National Columnist

Colts coaching decision proves fatal ... and mystifying


INDIANAPOLIS -- The Jets beat the Colts 17-16 on Nick Folk's 32-yard field goal as time expired Saturday, advancing the Jets to the AFC semifinals. Folk's kick started inside the right upright, began to slice outside, then drew comfortably back for the winning points.

Those are the facts of the kick, but if that's all you know about the kick that ended one season while extending another, you're missing something. You're missing perhaps the biggest thing, because that final kick was never going to happen. Not from point-blank, 32-yard range. It wasn't going to be that easy for Folk until the key coaching decision of this game.

A coaching decision by the Colts.

A brutal mistake by the Colts.

True story. Sad, but true. The Indianapolis sideline rescued the Jets sideline, because the Jets were prepared to win or lose with a long field goal by Folk. A lot longer than 32 yards, I mean. With 36 seconds left, that was the decision from coach Rex Ryan: Play for a field goal of 50-something yards. It was a curious decision -- but then, Rex Ryan has curious thoughts when it comes to feet.

The Jets had the ball at the Indianapolis 34 with one timeout and 36 seconds left. Folk already had told Ryan he felt good kicking from the Colts' 35, but that was typical Jets bravado. Folk felt good from the 35? Really? That would be a 53-yard field goal, and on the season Folk was 2-for-5 on kicks of 50 yards or longer.

"I told them the 35 was good for me," Folk said.

That's what Folk said, so that's what Ryan accepted. On first down from the 34, Ryan called for a running play toward the middle of the field. LaDainian Tomlinson gained two yards. That left the ball at the Colts' 32, which left Folk looking at a 50-yarder.

"We were trying to center the ball for me," Folk said. "Get it off the hash mark."

With 29 seconds and one timeout left, the Jets were going to call one last play, another run, when the Colts did the damndest thing. They called timeout.

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Given time to get the right play, the Jets talked it out. It was a group effort. New York considered calling another running play anyway, but 6-foot-3 receiver Braylon Edwards objected. Since the Colts had given New York time to talk it out, Edwards noted that he was being single-covered by 5-10 Colts cornerback Jacob Lacey. He wanted the ball.

Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer relented, and suggested a certain pass play. This time, quarterback Mark Sanchez objected. (Told you -- this was a group effort.) Anyway, Schottenheimer relented a second time.

Here, Mark, he told Sanchez. You call the play.

No animosity. All trust. Schottenheimer trusted Sanchez to call a play that would work, and Sanchez called a streak to Edwards down the right sideline. It worked -- easily, with Edwards rising high above Lacey for the catch -- for 18 yards. The clock ran down to three seconds, and the Jets called their final timeout.

Now Folk was staring at a 32-yard field goal. As I told you earlier, Folk was just 2-for-5 on the season from 50 yards and longer. But guess what he was on kicks of less than 40 yards.

He was 14-for-16.

Make that 15-for-17.

Folk drilled the 32-yarder, and Lucas Oil Stadium went quiet. On the Colts sideline, they had to be second-guessing the timeout that bought the Jets another passing play, and bought Folk another 18 yards closer to the uprights. Well, that's what you might think. But you'd be wrong.

Even with 15 minutes after the game to think about it, Colts coach Jim Caldwell announced to the media that he was determined to call that timeout. He wanted the Jets -- who were looking at a 50-yard field goal, remember -- to run one more play before trying the winning kick. Why? Well, I don't know why. I can't make any sense of it. Here's the entirety of what Caldwell said when he was asked if he thought the Jets were going to run down the clock before taking a 50-yard field goal.

You make sense of it.

"I didn't care [if they were]," Caldwell said. "I was going to make sure they couldn't. Make them snap the ball. They were in field goal range."

Sorry, but I have to interrupt to remind you that the Jets were in 40-percent field goal range. That's what 2-for-5 is. It's 40 percent. Back to Caldwell.

"They were in field goal range," he was saying. "So we wanted to try to make them snap the ball as many times as they possibly could. Wasn't going to let them just sit there and take [the clock] down. So [we] used a timeout in that situation."

As a professional writer, trained to use words, here's my reaction to that:



Maybe Caldwell thought the Jets would fumble a snap. Maybe he thought Sanchez would throw an interception. Maybe, Caldwell thought, if the Jets kept snapping the ball the darned thing would run out of air. Game over, on account of flat football.

That's silly, but so was Caldwell's decision. The Jets were going to settle for a less than 50-50 proposition. The Colts forced them to reconsider. It took a village, but the Jets reconsidered and threw the pass that set up Folk.

Fifteen minutes later, Caldwell hadn't seen the error of his ways.

He'll have plenty of time to think about it now.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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