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NFL Preview - Indianapolis (2-2) at N.Y. Jets (2-3)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - In reality, the New York Jets' season-opening 48-point outburst in a Week 1 defeat of the Buffalo Bills was only a month ago.
It just seems like 10 years.
Coach Rex Ryan and Co., losers of three out of four amid a rash of injuries and ineffectiveness since that breakout triumph, return to the MetLife Stadium circus tent this Sunday when they entertain No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck and the resurgent Indianapolis Colts.
Ryan is insisting embattled starting quarterback Mark Sanchez, who's completed less than 50 percent of his passes four times in five games, will keep his job -- in spite of a gradually increasing drumbeat for the world's most popular second-stringer, Tim Tebow.
Sanchez, a former Southern Cal draftee, was 14-of-31 with a touchdown and two interceptions in a 23-17 loss to Houston on Monday, dropping his overall completion percentage to a league-worst 48.4.
The Jets are 30th in the league with 293.4 yards per game.
"Yeah, no question (Sanchez will start)," Ryan said. "I'm not going to get into the what-ifs and all that. We're not preparing to lose, that's for sure. We're thinking we're going to win, starting this week."
Winners just twice in a lost season without an injured Peyton Manning in 2011, the Colts equaled that total last week with an emotional 30-27 defeat of the Green Bay Packers that came just six days after head coach Chuck Pagano went public with a leukemia diagnosis.
Interim coach Bruce Arians stood by and watched as Luck threw 55 passes and completed 31 of them for 362 yards with two touchdowns. The youngster led a 13-play, 85-yard drive to win it, ending with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne with 35 seconds remaining.
"That is what you're looking for in a quarterback. That grit. That will to win," Arians said. "A rookie, I don't put (him) statistically in the categories with (Tom) Brady and those guys. His passer rating is not going to be as high as theirs, but he's playing at a level that far exceeds where he should be at this time."
His primary target has been soon-to-be 35-year-old veteran Wayne, who caught 13 passes for 212 yards -- a career best -- against the Packers.
His 506 receiving yards in four games are third in the league.
"Those were a lot of big situations that he comes up in," Luck said. "It's not that hard to throw the ball in the vicinity of a receiver and he goes out and makes an amazing catch. He made everybody look good."
Wayne was inspired by Pagano, who'll be out indefinitely while undergoing treatment and wrote a letter to the team prior to last week�s game demanding the players focus on football.
"Chuck's instilled a lot in us," Wayne said. "His whole motto since day one, the first meeting, has been team, team, team, team. Nothing else. So we've wanted to do it every week as a team. That's all we practice, that's all we preach."
Wayne has one 100-yard game and no touchdowns in seven games against the Jets.
On the ground, Indianapolis will face a New York rush defense that's second to last in the league with 172 yards allowed per game. However, the Colts' No. 1 runner, Donald Brown, is out after surgery to repair cartilage in his knee that was damaged against the Packers.
Rookie Vick Ballard will get the start in place of Brown.
For New York on offense, not much has been going well on the ground either. Shonn Greene's scoring run in Week 1 is its only one of the season and the Jets' 3.2-yard average is tied for 31st in the NFL.
"We have to get the run game going," Ryan said. "If we can run the ball, it'll open up a lot of things in the passing game. We have to be more efficient running the football."
Wayne caught one pass for one yard while Sanchez went 18-of-31 for 189 yards and an interception in the Jets' 17-16 wild-card victory Jan. 8, 2011, the teams' most recent meeting and Manning's last active game as a Colt.
In the regular season, the Colts lead the all-time series, 40-26. New York won, 29-15, in Indianapolis in 2009, while Indianapolis won, 31-28, the last the teams met on the Jets' home field in 2006.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
A fifth-round pick in April -- 170th overall -- Ballard gets his first pro start in the absence of Brown and will see if he can generate the same sort of success that other backs have managed thus far against the Jets.
Indianapolis cranked up the physicality while churning out 119 ground yards against Green Bay in Week 5, and will lean on the 5-foot-10, 219-pound Ballard, who's gained 42 yards on 21 carries in limited duty.
New York's troubles with the run began with Buffalo's C.J. Spiller in the Week 1 win and have continued since, including 200-plus allowed against San Francisco, when Niners defensive back Carlos Rogers claimed the Jets defense quit.
With New England on the horizon next week and a pair of ugly losses to the Texans and Niners in the immediate rear-view mirror, this is as close to a must-win as Ryan has had in three-plus years in New York. And with the season teetering on the verge of an early abyss, it's also a referendum for Sanchez, who's lost six of eight starts since an 8-5 beginning to 2011.
Expect Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to throw just enough chaos at Luck to get it done, but, if not, prepare for the second coming of No. 15.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jets 20, Colts 14
10/11 12:44:31 ET
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