INDIANAPOLIS -- Before one of the greatest moments in New York Jets playoff history, the haunting memory from one of the worst came rushing back.
The Doug Brien debacle, Jan. 15, 2005.
With precious seconds ticking away in Saturday night's AFC wild-card game and with the Jets trying to figure out a way to set up Nick Folk for a potential winning field goal against the Indianapolis Colts, Jerricho Cotchery and Brandon Moore thought back to that infamous night in Pittsburgh.
"I had '04 in my head all the way," Cotchery said, referring to the overtime loss in the divisional round.
"It's funny you mention that, because I did have flashbacks to Pittsburgh, just the confusion," Moore said, smiling.
They didn't mind reliving the horror story on this night, because this had a happily-ever-after ending for the Jets -- a 17-16 victory on Folk's 32-yard field goal as time expired. It was a feel-good moment for Folk, who rebounded from a November slump that had nearly cost him his job. But for a few frantic seconds, when the Jets didn't seem to have a good handle on their endgame strategy, it was looking like Pittsburgh all over again.
That nightmare is seared into the hearts and minds of every Jets fan, when Brien missed a 43-yard field goal at the end of regulation because Herm Edwards' Keystone Kops offense couldn't figure out a way to get the ball closer. A couple of minutes earlier, Brien had missed from 47 yards. And that was the end of Brien's career with the Jets.
This time, the Jets did their kicker a big favor by not crawling into the fetal position. Oh, it looked that way for a bit, when they called an inside handoff to LaDainian Tomlinson at the Colts' 34 with 36 seconds left -- a gain of only 2 yards. Folk told the coaches that he felt comfortable inside the 35, so that was the basis for their strategy. But it would've been ridiculous to try anything beyond 50.
"We were letting the clock run down, and it was a little shaky as to what we were going to do," Moore said, describing the moment when the Pittsburgh flashbacks started.
Colts coach Jim Caldwell did the Jets a huge favor by using his final timeout with 29 seconds left. That allowed the Jets to re-evaluate on the sideline, which was a good thing because they decided to attack. Braylon Edwards said he could beat cornerback Jacob Lacey in man-to-man coverage, so Mark Sanchez suggested a back-shoulder fade to Edwards. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer basically said, "Go for it."
With the Super Bowl-or-bust season on the line, the second-year quarterback called the play -- an aggressive play that resulted in an 18-yard completion. That's the thing about these Rex Ryan-coached Jets: It's not always pretty, but they've got onions.
"I knew we already had our landmark, but we had time and we had a timeout," Cotchery said. "I said, 'We gotta go for it.' When I heard the play coming out of Mark's mouth, I was like, 'This is how it has to be.' That's how you win games, when you play like that. It was music to my ears."
Edwards' catch got the ball down to the Colts' 14, and there were a few more hairy seconds as the clock ticked toward zero. Finally, Ryan called his final timeout with three seconds left, and in came Folk, who avoided Brien-like infamy by calmly splitting the uprights to end Peyton Manning's season.
Cue the "Folk Hero" headlines.
"I really wasn't thinking much," Folk said, recounting the most important kick of his life. "I was just trying to go out there and make it look like an extra point."
Folk called it "a pretty big kick in my book," and that was the understatement of the year. Be honest: Were you totally confident in Folk? He was money for the first eight games, but he hit a rough patch and felt the heat when the Jets brought in veteran free agent Kris Brown for a tryout. Since that not-so-subtle message, Folk has made 9 of 10 field goal attempts.
In the crucible of a playoff game, Folk outshined the greatest clutch kicker in history, Adam Vinatieri, who made a 50-yarder with 53 seconds left that gave the Colts a 16-14 lead. It turned into a game of H-O-R-S-E for the two kickers, as in, "Can you top this?"
Folk topped it, and just like that, the Jets are headed to Foxborough for the rematch with the New England Patriots, who embarrassed them five weeks ago, 45-3. It will take a monumental effort to upset the Belichicks, but you know the Jets will put up a fight.
They showed their resilience in Peyton's House, overcoming 7-0, 10-7 and 16-14 deficits. In the end, Sanchez made the plays, Edwards made the big catch and the offensive line -- great all night -- gave Sanchez time to throw.
As they hurried upfield, doing what they've done so many times this season, Moore turned to center Nick Mangold and said, "I don't know if I can take this again." Later, Moore added, "My stomach was rolling."
There would be no Doug Brien redux. Six years later, they got it right.