EAST RUTHERFORD – The head coach and his players made like Alphonse and Gaston after the first game of the Herman Edwards era of Jets football resembled a ghost from Gang Green's inglorious past. "I told them, ‘Don't discount yourselves. We'll correct the errors and grow from this as a team,' " Edwards said. " ‘If you want to point a finger, point it at me.' " That wasn't the pointing Curtis Martin had on his mind. "We killed ourselves," the Jets running back said. "It's like we put guns to our own heads and committed suicide." An opening-day 45-24 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Giants Stadium was what put the Jets into a dark mood Sunday. It wasn't what they envisioned after a summer of love in Edwards' first training camp as an NFL head coach. It's not what they needed to put themselves in the best attitude for this Sunday's game against the Raiders, against whom they are oh-for-Oakland since 1963. The centerpiece of the jarring loss was something out of the playbook that contains such gems as the Bubby Brister shovel pass of 1995, Dan Marino's fake spike of '94, and even "The Fumble" of '78, returned by Edwards to beat the Giants at this same stadium. "That took the wind out of our balloon," wide receiver Wayne Chrebet said of Chukie Nwokorie's 95-yard return of a fumble that popped up when short-yardage fullback David Loverne ran to the wrong side and Vinny Testaverde's play fake was foiled by Loverne's shoulder pad. "I didn't even know what happened until he was at about the 40," said guard Kerry Jenkins of the longest opponents' fumble return in franchise history. "I heard the crowd screaming and I was thinking we scored. But there was nobody in front of me." But in front of that play, the Jets suffered their biggest disappointments, because all three of the new systems that Edwards and his staff introduced — Paul Hackett's West Coast offense, Ted Cottrell's 4-3 attack defense and Mike Westhoff's special-teams schemes — struggled off the drawing board against the Jets' main AFC East rivals. The offense struck on its second drive when Testaverde beat a safety blitz and Laveranues Coles beat new Colts corner Thomas Smith for a 38-yard post-route touchdown and a 7-0 lead. But the Jets' six other full first-half possessions resulted in five Tommy Parks punts and a 6-yard "drive" to a Martin touchdown after Terrence Wilkins muffed one of those punts. The defense, meanwhile, sputtered in trying to plug the double barrels of Edgerrin James (135 rushing yards, two second-quarter TDs) and Peyton Manning, who completed 17 of 24 first-half passes as the Colts opened a 31-14 lead. "We thought we had a good plan offensively," said Manning, who operated out of a modified no-huddle from the Colts' second series on. "I could tell we were going to have some guys open with all the stuff we'd been planning." "Peyton did a good job," said nickel back Ray Mickens. "He checked off almost every other play." Manning also stepped up when he made his two most errant passes. In the second quarter, his pass went through James hands and linebacker Marvin Jones made the end zone interception. But Jones returned the favor, losing a fumble back to Manning at the 22 when he was undercut by tackle Adam Meadows on his runback. Shortly thereafter the Colts converted on James' second TD run for a 17-7 lead. On his second pick, by Marcus Coleman, Manning made the tackle at the Colts 19 and the Jets had to settle for John Hall's only field goal. The Jets' kick-coverage unit was the final straw in the first half in yielding its third punt-return touchdown in two games (dating to last year's Baltimore finale) to Wilkins. That was a mistake Parks fully took on his shoulders. "I just hope somebody is willing to give me a chance next week," said Parks, who expects Tom Tupa to take over his punting duties at Oakland. "They don't keep somebody around (on practice squad) who doesn't do the job on the field, and I didn't do it. It's the truth. I didn't do what the coach wanted me to do and kick the ball away from the guy." The Jets scrambled up from their unexpected hole as Hall kicked his field goal and then the teams traded 5-yard play-action TD passes, Manning to tight end Marcus Pollard and Testaverde to fullback Richie Anderson. As Testaverde drove the Jets 68 yards to the Colts 2, visions of last year's Monday Night Miracle comeback over the Dolphins flashed through the minds of fans who didn't head for their postgame hibachis. But the pratfall at the Colts goal line returned the talk to the what-ifs of the previous two seasons. Players said Edwards remained positive in his demeanor at the half and after the game. "He came in at halftime and said this is what they're doing and these are the adjustments we need to make," said Nick Ferguson, who recovered Wilkins' muff. "We don't expect him to be yelling at guys and pointing fingers at certain people. That's not Herm." "We've been in this situation before," said a crestfallen Testaverde, who finished 17-for-25 for 175 yards and threw no interceptions for the first time in 11 games. "We can come back from this." Martin, who finished with 79 hard rushing yards and 30 more on six catches, said lack of preparation was not what haunted the Jets this opening day. "We understand just what the offense and defense have for us, and how prosperous we can be if we just execute it," he said. They have just one week to dispel these new demons to prevent one of their regular slayings at the Coliseum.
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