Jets CB Justin Miller tries to defend Colts WR Reggie Wayne in the Jets 31-28 loss on Sunday. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Just minutes before Sunday’s Jets game against the mighty Indianapolis Colts was set to start, the dark grey clouds that had covered Giants Stadium in wind and driving rain all morning disappeared, brightening the field for game time. The Jets kept it lit up for the majority of the bout, but in the fourth quarter, Peyton Manning and the Colts rained on the Jets parade.
The game, which was expected to be dominated by the Colts and their relentless passing game, was actually much closer than anyone could have predicted. The Jets, who entered the contest as nine-point underdogs despite playing on their home turf, overcame early adversity to put up quite a fight against the offensive powerhouse.
In a post-game press conference, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy had nothing but compliments for the Jets and their coaching staff. “I have to take my hat off to the New York Jets and their staff. They did a great job, they played to win,” he stated. “They did what you need to do to slow us down”
The game began similar to the team’s other three games this season with a scoreless first quarter for the Jets offense. Jets QB Chad Pennington completed just two passes in the opening period for a sickly five yards, plus he was sacked twice for -18 yards, making his net passing total in the quarter -13 yards. The first of the two sacks was even more damaging since Pennington fumbled on the play, handing the ball to the Colts deep in Jets territory. Four plays later, Indy opened up a seven to nothing lead.
Rookie D’Brickashaw Ferguson was beaten by veteran DE Robert Mathis on the sack. After the play, Ferguson did a fine job of securing his side of the offensive line throughout the day. G Pete Kendall allowed the other sack of the quarter. Kendall started the game after missing the previous two with a hamstring injury.
Peyton Manning, the QB of the Colts, also had a terrible opening quarter. The two-time MVP completed just one pass for nine yards, and was sacked once by Jets DE Shaun Ellis for a loss of 12 yards. Ellis recorded a second sack later in the game.
The Colts, fully aware that the Jets defense intended to focus on their passing game, opened up the game by pounding the ball on the ground with their two running backs, Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai. For the game, the pair netted 159 rushing yards while scoring a touchdown each.
New York owned the second quarter, thanks to solid play by the offense as well as some trickery from rookie Jets Coach Eric Mangini. After the Jets scored a touchdown early on a 33-yard pass to WR Jericho Cotchery, Mangini called for an onside kick on the kickoff. The play caught Indy off guard and the Jets recovered, eventually leading to one of RB Kevan Barlow’s two touchdowns on the day. Barlow got the start in place of RB Derrick Blaylock, who was inactive for Sunday’s game.
The Colts ran a well-sustained drive at the end of the second quarter, culminating in a two-yard touchdown run by rookie RB Joseph Addai that sent the teams into the locker rooms with a 14-14 tie at the half.
The third quarter didn’t consist of any scoring for either squad, although the Jets had a great opportunity and squandered it. Pennington and RB Cedric Houston, who had 26 yards on seven attempts on the drive, helped march the Jets deep into Indianapolis territory. After an offside penalty on Indy’s Robert Mathis gave the Jets a first-and-goal from the seven yard line, it seemed like nothing could go wrong for the Jets.
However, two plays later Houston went down with an apparent leg injury that required him to be carted into the locker room, and to make matters worse, Mangini opted to go for it on fourth down and Pennington was intercepted in the endzone. A great drive for the Jets ended with no points, an injured running back, and a whole lot of second-guessing for Coach Mangini.
Mangini explained his decision to go for it on fourth down at a post-game press conference. “We were planning it that way,” Mangini told reporters, explaining that against an explosive offense like the Colts, it was much more important to get the touchdown.
Then the game got crazy. The Colts led off the fourth quarter with a chip-shot field goal by backup-kicker Martin Gramatica, only to be upstaged by the Jets, who marched up the field with the help of rookie RB Leon Washington and eventually scored seven on Barlow’s second touchdown of the afternoon. The score gave the Jets their first lead of the game, but it didn’t last long. A commanding drive led by Peyton Manning that ended with a touchdown catch by WR Brandon Fletcher put the Colts ahead with under five minutes remaining.
All hope was lost… for about 20 seconds, at least. On the ensuing kickoff, CB/KR Justin Miller returned it from three-yards in his own endzone all the way for the score. The 103-yard touchdown was the longest in Jets history, and it put Gang Green up by four points with a few minutes left.
But alas, it was not meant to be. The super-power known as Peyton Manning led his team down the field and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a quarterback sneak. On the following drive, the Jets had just one chance to win the game: an insane series of laterals and handoffs. The team got surprisingly close to scoring, but in the end, the Colts pulled out the win.
Mangini told the media that the play was called “schoolyard” and said that the team practiced it every day in practice, just in case they ever need to use it. One reporter asked Mangini if, while watching the play nearly succeed, he was thinking that it might end up like the miraculous Stanford University lateral play.
”I was thinking, ‘I’m really glad we practiced this,’” was all the coach had to say, eliciting a big laugh from the mass of reporters.
Mangini, much like the rest of the team, was clearly disappointed in the loss and the inability of his team to close out the game. However, he did have these words of encouragement to offer after a hard-fought game against an incredible opponent:
”I like the way our team played,” he said, quickly adding, “I like the way they respond to adversity.”
It was an extremely entertaining battle, and going back to the Jets entering as a nine-point underdog, Gang Green may not have beat the Colts, but they sure beat the spread!
-Mangini offered no indication as to the status of RB Cedric Houston after Houston was injured late in the third quarter. The official announcement was that his return was questionable, but he never returned to the field.
-Justin Miller’s 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was the longest in Jets history, surpassing Leon Johnson’s 101-yard return against the Buccaneers in 1990.
-Colts WR Marvin Harrison recorded his 952nd career reception, moving him into fourth on the NFL’s all-time list past Andre Reed.
-RB Leon Washington was asked after the game whether he had been told to pick up a kickoff on the one-yard line rather than letting it go into the endzone on the final drive of the game. He responded matter-of-factly, “no, that was all me.” The mistake forced the Jets to begin their final drive on their own two-yard line.
The team returns to New York this afternoon and Coach Eric Mangini will address the media tomorrow. Be sure to check back to Jets Insider.com for all the latest NY Jets news!