Pennington-led Jets corral Colts, storm to 41-0 victory


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - It has been a mission for Herman Edwards since he arrived in New York with his fumble-recovery fame and marching orders to pull off another miracle: Lift a franchise out of its mostly laughable history and change the meaning of the word "Jets."

With a chance to take the next step in a stunning season yesterday, the Jets did not simply knock on the playoff door this time. They blew it open and charged through, like a band of marauders determined to kick the out-of-town kids off their playground.

They did not bow out in the wild-card round, as they did last season in Oakland. They did not merely beat the Indianapolis Colts, they embarrassed them, 41-0, in the first shutout and most lopsided playoff victory in Jets history.

"Every time you do something around here, you're either trying to kill a ghost or trying not to be a ghost," Edwards said. "We killed a ghost today, I guess."

The story lines are starting to sound like a broken record: Chad Pennington was nearly perfect in his playoff debut, and the same defense that surrendered more than 350 yards in each of the first six games made another elite quarterback look ridiculous. This time, it was Peyton Manning, who was fed his own audibles for dinner in a 14-for-31, 137-yard, two-interception meltdown.

The scoreboard said it all, as did a banner that fans unfurled behind the Jets' sideline in the fourth quarter: J-E-T-S, as in "Just Expect The Super Bowl."

"This sends a message to everybody that we're for real and we deserve to be here," defensive tackle Josh Evans said. "We're not coming in trying to go play-for-play with you. We're coming in to beat you down and psych you out."

Mission accomplished. Next up is a trip to Oakland (if the Steelers beat the Browns today, or to Tennessee (if Cleveland wins). The Jets are so confident that they don't care either way.

"Right now, this team is playing better ball on every side of the ball than any team I've been a part of," said running back Curtis Martin, who went to the Super Bowl with the New England Patriots six years ago. "The Super Bowl team that we had in New England won games, but we didn't win them as soundly as we won today."

Pennington didn't blink, completing 19 of 25 for 222 yards and touchdown passes to Richie Anderson, Santana Moss and rookie Chris Baker.

"I'm just proud of my teammates and how we've been able to come together," Pennington said. "What I'm most proud of, as you can see in everyone's eyes, is that we are not satisfied."

It began with a perfectly executed screen pass from Pennington to fullback Anderson, who got lead blocks from center Kevin Mawae, guard Randy Thomas and tight end Anthony Becht on his way to a 56-yard play that made it 7-0 in the first quarter. Wayne Chrebet, who was running downfield as a decoy, turned and threw the final block.

Manning, 0-3 in playoff games, had an awful day against a defense that not only refused to fall for his frequent audibles but also confused him with its own movement. John Abraham got the only sack, but constant pressure and disguised coverages forced Manning into rushed throws all day.

"He's still Peyton Manning," linebacker James Darling said. "He's one of the best in the game, but there were definitely points in the game that I think we confused him a little bit."

Said Manning: "I tried to be patient, but I got to be impatient because the more you get in the hole, they more they take you out of your game plan. So I ended up doing a lot of things I shouldn't have."

The Jets seemed to steal the Colts' will, even before the score got out of control. Ray Mickens couldn't believe he recovered Troy Walters' fumbled kickoff in the second quarter, forced by Khary Campbell, because he saw the ball on the ground about 10 yards away.

"I said, 'Somebody's going to get to that before I do,' " Mickens said, dumbfounded. "But nobody wanted it, so I got it."

After Mickens' recovery, LaMont Jordan eventually swept left from the 1 for a 17-point lead. Jordan (Maryland) rushed for 102 yards - including 89 in the second half - and two touchdowns on 20 carries. New York had 180 rushing yards.

The score became 24-0 with 37 seconds remaining in the first half when Pennington rolled out and found Moss alone in the right corner of the end zone. Moss grabbed the high throw and barely got both feet inbounds.

The extent of the beating was difficult for Edwards to acknowledge, considering it was inflicted upon his mentor, Tony Dungy, a man he regards like a brother. "He's the reason I'm standing here," Edwards said.

Edwards said the Jets are still standing because they had the will to stay together after a 2-5 start. The feeling in the locker room was there are still a few games left to prove that to anyone who still doubts them.

"We didn't overreact to this win," Mickens said. "We feel like we can do a lot more. This wasn't the Super Bowl for us. This season ain't over."

Ken Berger is a reporter for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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