Jets stay alive with win over Colts

<P>INDIANAPOLIS _ The Jets opened it up on offense as advertised. But they almost waited until it was too late. But suddenly Vinny Testaverde was as calm as he's looked since 1998. He hit Wayne Chrebet for 23 yards and 16 yards. He scrambled and lateraled to Curtis Martin all on one play -- ``one of the most courageous plays I've ever been in, considering the circumstances,'' said Martin. </P>

Then Vinny icily threw a 6-yard touchdown dart to tight end Anthony Becht with 58 seconds to play With John Hall's PAT putting the necessary exclamation point on the game, the Jets will gladly work out the offensive inconsistencies of the previous 57 minutes this week. That's because their imperfect, implausible 29-28 victory over the Colts in their previous house of horrors, the RCA Dome, put Gang Green back in the playoff pink.

``Obviously, I think it was a Shrek game for us,'' said Herman Edwards, who awarded a game ball to offensive coordinator Paul Hackett for 451 yards of offense. ``It didn't look pretty, for a time we were kicking field goals. But I told the players when we got the ball back that there was no doubt we were going to win this game.

``That's what we're about. We just played together as a team. We have a good chemistry going and we've got guys believing.''

Such as nose tackle Steve Martin, who said: ``I can't explain how I feel about this team. I don't want to go too far ahead, but I feel we've got what it takes to go the distance.''

Here's how far the Jets can look if they choose. They rose to 9-5 with the win, the same record as Miami and Baltimore in the AFC wild-card chase. Denver, Seattle, and Tennessee, all at 7-7, have faded in the distance. The Jets could still miss the playoffs at 9-7, if, say, they lose their last two and Seattle wins its last two. But if the Jets beat Buffalo at home and the Raiders at Oakland, they will pass New England and not only win the AFC East title (based on 9-3 conference record to the Patriots' 8-4) but also get the No. 2 seed and the first-week bye.

Before the game, Edwards was emphatic that all the midweek offensive talk wasn't just that. ``We have to open it up, there's no doubt about it,'' he said.

But while the Jets tried, initially they had similar problems to those they had in the first half against New England, when they opened things up, scored one touchdown and 13 points, and returned to the Curtis Martin-based approach. Against the Colts, who were on a pace to become only the third team in NFL history to give up 500 points in a season, Testaverde could lead the Jets to only one touchdown, a 25-yard screen-pass touchdown to rookie back LaMont Jordan.

All other forays by the Jets were slowed down by the Colts' much-maligned, 27th-ranked defense. That brought Hall into the picture. Hall, who had missed three of his last four kicks entering the game, hit field goals of 47, 22, 48, 46, and 24. It was the first time in his career he had converted three 40-yard-plus field goals in a game, and the first time since Pat Leahy against Cincinnati in 1986 that a Jets kicker hit five in a game

``I had a lot of chances -- it was easy to get into a rhythm,'' he said. ``I worked hard all week to try to atone for last week [when he missed two of three vs. Cincinnati]. But I just tried to focus real hard this week.''

Hall's last two field goals came when the offense bogged down on drives that started from the Indy 27 and 39. That's because the defense, which had alternately stopped Peyton Manning and Co. and got scorched, forced and recovered its first two fumbles in four games. Both were coughed up by running back Dominic Rhodes. The first was forced and recovered by John Abraham. The second, a closer call, came loose when the ball hit Marvin Jones' knee and Victor Green recovered.

All that hard work went for naught when the Colts resorted to some terrific trickery. From the Jets 34, Manning threw a backward pass to tight end Ken Dilger, which suckered the Jets as Dilger threw a strike to Marvin Harrison, who got past Marcus Coleman inside the 10 for the touchdown that put the Colts up by 23-22 with 9:59 to play. When back Kevin McDougal burst over the goal line for a two-point conversion, Indianapolis had a three-point lead that, against these Jets on this night, seemed certain to lead to no less than overtime.

The Jets could answer only with a drive to the Colts 32 and Hall's sixth try of the night from 50. He was wide left with six minutes to play. But first came Testaverde's 76-yard drive, during which he hit five of seven passes (one was a clock-stopping spike) and hit Becht for the second straight week with the game-winning TD pass.

``Big-time players come up with big play,'' Becht said, ``and you know who comes up with the plays for us -- Vinny, Curtis, Wayne. They're our three horses and we're going to ride them. That last drive we were very calm. That was the best drive I've been around. That was exciting stuff.''

Abraham said the defense was not so excited when the offense took the field. ``There's a difference between a winning feeling and a losing feeling,'' he said of the sideline mood. ``A lot of times you'll see third-and-11, 12, guys on defense putting their helmets on and getting ready to go back out there. But on that last drive I never put my helmet on or got off the bench once.''

However, the D did have to hold the fort for 58 seconds, when the Colts got the ball at their 20. But Manning, after moving the hosts to their 40, threw two incompletions and than a fourth-and-3 pass to Marvin Harrison that gained ... no yards, courtesy of Ray Mickens.

``I wasn't letting him get away from me,'' said Mickens, who for the second time this season playing for the injured Aaron Glenn led the defense in tackles, this night with 10. ``He's not a tough guy to tackle and I knew if I wrapped him up, I'd get help. I came out of my coverage to get him. I wasn't really supposed to be there.'' Many will say the Jets were lucky to escape from the RCA Dome, ending a six-of-seven losing skid there and emerging with their playoff hopes and dreams barely intact. But none of the Jets are looking at it that way.

``It's great to know,'' said Chrebet (season highs with eight catches and 118 yards) of the Jets being able to rise all the way to the No. 2 seed. ``We've been 9-7 so many times. Now we control our own destiny. We only won by one point this week and last week, but that's all that really matters.'' Until the 2-12 Bills come calling for the Jets' next must-win game Sunday.


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