The Jets, who had rallied four times in the final four minutes this season, failed to complete another remarkable finish Sunday night as the Colts hung on for a 23-15 victory.
"We knew it would be a tough game, a close game, a hard fought game," Colts coach Jim Mora said. "And it turned out to be that way. It went down to the final play."
As it always seems to for the Jets (6-4).
Only on this night, the Jets simply dug themselves too big a hole - for the third week in a row.
"We keep saying you can't let it slip away, you can't let it slip away. Then before you know it, it has slipped away," said running back Curtis Martin, who carried 21 times for 93 yards.
The Colts (7-3) emptied the playbook, opening the game with a flee-flicker, succeeding on a fake field goal in the second quarter and employing an end around in the third quarter.
"It was very important to try and get points on them early because we knew the Jets were a good second-half team," Manning said. "We wanted to jump on them early."
The Colts did exactly that.
They strung together their most time-consuming touchdown drive of the season, 6:35, and took a 7-0 lead when Manning hooked up with Marvin Harrison on a 6-yard scoring strike.
Then Jeff Burris picked off a pass by Vinny Testaverde at the Colts 6, and Indianapolis proceeded to march 83 yards, capped by Edgerrin James' 2-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter.
James finished with 131 yards on 31 carries and became the fastest Colts player to reach 1,000 yards in 220 carries, one fewer than Eric Dickerson in 1987 and 1988.
"I'm playing hard and this is what I expect. Any time I go out and prepare, I want good things to happen," James said. "The day I stop preparing, I would expect not to get yards. As long as I keep preparing and play hard, this is what I expect."
But after the Colts built a 17-0 halftime lead and made it 20-0 midway through the third quarter, courtesy of two Mike Vanderjagt field goals, the Jets started another improbable comeback.
Dedric Ward caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Testaverde with five seconds left in the third quarter. That got the Jets within 20-7.
Indianapolis countered with a 35-yard field goal 4:03 into the fourth quarter, and the Jets answered that with a 9-yard touchdown run from Martin. Then Testaverde connected with Marcus Coleman on a 2-point conversion pass that cut the lead to 23-15 with 5:11 remaining.
"It was a slugfest out there," Mora said. "These were two good football teams going back and forth. It was a battle. They punched us and we punched them and you just hope you get the final punch in."
After punting to the Jets with 2:23 left, Testaverde did his best to rally the Jets.
He moved the Jets to the Colts 28, then missed on four straight passes and left with a third straight loss.
"After the first few weeks, we felt we were using up these fourth-quarter comebacks. The last three weeks have proven that," said Testaverde, who was 28 of 30 for 271 yards and one touchdown and two interceptions.
"It's certainly a tough position to be in. We don't like it much, but we have no one to blame but ourselves for putting us in that position. It takes a lot out of a team to do this every week," he said.
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