It was Fan Appreciation Day at MetLife Stadium. The Jets passed out gifts and giveaways and kudos to the sellout crowd that showed up for their game against the Chargers this afternoon.
And then the Green & White finally delivered on the most valuable fan gift of all — a thrilling come-from-behind 27-21 victory over the formerly high-flying Chargers.
Trailing for almost the entire game, the Jets used the third Mark Sanchez-to-Plaxico Burress red zone TD pass of the day to take that first lead at 24-21 with 8:41 to play. That score was set up by Darrelle Revis' third interception in two games, then the final Nick Folk field goal drive was started by Kyle Wilson's first career interception.
Ta-da! Green & White appreciation of the finest kind with the Jets' 27-21 victory over the Chargers.
"I'm just proud of the way our guys played," said Sanchez, who matched his career high with the three scoring strikes and posted his second fourth-quarter comeback win this season and seventh of his career. "We put our defense in a hole early, I felt like, almost spotted them 14 points, and then came back and won. That was a great effort by Revis, by the D-line applying pressure and Kyle Wilson, and then Plax has an awesome day."
"We saw the team we envisioned at the start of the season," said head coach Rex Ryan. "We were slow to get it going, but we saw it. ... We just feel like we're hitting our stride now."
The win lifted the Jets to 4-3 with their second straight win and their first 4-0 home start since 2004 as they head into their bye week to rest up and get ready for two AFC East rivals, at Buffalo and home for the New England rematch. The win was the 18th second-half comeback from a deficit of 11 points or more in franchise history and only the Jets' second in the last seven years, the first coming in this year's season opener against the Cowboys. The Chargers, meanwhile, fell to 4-2.
And the win was fashioned around that elusive yet familiar Jets identity under Ryan: Ground & Pound on offense, smothering defense against one of the best around, QB Philip Rivers. Shonn Greene rushed for 112 yards — the first 100-yard game at home in his career — and the Jets for 162 — their most since 167 at Indianapolis in last year's AFC Wild Card Game.
Meanwhile, the defense rose up with a second half that forced Rivers and the Chargers' long-drive offense into three punts (two three-and-outs), the two interceptions and the loss on downs, 1-for-7 on third-down conversions and 107 yards.
It was the first time in the last 68 games, or since 2007, that Rivers and the Chargers were shut out in the second half of a game.
"We knew it was going to be a huge test for us," said LB David Harris. "The last eight years their offense has always been in the top five. We knew we had our hands full and we stepped up to the challenge."
"This was a must-win for us," said Revis. "We needed this going into the bye. To get two wins under our belts in two games is great. The offense played great, the special teams played great. Going into halftime, we made some adjustments on defense to try to get off on third down."
Burress Turns It Up a Notch
The Jets needed a stadium-sized energy drink for them and their fans in the third quarter and they got it with the second short TD strike of the game from Sanchez to Burress. This one was a 4-yarder, it came with 2:57 left in the quarter and it sliced the Chargers' lead to 21-17.
It was also Burress' first two-TD game since the final game of the 2007 regular-season, when he snagged a pair in the Giants' loss to the Patriots in the Meadowlands.
"Every morning that you wake up on Sunday, you want to be great," Burress said. "I just tried to be patient. I was forcing it a little bit. The coaches have been calling the plays and I hadn't been getting the results for them. It's a tribute to them saying, 'You know what? We're going to stick with him. He's been working hard.'
"It showed today and hopefully we can build off of this."
The defense came up with its third three-and-stop of Rivers in the game and its second in a row but the offense, hampered by unheard-of back-to-back penalties on C Nick Mangold, had to punt.
Next came something even better than a 1-2-3-punt — a Revis turn-it-around. Revis, off a Rivers pass that deflected off Antonio Cromartie and Vincent Jackson right into his arms, took his latest pick 64 yards to the Chargers 19.
Five plays later, Sanchez hit Burress in the back of the end zone. It was Burress' first three-TD game since the 2007 season opener for the Giants (at Dallas), the Jets' first three-TD individual game since Thomas Jones and Laveranues Coles each did it in 2008, and Sanchez's first three-TD passing game since the AFC Divisional Round Game at New England in January.
Most important, it was the Jets' first lead of the game and the Chargers' first second-half deficit in the last four games.
And it set up the defense's next big play, Wilson's first career INT of a hurried Rivers rollout. Suddenly the Jets were in control at the SD-47 with 5:23 to play. The Jets moved to Folk's 10th consecutive field goal from the start of the season, from 30 yards, to give the hosts a 27-21 edge with 1:36 to play and San Diego without timeouts and needing a TD.
"It was special. I'm not going to say it wasn't," Wilson said. "I wasn't holding my breath for the first one. I knew it would come sooner or later. You can't go out and play 'outlaw.' " But, he added of the ball he snared, "I've got it, don't worry."
The Chargers reached midfield but Rivers threw incompletions on third and fourth down, enabling Sanchez to take a victory-formation knee for a most satisfying win to take the Jets over .500 with their first home win over the Thunderbolts since 1991.
"This is the football team we thought we had," Ryan said. "Here we are. We know what's up next. We've got two of our divisional teams. As everybody says, they're ahead of us, no question. Well, we'll see what happens. We'll play at Buffalo, tough road trip. Then we'll play that other team."
Long SD Drives Rule First Half
The game opened nicely with one of the three ex-Chargers on the Jets' roster, LaDainian Tomlinson, starting as advertised and carrying twice for a first down. But a pall was cast over the proceedings as Sanchez's out pass to Dustin Keller was pried out of the TE's grasp by LB Donald Butler, who took off down the left sideline for an uncontested 37-yard fumble-return TD.
It was the fourth fumble-return score by the opponents in the Jets' last eight games (including last year's AFC Championship Game) and it gave the visitors from the West a 7-0 lead a mere 1:49 into the game.
The offense had early answers this time, though, as Greene entered and ripped off his longest run of the season, a 24-yarder. That was the key play in the drive to Folk's 35-yard FG down the middle to cut the deficit to 7-3.
Then an early success for the defense. Rivers came into this game as the second-best QB in the NFL in three-and-out drive percentage but he fell to the third-down pressure of Aaron Maybin, who notched his third sack, all in the last four games, to force a punt on the Chargers' opening series.
The Jets moved well again as Sanchez found Keller for a pair of third-down completions to the Chargers 23. But the QB then misfired trying to hit Burress in the end zone, instead finding S Eric Weddle for his first intercepted pass in three games. Weddle returned to the SD-24 and the 'Bolts were on the move all the way into the Jets red zone en route to Rivers finding TE Antonio Gates free past LB Josh Mauga for the 2-yard TD. With 12:11 left in the first half, the Chargers had a 14-3 lead.
The Green & White trimmed that to four points with a 77-yard drive to the first 3-yard TD strike from Sanchez to Burress, Plax's first TD in four games.
But the 'Bolts immediately let it back out to 11 with their second consecutive long drive, an 87-yarder to Mike Tolbert's 1-yard run off right guard on third-and-goal. That opened the visitors' lead back to 11 with 1:16 to play. Not enough time for the Jets to move into field goal range and so the first half ended with the Jets trailing, 21-10. And the comeback was on.
Sanchez's line: 18-for-33 for 173 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 87.1 passer rating. Rivers' line: 16-for-32 for 179, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 51.4 rating against the defense that entered the game with the best opponents passer rating. ... The Jets finished with edges over San Diego in yards (318-268), first downs (25-16) and possession time (32:46-27:14). ... The visitors helped out with 13 penalties for 95 yards to the Jets' eight for 60. ... WR Santonio Holmes had only two catches but drew three pass-interference calls on the Chargers.
S Eric Smith finished with an unofficial game-high total of 10 tackles. ... The Jets sustained ankle injuries to DT Kenrick Ellis, making his first pro start for the injured Mike DeVito, in the first quarter, and LB David Harris in the second frame. But Harris returned in the second half. Tomlinson, who came to the game with an unspecified illness, left early in the second half with 51 yards of offense. ... Gameday captains for the Jets were their three ex-Chargers: Tomlinson, Cromartie and CB Donald Strickland.