. Let's hope we can finish it out.

Q: There was an energy at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday. It almost had an AFC Championship Game feel . . .
A: It surely did. The crowd was incredible. They were alive. We were together. They were into it. It clearly created an advantage for us. It created adrenaline for us. It certainly, I think, worked in our favor and against Baltimore's. We played that kind of football game. We had an inspired crowd, and we played an inspired football game. That's what you need to do, and that's why you work so hard during the course of the season to get the home-field advantage. What was lost in all the furor at the end of the season was the fact that we worked so darned hard to get the home-field advantage and to get the bye. We sold out to do that, to go down to Jacksonville and play the way we did on a short week – it was an incredible effort by our guys. What we were aiming for was the home-field and the bye. We got that, and it paid off in spades Saturday night. Let's hope we can keep it going.

Q: A lot of people with sore throats in Indianapolis as of Monday . . .
A: That's good. I hope they keep it up. Let's get rested this week, quiet and lots of gargling with salt and water or other things, and be ready on Sunday at 3 p.m. We're going to need it.

Q: Talk about what you saw from the Ravens game Saturday . . .
A: From the standpoint of defense, we absolutely controlled their running game, which is the key to their offense. We matched them shot for shot for 60 minutes physically. There was a time when we were called a finesse defense. The fact is, we matched them shot for shot. We caused their offense to get out of sync. We made plays in the secondary when we needed to make them. We were able to really take over the game defensively. (Ravens running back) Ray Rice, as we know, is a great, great back. He's a terrific back. (Le'Ron) McClain is, too. He's a hard-running guy, and it's a measure of the toughness of (Ravens running back) Willis McGahee that after maybe the worst knee injury I've ever witnessed in his senior year of college, he has come back to become a really productive NFL player. Like (Frank) Gore out in San Francisco, who knows what he might have been had he not sustained that injury. These are tough, tough guys. We stood in there and gave as good as we got. Of course, they also have a great offensive line, anchored by those huge tackles, who do a great job. They're physical, too. They're not finesse guys, by any means. We made plays in the passing game and forced them to turn the ball over. (Safety) Antoine (Bethea's) interception was exceptional – a great, great play. He's OK. He came out of it fine. He has a little bruise on the back, but fortunately it didn't bother his elbow or his shoulder, which is what we were worried about at the time. We pressured the passer and caused lots of dumpoffs and lots of errant throws when we had the opportunity. It was probably as good a defensive game as we've played in quite some time here. It's a tribute to our defensive players and it's a tribute to our defensive coaching staff, led by (defensive coordinator) Larry Coyer. In the kicking game, our punt coverage was magnificent. We punted the ball exceptionally well. In fact, two times (rookie punter) Pat (McAfee) had a punt when they had 10 rushers. If we had thrown the ball, if we'd had the courage to throw it – which we didn't (laughing) – it might have been a touchdown. But Pat had to get it off. He got it off quickly, and he did it well. We covered exceptionally well. (Tight end) Jacob Tamme started the game right off by causing a penalty with nothing but pure hustle on the kickoff coverage. (Cornerback) T.J. (Rushing) did a great job returning punts. We gained some positive yardage there in a game we knew was going to be a field-position game. Offensively, against a really, really good defense and a big, physical, tough, huge defensive line we more than held our own in pass protection and made plays down the field. We ran the ball well early. We did not run it well late, and that's an area we can improve and have to improve. We didn't do a good job of running it in the second half. We've got to improve that. Short-yardage, (running back) Mike Hart did a great job. We converted two short-yardage situations there with Mike in the game, which give us another way to move the ball in those kinds of situations. All in all, not a flawless performance. We had some alignment errors on defense early. I think you can attribute that to nerves, principally. We had really very sub-par run-blocking in the second half. Part of that, they earned. Playing against Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg is no easy task. We did a good job early when we had to run the ball. Our running backs did a great job running. Every single one of them did a great job running the ball. Of course, No. 18 (quarterback Peyton Manning) is 'Old Reliable.' If you give him time – and we gave him plenty of time; the only time he was pressure was when we just simply didn't execute the technique properly – we were going to make plays down the field. Now, they (the Ravens) did what we talked about last week. They did cover. They did play coverage. They didn't do a lot of high-intensity blitzing. They brought five on occasion. I can't remember six very often. One time they brought six and they got a sack out of it, but most of the time they played coverage and tried to squeeze the windows and let (safety) Ed Reed make some plays. He did. The game was epitomized by (Colts wide receiver) Pierre Garcon's hustle play – a great interception by Ed Reed and a greater play by Pierre to track him down and knock the ball out and have (tight end) Dallas (Clark) recover it. Of course, (Colts wide receiver) Reggie (Wayne) made an incredibly courageous play to stick the ball in the end zone just before the half. (Colts Head Coach) Jim (Caldwell) managed the clock at the end of the first half perfectly. The fact of the matter is he has done a great job all year, but he did a great job managing the clock toward the end to make sure we got the second touchdown. Once we got that, then we were breathing a lot easier.

Q: Were you surprised by the New York Jets' victory over San Diego?
A: I did feel it was going to be a close ball game, because San Diego since the loss of their nose tackle (Jamal Williams) has not played the run terribly well, so I thought the Jets would pound it, try to keep it close and have some success doing it. The missed field goals obviously were the difference in the game, and you can't ever predict that and certainly not with (Chargers kicker) Nate Kaeding, who is one of the most accurate kickers in the history of the game. He missed, for him, two very makeable kicks, and therein lies the difference in the game. While I was surprised, I wasn't shocked, especially as (CBS analyst) Bill Cowher said, when the Jets went in at halftime down 7-0, they might as well have been up 7-0 from the standpoint of their mental frame of mind and how they were going to play the second half. Then, of course, as time went by, what they planned on happening happened. They wore the Chargers down and they got a big play out of (running back) Shonn Greene, who is their big-play guy, and they were able to take the lead. The Chargers came roaring back, then played the last two minutes differently than they played them against us a year ago (in a 23-17 overtime victory over the Colts in the postseason). Bottom line, the Jets deserve to be here and so do we, and it should be a great football game.

Q: Anything different about the Jets in the last month?
A: They used different coverages Sunday, which we'll have to take a hard look at on tape, but certainly not offensively. They threw a little more on Sunday than they did the previous week against Cincinnati, but I think part of that – as Bill Cowher said – they were feeling comfortable. They were picking up the blitzes that San Diego used and they felt comfortable getting matchups in the secondary. They threw it a little more and they were behind for a good portion of the game, but it was essentially the same offense. You know with (Jets Head Coach) Rex Ryan you're always going to get the same defense.

Q: Their defensive end, Shaun Ellis, has a broken hand. Does that hurt them at all?
A: It hurts some. For a defensive lineman, it can be used as a club – which is a good thing. When you're playing against him, you have to be prepared for it, especially getting clubbed on the shoulder. It's an asset there, but defensive linemen basically have to grab, so in that sense, it's probably a bit of a hindrance, but I don't think it will be too terribly difficult for him.

Q: Can you comment on the fact that the Colts seemingly had a chance to eliminate the Jets from the playoffs and how they have to play them in the title game?
A: I guess we'll just have to go play them. I had no idea if we could eliminate them. We have to play the game. We don't control the fact that they beat Cincinnati in the playoffs, and the fact that they beat San Diego in the playoffs. We can only play who they tell us to play. What we need to do is play the best we can against whoever they tell us to play. That's what we'll do.

Q: RB-Joseph Addai and CB-Kelvin Hayden seem to be wearing slightly different jerseys than the rest of the Colts players this season. Why would that be?
A: You've got me stumped there. I do know this: many players tape their jerseys tightly to their shoulder pads and fans can't see that because the tape is on the shoulder pads. Sometimes, it can distort the fit. The reason they do that is they do not want to be horse-collared. The horse-collar tackle is very dangerous, so the so-called skill guys – the receivers, the running backs, the defensive backs and people like that – do not want to be horse-collared, so they tape the jerseys as tightly as they can. The offensive and defensive linemen always have done that, and they actually have form-fitting jerseys that are fitted for them so that they don't get in a position where anybody can grab cloth. That's how they can be held legally, so to speak. The taping of jerseys and the form-fitting of jerseys is a very common thing. I did not notice it with Joe or with Kelvin, but I'll take a look at the tape and see if I can get an answer.

Q: What did you learn from watching the two games Sunday?
A: I watched the San Diego game. I did not watch the Minnesota-Dallas game at all. I was watching our tape, as a matter of fact, and getting ready for some other administrative things that have to do with the playoffs. My impression of the San Diego game was that the Jets executed their game plan almost flawlessly. They ran the ball exceptionally well. They stayed with the run for four quarters, and it wore down San Diego's defense well enough that they got a big play from Shonn Greene, exactly as they did against Cincinnati. They threw the ball a little bit better, and as Bill Cowher pointed out at halftime, it looked as though (Jets quarterback Mark) Sanchez was getting a little more comfortable as the game went on, because they were picking up San Diego's blitzes pretty well and he was having a decent time standing back there in the pocket finding receivers. They gave him some good, quick throws that worked to his advantage. In the end, what it came down to – as you would expect it would in a game of that magnitude and with those disparate styles of play – was field-goal kicking. Unfortunately for San Diego, their kicker – who is a very accurate kicker – missed on the two close ones. If makes one of them, the game goes into overtime, and if he makes both, San Diego's coming here. There's a very thin line between success and failure in the National Football League. That's often missed with all of the punditry and the prognostication and what have you. It's never quite cut and dry. It's in the vast majority of the cases a very thin line between victory and defeat. Both teams make mistakes. No team plays a flawless game, but the failure to hit those field goals was critical. Against the Jets, against Baltimore – against people who play such great defense and such aggressive defense – you're only going to get so many chances. That's especially true when you couple that – as Baltimore and the Jets do – with a commitment to the running game and the use of the clock. You're only going to get so many chances. So, when have chances to score, you have to convert them.

Q: K-Matt Stover had a big, 44-yard field goal for the Colts Saturday – his longest since joining the team . . .
A: We gave the old guy two weeks of rest, so he came out there and banged it in.

Q: Can you explain why the challenge flag-kicking incident by Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson was a penalty Sunday? It really hurt San Diego.
A: It did. First of all, it was an unsportsmanlike act. You can't do anything basically that is going to demean the officials. Now, to be very honest with you, I did not see it on the telecast. I cannot tell you what degree of sin that is. That is in the eye of the beholder. The guys who have the power in the striped shirts thought that it was an act that deserved being penalized and they did. The bottom line is that in the rules you may not in any way create a demonstrative act that is going to show up the officials or demean them. You may not lay a hand on them in any circumstance whatsoever. It's unfortunate that that particular situation occurred, because I don't think that player meant any harm by it, but there's an old saying: You don't want to put the game in the hands of the officials. You don't do that if you can avoid it.

Q: You mentioned the courageous play by Reggie Wayne at the end of the first half . . .
A: It was a very gutsy play and a very heady play, and clearly when we looked at the replay upstairs it was obvious the ball had crossed the plane. They had a very good shot of it. A great play all around, and a pivotal play in the game.

Q: The fans had a huge impact Saturday . . .
A: The big thing I took away from Saturday's game is the fact that our fans – 67,000 of them – were so into it, so positive. They recognized what an impact they were going to have. They recognized what a good team we have. They recognized that together we really could create a really good home-field advantage, which helped us win.

Q: What do the Colts need to do to win Sunday?
A: We've got to make sure we defense the run as well as we did the other night. We've got to be sure we don't turn the ball over. We have to make sure we protect well when they blitz, and I'd like to see us do a measurably better job of running the ball than we did the other night in the second half. The run to finish the game is not an absolutely necessity. There are other ways you can win and we found other ways to win, but the other issues are a must – block up the blitzes, make plays when you get them, don't turn the ball over, stop the run. If we do those things, we're in good shape.

Q: Dallas Clark took a hard hit Saturday. Is he OK?
A: Dallas is fine. He was in Monday. He was fine. They checked him out. No problems. (Ravens middle linebacker) Ray Lewis made a great play on that play. Ray may not be as fast as he once was, but his instincts and his quickness have not diminished one iota. He gets to the ball and reads the play and comes with aggressiveness as well as he ever did. He's been in the league 14 years. That's a long time, and he's still a great player.

Q: There seem to be more helmets flying off than before? Is there anything that can be done?
A: There isn't anything special taking place. It seems to be happening more and more. It should not, because, if anything, technology has improved the way the chin straps fit and the helmets fit. I suspect maybe players aren't fastening the chin straps completely. There are two fasteners on each chin strap, so there are four per helmet. They may not be doing that and that is technically against the rules, but beyond that, there will be a concerted effort on the part of the Competition Committee to look at safety relative to hits in the head. We're going to take a comprehensive look at it and see if we can come up with some new and better ways to make sure we take head hits out of the game. The penalty Ray (Lewis) got for hitting (Colts wide receiver) Austin Collie was justified. It was the right call. It should take place. It should take place more often, and we need to get that kind of play changed in the sense that there's nothing wrong with hitting the receiver, but you shouldn't be hitting him in the head. Bottom line is the officials made the right call, but we have to do a better job as a league, and certainly as a Competition Committee, of looking at those kinds of hits and deciding what we want to try and tweak to the extent that we can make the game safer.

Q: Ravens safety Ed Reed says he's 50-50 on whether he will return . . .
A: Ed Reed is one great football player. You talk about instincts and speed and the ability to read plays – he covers more ground than (Hall of Fame baseball outfielder) Willie Mays back there. I'm telling you, he can go get the football. He has great instincts. Every quarterback I've been with has a safety that is his nemesis. In Buffalo, it was a New England safety with (Bills quarterback) Jim Kelly. New England wasn't very good then, but (Patriots safety) Fred Marion would just drive Jim Kelly crazy. Obviously, Ed Reed has done a better job than anybody in the league against us since Peyton has been here. He's a great player, and I hope he comes back. I just hope maybe he has a sick stomach or something when we play him.

Q: Really, Saturday night was one of those nights you'll remember . . .
A: It was an amazing night and we're going to have another great experience this coming weekend. It isn't this way every year. It's very hard to win a couple of games in the National Football League, much less 14. This is a special year and a special team. It was rocking Saturday. It really was rocking. You could tell the excitement was in the air an hour and a half or two hours before kickoff. There was a buzz in that building that is unique and unique to our city and unique to our fans when we get fired up. Big games like New England and like Saturday night are special, and you could feel that. You could feel that excitement.

Q: What's notable, too, is that this Colts team wins with class and a lot of professionalism . . .
A: All the credit goes to (Colts Owner) Jim Irsay, Jim Caldwell, a great coaching staff and a great group of players. These kinds of years, as I said before, are not normal. They're very special. We're used to being in the playoffs every year and after a while you can sort of take that for granted, but it's never anything to take for granted. It's very tough to do, and it speaks to the professionalism of all concerned. It speaks to the kind of enthusiasm that our fans bring. We wouldn't be able to do it without them. We thank them for their support. As I said, 'Get ready for a big night. Rest those throats up.'

Q: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell attended Saturday's game. Was he impressed with the environment?
A: There were a lot of people from the league office (on Saturday) who had not been here before. Everybody who had not been here said to me, 'Wow. What a stadium. Holy Mackerel. This is really something. This is amazing. This building captures the old-time stadium feel and it has a roof.' They were just effusive in their praise of the building and what a great football atmosphere it is. Great credit to everybody in the city and the state and the county for getting the job done and building that building. It's an absolute gem for our city, and it's going to be a driver of events and income and pride for this city for a long time to come.

Q: Have there been many apologies from people to you and Jim Caldwell for the late-season criticism?
A: We don't need any apologies. (Former Colts Head Coach) Tony Dungy had a great saying that he memorialized in very large print in our locker room, both at our practice facility and down at the stadium. It says, 'No Explanations, No Excuses.' That's the way we go about our business. You can add, 'No Apologies Necessary' to that. We're going to do our job to the best of our ability and do what we think is right based on our long experience in this game. We recognize that people are going to disagree with that from time to time, and they have every right to. In the end, all you can do is the best you can do. If it works out right, that's wonderful and if it doesn't, that's OK, too. At least you gave it your best shot.

Q: Did rookie WR-Austin Collie run the wrong route on the interception Saturday?
A: Not necessarily. He has a route responsibility there where he has to read two guys. He has to read the corner, the nickel back or the linebacker and then the safety. He read the coverage one way and Peyton read it another. It turns out that Peyton probably read it more correctly than Austin did, but I understand and we all understand why he did what he did. He saw two guys in a bracket and thought that he was supposed to sit down and didn't notice that Reed had gone over the top. It's not necessarily a mistake as much as it is an issue of experience and seeing that kind of coverage over and over again where you anticipate, 'OK, I know what they're trying to do here. They're disguising the coverage. They're making me think it's one thing when in reality it's another.' I know in Peyton's career, I bet 50 percent of his interceptions have come on balls that were tipped by receivers, where they didn't catch it, or it bounced off a shoulder pad or something like that. Less than 50 percent of his interceptions come on throws that go directly to a defender. He's one of the more accurate people in the history of the game, but those things happen and don't forget: Ed Reed is very likely a Hall of Famer, because of his range and his ability to anticipate and his ability to disguise. While the play didn't come off exactly the way it was designed to do, it doesn't mean anybody's specifically at fault. As Mike Murphy, our linebackers coach, is fond of saying, 'The other team gets paid, too.' They did a great job disguising the coverage and forcing the play and ultimately making the play. Then, Pierre Garcon made a better play by hustling back and knocking the ball out.

Q: Is it accurate to say the Jets are similar to the Ravens in a lot of ways?
A: I think that's to some degree accurate. I think you'll see much more blitzing from the Jets than we did from the Ravens. The Ravens elected against New England (in the Wild Card round) and against us basically to play coverage. I think the Jets will do less of that. I think they believe in coming after you and creating havoc and creating bad plays. Both teams do an exceptional job of defensing the run – the Jets, principally, with their linebackers; the Ravens up front with that great front three. Offensively, they are pretty much mirror images except that Sanchez is healthy and I'm not sure (Ravens quarterback Joe) Flacco was 100 percent with that hip situation. You could see a lot more movement out of Sanchez than perhaps Flacco was capable of doing. Sanchez has every bit as good an arm as Flacco; obviously not the experience level, but he has played in a lot of big games at the University of Southern California, and he has conducted himself magnificently throughout the playoffs, so as Rex Ryan said, 'He's no longer a rookie; he has played 14 games.' There are a lot similarities, but I think you'll see more blitzing from the Jets, and in Shonn Greene the Jets have a very special back who has fresh legs and who can run through whatever you put in his way, he's going to knock you over. He's a great back.

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