Jets deal Colts first loss
INDIANAPOLIS – For the first time as Colts head coach, Jim Caldwell answered the kinds of postgame questions his opponents had faced all season.
Nobody had opened an NFL coaching career with as many consecutive victories as Caldwell, but Indianapolis’ 23-game regular-season win streak and hopes of becoming the second team to finish a regular season 16-0 ended with a 29-15 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday.
The Colts already had clinched homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, so Caldwell’s primary concern was keeping his players healthy. He pulled quarterback Peyton Manning with a 15-10 lead in the third quarter, and the Jets took advantage.
Caldwell was an assistant under Tony Dungy the last time the Colts had lost a regular-season game, on Oct. 27, 2008, at Tennessee. Though the Colts (14-1) are more concerned with winning a Super Bowl than chasing records, they weren’t fond of getting reacquainted with losing.
“It’s been a long time,” Caldwell said. “It’s always disappointing when you lose, regardless of the circumstances.”
The Colts starters knew they likely wouldn’t finish the game, but it didn’t make them feel better about the outcome.
“It feels like a loss,” Colts center Jeff Saturday said. “I can tell you that I didn’t go out there to lose, that’s a fact.”
The Jets would make the postseason for the first time since 2006 with a win next week at home against AFC North champion Cincinnati. They said the fact the Colts benched many of their stars took nothing from their victory.
“They’re the No. 1 team in the AFC, and they can make whatever decision they want,” Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. “But we’re not going to apologize for a win.”
It looked like the Colts might give themselves a chance to win another tight one, but Brad Smith took the second-half kickoff 106 yards to give the Jets (8-7) a 10-9 lead. It was the longest return in Jets history and tied for the second-longest in NFL history with three others.
The Colts responded with an 81-yard touchdown drive. Donald Brown bounced off two defenders on a 1-yard run to give Indianapolis a 15-10 lead with 10:13 left in the third quarter.
Rookie Curtis Painter stepped in for Manning, and his introduction to NFL regular-season play was swift and cruel. On the first play of his second series, the former Purdue quarterback was hit from behind by linebacker Calvin Pace. Marques Douglas recovered the fumble and scored, and a 2-point conversion pass from Mark Sanchez to Dustin Keller made it 18-15.
Painter completed 4 of 11 passes for 44 yards with an interception. In his six possessions, the Colts netted one first down and committed two turnovers. Manning considered the fact that the Jets entered the game as the league’s No. 1 defense in his assessment of Painter’s effort.
“We put him in a tough spot,” Manning said. “That’s a tough defense to go against, multiple looks, multiple schemes, good players. For never having played in an NFL game, that was a tough spot to put him in.”
Manning completed 14 of 21 passes for 192 yards and played long enough to join Brett Favre, Dan Marino and John Elway as the only players to pass for at least 50,000 yards. He appeared to be upset with the coaching staff about being replaced, but clarified the situation afterward.
“I’d be careful analyzing my facial expressions,” he said. “I wouldn’t do that. I was not surprised. I knew potentially that was part of the plan. There was no head coach-quarterback argument of any sort. I was on the same page with coach Caldwell.”
The Jets sealed the win with two fourth-quarter scores – Jay Feely’s 43-yard field goal and Thomas Jones’ 1-yard TD run.
They expected the Colts to be competitive with Painter.
“All those guys are capable,” linebacker Bart Scott said. “If you are on a roster in the NFL, you are a capable player.”
“We don’t put losses into our long-term goals,” Colts receiver Reggie Wayne said. “We hope we can finish flawless, but we know that’s not always the case. It’s football. That’s how it goes sometimes. Hopefully, we’ve got the right formula, and we’ve figured it out, and we’re ready to fire on all cylinders for the playoffs.”
NOTES: Colts owner Jim Irsay honored longtime offensive line coach Howard Mudd before the game. Mudd retired briefly this spring, then returned during the summer and said this would be his final season. … Colts TE Dallas Clark caught four passes for 57 yards to go over 1,000 yards for the season. … Jones ran 23 times for 105 yards, putting him within 12 yards of his career high. … Jets QB Mark Sanchez was 12 of 19 for 106 yards, but threw no interceptions.
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