As the research analyst for NFL Network's NFL RedZone, Elliot Harrison watched all 267 games in the 2010 season. We asked him to rank the 20 most memorable.
Football as chess.
OK, it doesn't have a ring to it. But if I had to give a Hollywood logline to the Jets-Colts wild-card playoff, that would be most fitting.
So, what made this evening game -- which should've been a letdown after the Seahawks-Saints playoff earlier in the day -- so good that it was wedged in the memory banks months later?
If you grew up liking board games, or better yet, playing Strat-O-Matic Football, this Bud was for you. If you were playing "Madden '92" on a Sega Genesis, then this playoff was even better than strategizing after the ambulance came out to retrieve a crushed Webster Slaughter. If you're into drama, let's just say AMC's "Breaking Bad" had nothing on Jets-Colts.
First, there was Rex Ryan and staff mixing it up against Peyton Manning, not allowing him to get into a rhythm. The oft-underrated Colts defense would do what it does, bend but not break. Sometimes Indy allowed the Jets' offense to create mismatches, only to be bailed out by Mark Sanchez misfiring.
I texted Michael Lombardi throughout the first half, cyber-babbling about how the Jets kept getting Dustin Keller open (six times!), only to leave him empty-handed.
Meanwhile, the Jets' ground attack thrived, featuring a rejuvenated LaDainian Tomlinson. But the genius of the Colts' defense is not suffocating defense, but rather that it makes teams methodically work to get scores. Eventually an opponent screws up, either with a penalty or turnover, or Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis get a sack at just the right time.
Both clubs would adjust, making the second half as entertaining as any half of football all year. The Colts got stopped on third-and-1 three times, and the Jets finally got the air game going. In fact, the Brian Schottenheimer-led offense manufactured a championship drive that spilled from the third to the fourth quarter ... a march that took nearly 10 minutes off the game clock. That possession made it 14-13 Jets.
Then Manning channeled his inner Peyton Manning, moving the Colts 48 yards in no time to set up a potential winning field goal. Adam Vinatieri channeled his inner Adam Vinatieri, and made the 50-yarder look as effortless as a Nerf basketball free throw.
Then things got tight.
After a big Antonio Cromartie kick return, Sanchez played clutch, including hooking up with Braylon Edwards on a huge sideline pass to Braylon Edwards for 18 yards. This after the Colts inexplicably called a timeout, allowing the Jets to set up the play.
Finally, Nick Folk forgot he was, in fact, Nick Folk, and kicked a winner, tying a bow on one of the best games of 2010.
Same ol' situation
As accurate a passer as Manning has traditionally been, one of the keys to his game was his collaboration with former offensive coordinator Tom Moore and their uncanny ability to create mismatches in the passing game.
Manning carried the iso-the-weak-defender-flame in the second quarter, finding Pierre Garcon in single coverage with Cromartie, and hitting him in stride on the skinny post.
Cromartie, as usual, failed to use his long arms to jam effectively near the line.
Boneheaded play of the game
The Colts had just stopped the Jets on fourth down with 3:10 left to go. That's when one of Indy's 6 billion wideouts played like the 6 billionth wideout on the roster ... running into Jets punter Steve Weatherford.
Heckuva Vlade Divac flop by Weatherford, however.
I could wax poetic about Jim Caldwell's odd choice to call a timeout with 29 seconds left, essentially allowing the Jets more time to craft a good play to give Folk a shorter kick. I think I'll let a couple of my colleagues question this decision. Each are a bit more qualified to, well, question this decision.
Why is this game No. 6 of 2010?
This was one game this season in which I was completely locked in; it reminded me of playing the "Legend of Kage" on my Nintendo and being completely engaged, no matter how loud my brother played Boston on his Fender or how much my dog painted and re-painted one side of my face.
The match of wits between Ryan and Manning was wicked. On the other side of the ball, Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer kept creating favorable matchups in the first half, only to have Sanchez (painfully) miss them. But the young quarterback rebounded nicely to deliver a win.
As with any great playoff game, No. 6 on our list came down to controversial play calls, some big-time throws and two very clutch kicks.
Why not higher?
At this point, it's hard to get higher. But there might've been one 2010 playoff game that bounced around in everyone's football consciousness a little more than this one.