NEW YORK – Rex Ryan crossed one major item off his personal wish list.
Finally beat Peyton Manning. Check.
Next up for the confident coach and his New York Jets: A chance at revenge against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. But first came a celebration after a 17-16 victory over Manning and the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night.
"I just want to enjoy beating him once," linebacker Bart Scott said after the game. "It just feels good to finally get it."
That's exactly how Ryan felt after previously being 1-5 against Manning since 2005, when he was Baltimore's defensive coordinator. That one win came with an asterisk since the Colts rested their quarterback in the second half late last season despite being undefeated.
"I wasn't going to take the same butt-kicking that I usually take from him," Ryan said.
During the days leading to the game, Ryan said wanting to defeat Manning was "personal." And, he wasn't kidding.
"Tell you what: We've been in some close ones this year," Ryan said. "But to pull this out against a great football team, and a great quarterback, it was a Herculean effort by our team. ... I'm thankful I finally got to beat Peyton Manning."
After Nick Folk's 32-yard field goal as time expired, Ryan walked off the field in Indianapolis a winner, advancing to the next round of the playoffs and ending Manning's season.
"He feels like how I normally feel against him," said Ryan, a year after being beaten by the Colts in the AFC championship game.
Now, it's on to Foxborough, Mass., where the Jets (12-5) and Patriots (14-2) will play out the latest chapter of their always interesting — and heated — rivalry. Moments after a blowout loss a month ago, Ryan said he wanted to go out and immediately play the Patriots again.
It took a few weeks, but he's getting his chance.
"We've been wanting the Patriots for a while now," tight end Dustin Keller said.
Then again, be careful what you wish for. The teams split the season series, with each winning at home, but the Jets' 45-3 loss on Dec. 6 sent them spiraling down a stretch in which they lost three of four. New York was tied with New England for the best record in the conference at the time, but the Patriots sent a loud message that they're still in another class.
At least for now.
Ryan made it clear from the time he took over as New York's coach that he didn't come here "to kiss Bill Belichick's rings" and that his plans didn't include the Jets playing second fiddle to the Patriots in the AFC. A win next Sunday would allow Ryan to put a huge check to another thing on his list.
Impossible? Not at all. After all, the Jets have already won three of four road playoff games in Ryan's two seasons.
"That is unheard of and huge, especially in his first two years," Keller said. "He is the one who motivates us and gets us to do it."
Ryan added fuel to the rivalry a few days ago when he said no one studies the game the way Manning does, even though Brady "thinks he does." There's probably plenty more yapping to go in the days ahead, and story lines are never in short supply when these teams get together.
"I think everyone knows what the importance of the game is," Belichick said. "I don't think it changes a whole lot. We all know this is a one-game season. They know it. We know it. Both teams prepare for it that way."
The Jets are feeling pretty good about themselves after beating the Colts, and because of the way they did it.
Manning had the ball with the game on the line, and moved the Colts into position for a go-ahead field goal with 53 seconds left. It could have been a deflating turn of events for the Jets, who had little time on the clock to work with.
Turns out, they had plenty.
"We knew that even when we were down, we know we are capable of doing it," running back Shonn Greene said. "We showed that early on in the season, coming back and getting a victory. I knew we had it in us. We all stuck together and got the job done."
Particularly Mark Sanchez, the second-year quarterback who has played some of his best football as a pro in the past two postseasons. After the Colts surprisingly called a timeout with 29 seconds left and the ball at the Indianapolis 32, Sanchez found Braylon Edwards along the right sideline for an 18-yard completion to the Colts 14.
It was Sanchez's call all the way, and one that won it for the Jets.
"I wasn't thrilled with the first call," Sanchez said, adding that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer gave him the freedom to go with what he wanted. "I know I could make that throw last year. But I don't know if I could make the call."
Added Ryan: "That's how much he grew up."
A few moments later, Folk jogged onto the field and finally kicked Ryan and the Jets past Manning and the Colts.
"It's a great feeling," Sanchez said, "coming back to Indy and getting a win against a great quarterback, a great team and a really dominant franchise."