The Chargers outgained the Jets by 82 yards on Sunday, yet the Green & White still posted a signature 17-14 victory in their AFC Divisional Playoff victory for head coach Rex Ryan's crew: rush for more yards than the opponent, play great defense and create turnovers.
"If that wasn't a New York Jets win right there," said Ryan. "We looked ugly there for a while. We took their best shots and we were hanging in there. We say that the fourth quarter is like a championship round. Our guys really stood up."
The Jets defenders gave up 283 net yards passing to one of the best passing offenses in the NFL but allowed only one TD through the air. The Chargers moved the ball efficiently in the first 30 minutes but were shut down when it counted in the final 30.
"We came into the game playing a little more zone than we usually do, and they started getting some passes in there," said S Kerry Rhodes. "We wanted to come in early the second half and play more man-to-man, match [Darrelle] Revis up with 83 [WR Vincent Jackson] and put me on 85 [TE Antonio Gates], and we did that successfully."
"They really hurt us in the first half as far as big plays when we were in zone coverage," said S Jim Leonhard. "Man-to-man has gotten us to where we are today. Whatever, good, bad or indifferent, we had to switch back to that, we had to get back to it. We obviously played a lot better in the second half."
After Mark Sanchez threw an interception midway through the third quarter with the Jets down, 7-3, the momentum shifted toward the home team. But only for a moment as favor went the way of the Green & White four plays later as Philip Rivers' pass bounced off of Jackson and into Revis' hands.
"Oh, man, it was crazy," said Revis. "I saw the ball thrown up and I tried to make a play and I saw Vincent try to cut in front of me to make the play. I grabbed his hand a little bit so he couldn't catch it. As I'm going down I see the ball hit his foot and then it was in arm's reach and I decided to grab it."
In the fourth quarter, playmakers showed up for the defense, halting the Chargers' hopes for a comeback. Down, 10-7, Rivers tried to take his team downfield to tie or take the lead. But on first down with the ball near midfield, defensive end Mike DeVito sacked him for a 5-yard loss.
Two plays later, while the DBs held their coverage, Rhodes came around from Rivers' blindside for a strip-sack — Rhodes' first since Game 3 of the 2006 season — with the fumble recovered by TE Brandon Manumaleuna, but the Chargers were forced to punt. San Diego went 4-of-13 on third down because of the Jets' continued pressure on Rivers and players stepping up to make big plays.
"The front did a good job of stopping the run," said Rhodes, who also recovered the pop-fly onside kick with 2:14 left in the game. "We knew it was going to come down to us at the end to stop the pass and we did a good job of it in the second half."
Against the run, ILB David Harris, two weeks after suffering an ankle injury in the regular-season finale, led the way with 10 tackles as the Chargers managed 61 yards on 18 carries.
And the Jets snatched two turnovers and gave up just one to the Chargers, improving to 9-0 this season when winning the turnover battle. Leonhard had the second interception of Rivers in the third quarter, returning it to the SD-16 to set up the visitors' first touchdown.
"From where I was it almost seemed like there was supposed to be a route coming in behind me just the way he threw it," said Leonhard. "We got them backed up, that was the biggest part, and then he got one out and fortunately I was able to catch it."
Rivers said he was looking for Jackson on that pass out of his end zone.
"He was coming in on a dig and I just threw it a little too soon and brought him in a little too far," the QB said. "It was just not a smart play."
The Jets' defense will once again be tested by a top offensive attack next week as they travel to Indianapolis for the AFC Championship.
"We shift the focus right now," said Revis. "We're going to enjoy this win but we know what's at stake."