INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Mark Sanchez connected with Braylon Edwards on an 80-yard touchdown pass, giving the New York Jets a 7-3 lead over the Indianapolis Colts early in the second quarter of the AFC championship game Sunday.
After the Jets bottled up Peyton Manning in a scoreless first quarter, Matt Stover gave the Colts a brief lead with a 25-yard field goal on the first play of the second period.
But the Jets and their rookie quarterback came right back with a quick strike. Sanchez found Edwards zipping down the left sideline ahead of Jacob Lacey, playing for the injured Jarraud Powers, and went untouched into the end zone.
The TD may’ve marked the start of a high-scoring game in the matchup of a star quarterback against a rising NFL newcomer. It also was the first time a pair of rookie head coaches faced each other in a conference championship, with Rex Ryan leading the Jets and Jim Caldwell leading the Colts.
The Jets missed a chance to take an early lead when Jay Feely was wide right on a 44-yard field-goal attempt with 6:40 remaining in the opening quarter. After New York’s first offensive possession stalled at its own 27, Feely’s kick whizzed a few inches from the outside of the right upright.
The winner of the game between the Colts (15-2) and Jets (11-7) will advance to the Super Bowl in Miami against either Minnesota or New Orleans, playing in the NFC championship later Sunday.
Indianapolis started its scoring drive on its 11, but Manning found Pierre Garcon for consecutive passes of 27 and 36 yards to get down to the 9. Garcon caught a 7-yard pass on third-and-goal from the 14, setting up Stover’s kick.
Manning, sacked only 10 times in the regular season, had his first possession short-circuited by David Harris’ sack on third-and-8 from the Colts 35.
The game got off to an auspicious start when referee Tony Corrente mistakenly said, “The New York Giants call tails,” before the coin toss.
The last time these teams played, Indianapolis was undefeated and on an NFL record 23-game regular-season winning streak. Instead of going for a perfect season, though, Caldwell pulled Manning and several other stars with a 15-10 lead with 6 minutes to go in the third quarter. Sanchez helped the Jets rally for a 29-15 victory that jump-started their run to the AFC championship.
Fans were upset by the Colts’ decision to pass up perfection, and a national debate began about whether Indianapolis did the right thing. The overriding theme of the week leading to this game was that it was a chance for the Colts to redeem themselves against the Jets.
New York was sparked by the victory at Indianapolis, beating AFC North champion Cincinnati in the Giants Stadium finale the following week and clinching a playoff spot. The Jets then won the wild-card rematch against the Bengals at Cincinnati and upset the high-scoring Chargers 17-14 in San Diego last Sunday.
Sanchez is only the fourth rookie quarterback to get his team into a conference championship game, joining Tampa Bay’s Shaun King, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco. He’s also trying to become the first to get to the Super Bowl.
It’s the third AFC championship game for the Jets, and first since they lost to the Broncos in Denver in 1999.
The Jets are trying to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1969, when Broadway Joe delivered the franchise’s only title. Ryan’s father, Buddy, was a defensive assistant on that team that upset the Baltimore Colts.
The Colts are 5-2 in their last seven home playoff games and were looking for their second Super Bowl title in four years.
Indianapolis running back Joseph Addai went out with a shoulder injury, but the Colts said his return was probable.
Powers was inactive after he did not practice all week because of a left foot injury.