As Planned, Colts Pull Manning, Others in Third Quarter of 29-15 Loss to New York Jets
INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts had a plan, and they were sticking to it.
So, when quarterback Peyton Manning left late in the third quarter of what became not only the Colts' first loss of the 2009 season, but their first regular-season loss in 14 months and 23 regular-season games, there was no anger, no surprise, and really, little reaction.
The Colts, after leading throughout the first half, removed Manning and multiple other starters with 5:36 remaining in the third quarter, and the New York Jets outscored the Colts by 19 points thereafter to win, 29-15, in front of 67,222 at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday afternoon.
"We felt like this was kind of an organizational philosophy that we stuck with," said Manning, who led the Colts to a go-ahead touchdown on his final series, the only series he played in the second half.
"We still had a chance to win the game. We were disappointed that we didn't."
The Colts (14-1), who entered the game with a franchise- and NFL-record 23-game regular-season winning streak, lost in the regular season for the first time since last October. They became the third team in NFL history to win their first 14 regular-season games, joining the 1972 Miami Dolphins and the 2007 New England Patriots.
Those two teams remain the only teams in NFL history to go unbeaten through a regular season, but while the Colts' chances at such a season ended Sunday, Head Coach Jim Caldwell said what he and Colts President Bill Polian have said often in recent weeks:
That a 16-0 regular season wasn't the goal before the season.
And that stance didn't change as the Colts approached the possibility.
"The perfect season's never been one of our goals," said Caldwell, who lost for the first time in his head-coaching tenure. "It never has been anything we've focused in on, and never been anything we've really talked about.
"Obviously, we were close in this situation, but I think you still have to look at your objective. It's how you want to be able to function in the most imant part of our season. That's our objective."
Caldwell said that part of the season is the postseason, which for the Colts – who two weeks ago secured the AFC's No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs – will begin January 16-17 with an AFC Divisional Playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"The most important thing for us is obviously to make sure we're operating on all cylinders come the playoffs," Caldwell said. "That's key. That's important."
Said Colts President Bill Polian, "The perfect season was never an issue with us. We've said it time and time and time again. It's somebody else's issue, not ours. That was of no concern."
Of Sunday's second-half strategy, Polian said, "Jim was going to make that call whenever he felt that it was appropriate. The call was up to him, and he made it."
With the Colts leading 9-3 at halftime, Manning said Caldwell made it relatively clear Manning likely would play one second-half series. The hope, Manning said, was to push the six-point lead to a two-score advantage, but after Jets kick returner Brad Smith returned the second-half kickoff 106 yards, the Jets led, 10-9.
The Colts re-took the lead with a nine-play, 81-yard drive. Rookie running back Donald Brown ran up the middle, broke two tackles and scored on a 1-yard run to give Indianapolis the lead.
A run by Brown on the two-point attempt failed.
The Colts held the Jets on the ensuing series, after which Manning, Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark did not return to the field.
"Until any player in here is the head coach, as a player, you follow orders and you follow them with all your heart," said Manning, who completed 14 of 21 passes for 192 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
"The guys who have been here, we follow orders. Our orders were to go and win the game. Our orders were not to give up a fumble for a touchdown and not to give up a kick return. I don't think we followed the blueprint for winning this game with some mistakes on our part in all phases."
Said Wayne, "We really didn't talk about (the unbeaten record). Guys want to win, whether there is a streak on the line or not. We fell short today, but now we can focus on getting some guys healthy and getting ready for the playoffs."
After Manning left the game, the teams exchanged punts. On 1st-and-10 from the Colts 20, Jets linebacker Calvin Pace sacked Colts backup quarterback Curtis Painter, forcing a fumble that defensive end Marques Douglas recovered at the Colts 1.
Douglas then crawled into the end zone for a lead New York never relinquished.
A 43-yard field goal by Jay Feely pushed the New York lead to six, 21-15, with 13:23 remaining, after which Jets running back Thomas Jones' 1-yard run and a two-point conversion made it 29-15 with 5:38 remaining.
The Jets (8-7), who can clinch a playoff appearance with a victory against Cincinnati next week, outgained the Colts 119-34 in the fourth quarter.
"Guys are upset," Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett said. "You never want to lose, especially playing later in the year, but we understand what our goal is, and that's being healthy in the playoffs."
The Colts, after producing a first down on their first drive, put together a go-ahead touchdown drive on their second possession, with running back Joseph Addai finishing a 54-yard, seven-play drive with a 21-yard touchdown run. On the play, Addai took a quick handoff from Manning and ran through a huge hole, running over two tacklers at the goal-line for his 10th rushing touchdown of the season.
The Colts' defense continued to limit the Jets offensively much of the first half, while the Colts offense took advantage of one of several chances to extend the lead. Defensively, the Colts held the Jets to seven first downs in the first half.
The Colts pushed the lead to 9-0 with a 22-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri, and had a chance to extend the lead late in the second quarter, but a long pass by Manning skimmed the fingers of a wide-open Clark, forcing an Indianapolis punt.
The Jets drove for their lone score of the half on the ensuing possession, with Feely capping an 11-play, 63-yard drive with a 35-yard field goal to make it 9-3, Colts, with 1:44 remaining in the half.
After managing 115 first-half yards, the Jets took their first lead on the first play of the third quarter when Smith found a hole up the right sideline.
The Jets re-claimed the lead a second time at 18-15 late in the period after Brown's score when Douglas returned a sack/fumble of Painter for a score.
"That was something we certainly should not have let happen," Caldwell said, adding of the Jets' go-ahead tally, "Those two things, our sharpness wasn't quite there. Those are things we're going to have to work on."
And Caldwell said while he understood players and fans were disappointed in the outcome, he said the reality is the Colts' goals are still very much intact.
"It was something I had looked at, and taken a real good look at over the years just in terms of trying to make certain we had an opportunity to stay sharp," Caldwell said. "We just felt like going into the third quarter with a lead, we'd start getting some guys a little bit of a break in the action.
"Every guy out there, if you ask them, they want to go and they want to go the distance. It's up to us to make the decision, so we did. The most important season obviously is the one that's coming up."
Said Colts safety Antoine Bethea, "Every time you go out there and compete, you want to go out there and get a win. You want to make history, but Coach Caldwell made a decision and we rolled with that. He's been leading us all year and he has been a great head coach.
"There's no need for us to question him or a decision he makes. We go out there and whatever he tells us to do, we go out there and do it."