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Jets fly on; Dungy grounded again

AFC WILD CARD: JETS 41, COLTS 0: ''I'm disappointed for the guys,'' the ex-Bucs coach says of the Colts.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 5, 2003


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For the Jets, everything has changed. The doubts raised by a dismal start have been erased by a stirring late-season run, and Saturday's 41-0 demolition of Indianapolis was an impressive illustration of how good they may be and how far they may go.

But for Tony Dungy, the song remains the same.

And it may soon start to sound like a bad rap.

Once again, Dungy took a talented team into a wild-card playoff game, and once again they left beaten and battered.

"I'm disappointed we got to a big game like this and we didn't play well," Dungy said. "I'm disappointed for the guys in our locker room because we're a better team than we showed. I think the country will have a perception of us from these last 60 minutes, and we're not that team. But that's the image we're going to be until next season."

It didn't look or sound much different than the way his Bucs lost in Philadelphia to end the 2000 season. ("It was a disappointing end," he said then.) Or the way the Bucs lost in Philadelphia last season, the game that precipitated his controversial firing. ("It's a disappointing way for the season to end," he said.)

As good as Dungy is, and people throughout the game rave about him, he has yet to succeed when there is a chance to be great.

His teams are 2-5 in playoff games, 0-5 on the road. The cumulative score in the losses is 125-25.

Dungy said he didn't think there was a common thread to his three consecutive first-round defeats. "In those games (in Philadelphia) in the first half we played well and kind of got beat in the second half," he said. "Today, from the opening kickoff we just got outplayed totally."

But there could be a common theme.

"I hope he doesn't get a rep for first-round losses," said Colts defensive back David Gibson, who was with Dungy in Tampa. "We just didn't play well today. It was nothing on Tony."

Once Saturday's game started, there really wasn't much Dungy could do.

The Jets, who rallied from a 2-5 start to win seven of nine and earn the AFC East title, ending with impressive wins over New England and Green Bay, were too much.

They had their way on offense, riding another impressive performance by quarterback Chad Pennington (19-of-25 for 222 yards and three touchdowns) to score on their first three possessions and seven of 10 overall. They held a better than 2:1 edge in time of possession (40:18-19:42) as LaMont Jordan and Curtis Martin combined to rush for 169 yards.

They shut down the three Colts offensive standouts, frustrating quarterback Peyton Manning (who had never been shut out as a pro) and holding Edgerrin James to 14 yards and Marvin Harrison to four catches.

They got huge plays from their special teams, forcing and recovering a fumble on a second-quarter kickoff return to set up a touchdown that made it 17-0, then deflating any Indianapolis hopes for a comeback by returning the second-half opening kickoff 70 yards, leading to another field goal that made it 27-0.

And they even had some good fortune, as Mike Vanderjagt, the most accurate field-goal kicker in league history, missed wide left on a 41-yarder that would have cut the score to 7-3.

"I think it was an awesome job," Jets center Kevin Mawae said. "I mean, from start to finish, everybody, including offense, defense and special teams, really did their job. It was the first shutout our defense has pitched this year, and to do it in a playoff game was an awesome deal. We knew we could go in there and be physical with these guys and run the ball on them, and we did that."

For the Colts, who won 10 games in Dungy's first season, it was the opposite.

"We had just a total team breakdown, and you've got to start with the coach, the head coach," Dungy said. "If you're going to put it on anybody, it's got to be on me because we did not play well in any area."

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