EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Jets got into a shootout with the Indianapolis Colts yesterday, but with their offense and special teams misfiring, they shot themselves in the foot.
For the Colts, who hadn't won a game in nine attempts this season and hadn't scored a touchdown in 20 quarters coming into this game, their 28-27 victory was tantamount to winning the Super Bowl, as quarterback Jeff George said afterward.
The hyperbole on George's part was understandable and forgivable, given the way the season has progressed.
The Colts' star running back, Eric Dickerson, missed the celebration. He was cooling his heels in Los Angeles after being suspended for four games for refusing to practice last Wednesday.
But the Colts really didn't need Dickerson on this miserable, rainy day at Giants Stadium on which 32,099 ticket-holders decided not to attend. And the 44,792 fans on hand got to see the Jets gift wrap a victory for the Colts.
"We kept giving them a chance to get back in the game," said Dwayne White, the Jets' right guard. "We started off running the ball well. But we kept encouraging them to get back into the game. It was like we were saying: 'Hey, guys, let's have some fun today. Let's play a football game.' Instead of putting them away.
"It's a very difficult loss, especially to a team that was 0-and-whatever coming in. They should never have beaten us."
The loss has given the Jets something to contemplate as they measure their chances of making the playoffs against the rest of their schedule. The Colts were considered one of the soft spots on the Jets' schedule. With the loss, some of the cushion has been taken away.
When they look back on this season, this is a game the Jets will point to with pain. It was a game they should have and could have won.
"Shoulda, coulda, woulda," said coach Bruce Coslet. "You can play that game somewhere else.
"We made mistakes on offense, we made mistakes on defense and we made crucial errors on special teams. We just can't make those kinds of mistakes and expect to win."
Coslet was right. There was plenty of blame to spread around.
Pat Leahy missed two field-goal attempts. His first one, a 44-yarder in the second quarter, came after successive holding penalties by White moved the Jets back from the Colts' 25 to the 45.
Clarence Verdin of the Colts raced 88 yards untouched with the kickoff to open the second half to tie the score at 14-14 and give his team a confidence lift.
Also in the third quarter, George beat the Jets' secondary twice on 7-yard touchdown passes in which the receivers ran slant patterns. The last one, the game-winner to Bill Brooks, was set up when the Jets' Terance Mathis fumbled a kickoff return late in the third quarter. It was recovered by the Colts at the Jets' 25.
Finally, the Jets' offense, with two opportunities to win the game in the fourth quarter, disintegrated under quarterback Ken O'Brien.
The most telling thing about this game was the difference in quarterbacks. George completed 16 of 26 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns. As much as George did to win the game for the Colts, O'Brien did to lose it for the Jets.
O'Brien had great numbers, completing 23 of 36 passes for 329 yards with one touchdown and one interception. But when the Jets needed him to pull the game out, he couldn't answer the bell.
After cornerback Mike Brim's interception of a George pass set up the Jets at their own 42-yard line with 2 minutes, 40 seconds to play, O'Brien misfired his first pass, was sacked by Donnell Thompson for an 11-yard loss, and missed a wide-open Dale Dawkins by throwing the ball short and behind the him.
Then, on fourth-and-21, O'Brien threw a pass that bounced off Blair Thomas' helmet and fell incomplete. At that point, the Jets were out of business and the Colts had started their celebration.
The Jets dominated the ball in the first quarter, chewing up the clock (11:42 on two possessions) and a significant amount of turf (136 yards on 21 plays).
Unfortunately, they scored only one touchdown, on a 4-yard run by fullback Brad Baxter. Leahy missed his first field-goal attempt of the game, a 22-yarder that went wide left, near the end of the first quarter and the Colts got their first break.