November 16, 2009

2003: Ball Control – and a Fake FG – Helps Colts Overcome Big Plays by Jets

The New York Jets were struggling with a 3-6 record as they took on the 7-2 Colts at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis on November 16, 2003. The Colts were coming off a loss to Jacksonville and were missing star wide receiver Marvin Harrison, who was out with a hamstring injury, while New York had won for the third time in five games at Oakland.

Following a 31-yard field goal by Mike Vanderjagt of the Colts, the Jets scored the first touchdown of the game on a 62-yard pass play from QB Chad Pennington to WR Jonathan Carter. However, the Colts came back with a TD pass of their own from QB Peyton Manning to WR Troy Walters that covered 46 yards. After two short scoring runs by RB Edgerrin James in the second quarter, with a Jets field goal in between, Indianapolis held a 24-10 lead at the half.

New York came back strong with three touchdowns in just over eight minutes in the third quarter, starting with WR Curtis Conway hauling in a 28-yard TD pass from Pennington. The Colts responded with James scoring his third short touchdown run of the day, but Carter returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a TD to again shorten the Indianapolis lead to 31-24. The game was tied when Jets WR Santana Moss scored on a pass play from Pennington that covered 48 yards.

Indianapolis drove to the Jets 21 yard line and went ahead to stay when punter Hunter Smith, the holder for placekicks, ran for a touchdown on a fake field goal attempt. Neither team scored in the fourth quarter as the Colts defense stiffened, and Manning finally settled the matter with a 35-yard pass to WR Reggie Wayne in a third and seven situation for a game-clinching first down with 1:46 remaining in the contest.

Showing the significance of big plays in keeping the Jets in the game, the Colts ran far more plays (77 to 34) for more yards (538 to 324) and controlled the ball far longer (38:52 to 21:08). Manning completed 27 of 36 passes for 401 yards and a TD, with none intercepted. The Colts had two receivers hit the 100-yard threshold, Reggie Wayne with 141 (on a team-leading 9 receptions) and TE Dallas Clark with an even 100 on five catches.

But while Manning had an outstanding game even with his best receiver on the sideline, it was Edgerrin James who helped the most to keep the Colts offense on the field (and the Jets offense off of it), running 36 times for 127 yards, including the three scores. James had complained in the previous week’s loss about a lack of carries, but workload wasn’t an issue in this contest. He also passed Lydell Mitchell’s franchise record of 5487 yards to become the all-time rushing leader for the Colts.

The Jets benefited most from Jonathan Carter’s 242 yards on six kickoff returns, including the one TD; when combined with his long scoring reception, his total yardage for the day came to 304. Chad Pennington had an efficient performance, completing 11 of 14 passes for 219 yards and three TDs, while RB Curtis Martin had 105 rushing yards on just 13 carries. Overall, New York averaged 9.4 yards per play.

“Defensively, we couldn’t get off the field enough times,” said a disappointed Jets Head Coach Herman Edwards afterward. Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy summed up his team’s win by saying “Championship teams find ways to win games differently…We've won 9-6 games, we've won games where we shut people down, we won today because we outscored them.”

Indianapolis ended up winning the AFC South with a 12-4 record and advanced to the conference championship, losing to New England. The Jets won three of their next four games and finished with a 6-10 record at the bottom of the AFC East along with Buffalo.

For the year, Peyton Manning led the NFL in passing yards (4267), completion percentage (67.0), and passes completed (379). Edgerrin James rushed 310 times for 1259 yards and 11 touchdowns, his third thousand-yard season and first since 2000.