In the end, Peyton Manning proved to be bigger than the momentum of the Jets.
A 17-6 lead evaporated as Manning eviscerated the Jets defensive backs not named Darrelle Revis en route to a 30-17 victory and a second career berth in the Super Bowl. The game wasn't as one-sided as the final score might indicate.
The impossible dream seemed to be a real possibility when the Jets took a 17-6 lead with 2:18 left in the first half. Mark Sanchez was having the football equivalent of a Bar Mitzvah, throwing two touchdowns on plays that separate the men from the boys as the ritual ceremony does for young Jews. But Manning realized that Dwight Lowery couldn't stop Austin Collie or Pierre Garcon, a deficiency that wound up costing the Jets dearly in the remaining 32 minutes of football.
It would be easy to say that Manning proved his worth as an all-time great, but one has to wonder what professional quarterback wouldn't realize that Lowery was ripe for the picking. Inserted for Lito Sheppard with little warning on Sunday morning, Lowery assured the Colts would have an open receiver on every play and put his name aside Doug Brien, Keith Byars and Richard Todd on the list of Jets who cost the team a chance to play for the title.
It's not all on Lowery. Jay Feely's two missed field goals will haunt Jets fans until next season and Shonn Greene's injury meant that the Jets offense couldn't find a dimension that would enable them to keep the dream alive in the final 30 minutes. The combination of the three plus the mastery of the way Manning runs an offense was too much for the Jets to overcome on a night when they needed everything to break their way.
The good news is that the Jets are on the right track. Another cornerback and a pass rusher would make this defense impossible to beat and Sanchez has shown every skill you look for in a young quarterback. If they stay the course, the Rex Ryan era will have better days than this one and it will be all the sweeter for the pain felt on this Sunday in January.