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November 28, 1999
Colts Outlast Jets in Defensive Struggle
Victory Ensures Winning Season for Indianapolis
By Mike Devitt
Nobody ever said winning is easy. The Indianapolis Colts proved just that when they beat the New York Jets on Sunday, overcoming a trio of turnovers and an uninspired offensive performance to tough out a 13-6 win over the Jets at the RCA Dome. The win, coupled with Miami's lost to the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving, gave the Colts sole ownership of first place in the AFC East and guaranteed the franchise's first winning season in three years.
Peyton Manning completed 23 of 31 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown to Marcus Pollard early in the first quarter, extending his streak of games with at least one touchdown pass to 24. However, he was also intercepted twice within the opponents' 25-yard line, killing a pair of drives that could have otherwise put the game away for Indianapolis.
"We made it closer than it should have been," said Manning, who was happy with the team's win but still upset by the offense's performance. "It's nice to win and still have a lot of room for improvement. We just need to make the corrections and stop the costly mistakes We moved the ball well and had plenty of time to score a lot of touchdowns, but we just made too many mistakes."
While the offense sputtered, the Colt defense played one of their most inspired games of the season, holding the Jets to just 214 yards of offense and sacking New York quarterback Ray Lucas twice. The Colts' secondary also deflected a pair of last-minute passes from Lucas late in the fourth quarter to preserve the victory.
"Defensively, we played better than we did against them a few weeks ago," said Colts head coach Jim Mora. "The defense didn't give up any big plays, and we played solid, consistent defense throughout the game."
The Jets opened the scoring by taking the game's opening drive 55 yards on eight plays, capped by a 33-yard field goal by John Hall. Edgerrin James then fumbled the ball on the first play of the Colts' first possession, giving New York the ball deep in Indianapolis territory. This time, the Jets drove 27 yards in eight plays, again ending with a field goal by Hall to give New York a 6-0 lead.
The Colts rebounded on their next possession, however, marching 84 yards in 11 plays to take the lead. Manning found wide receiver E.G. Green for a pair of third-down receptions to preserve the drive early, then scrambled out of the pocket and hit Pollard in the end zone for a two-yard score and a 7-6 lead.
Indianapolis would extend their lead to 10-6 late in the second quarter. After forcing the Jets to go three-and-out on their own 10-yard line, the Colts drove 35 yards in 10 plays before being stopped at the Jet four. Mike Vanderjagt then kicked a 22-yard field goal with two seconds left in the half to give Indianapolis a four point lead.
While the Colts were building their lead offensively, their defense stiffened after allowing the Jets to score on their first two drives. In the third quarter, Ray Lucas was sacked on consecutive possessions by Ellis Johnson and Mike Peterson, effectively killing drives for New York. The defense continued to pour pressure on Lucas throughout the game, and although Indianapolis was unable to force any turnovers on defense, they held Lucas to just 102 yards passing, the fewest yards the Colts have allowed in a game this season.
Meanwhile, Indianapolis was finally able to move the ball on the ground against the Jets in the second half. After being limited to just 13 yards on seven carries in the game's first 30 minutes, James touched the ball for 12 of the Colts' 16 offensive plays they ran in the third quarter. In the second half, James rushed for 62 yards on 17 carries and added a pair of catches for 18 yards. He finished the game with 75 yards rushing and 53 yards receiving, the fifth straight game he has totaled more than 100 yards from scrimmage.
Still, the Jets had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. With the ball on their own 25, New York made a crucial fourth-down conversion and got all the way to the Indianapolis 24-yard line before a pair of Lucas passes intended for Dedric Ward and Wayne Chrebet fell incomplete. Once the Jets had turned the ball over on downs, the Colts simply ran out the clock, cementing their win and taking sole possession of first place in the AFC East.
"It's nice to be able to win and know you still have room for improvement," said Manning after the game. "If there is any good news in this, it's that we won on an off-day. Don't get me wrong. We played really hard, but we didn't play smart enough, you know? We're in first place and that gives us an opportunity.
But it's all about doing it, not just talking about it. And we know it's going to be a grind."
* Wide receiver E.G. Green saw his first action for Indianapolis in five weeks, catching two passes for 29 yards. Tight ends Marcus Pollard and Ken Dilger also caught two passes apiece.
* Kicker Mike Vanderjagt extended his franchise record for consecutive field goals to 15 and has now converted 25 of 27 field goal attempts on the season. The record for most field goals in one year is 36, set by Cary Blanchard in 1996.
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Mike Devitt is a reporter for AllSports.com. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.