2009 Divisional Playoffs Jets At Chargers Photos
It was a lot warmer in San Diego on Sunday than it was for the games against Cincinnati the previous two weeks.
And on the 5½-hour plane ride home from Southern California to North Jersey, the Jets continued to bask in the warm afterglow of success after posting their remarkable, hot-closing 17-14 triumph over the Chargers in their divisional round playoff game at Qualcomm Stadium.
The Jets are on their way to Indianapolis to play for the AFC Championship. Say it loud and say it proud, Green & White fans.
First-year head coach Rex Ryan said that's no surprise to him.
"We believed the whole time, the whole year, when probably it wasn't the popular choice, the popular opinion," Ryan said. "But here we are. We don't have to apologize to anybody. It's just old-fashioned ground-and-pound football and throw completions and play great defense and here we are."
The Jets came off the deck of a rough, cautious first half to make it to the fourth conference or AFL title game in their history. Now they return to the scene of their 29-15 victory three weeks ago that handed the Colts, resting their frontliners for the last 20 minutes of the game, their first loss of the year.
All that will be replayed this week, but one thing can't be denied and can't be said by unthinking talking heads this week. After their gritty comeback win, the Jets deserve to be here. They won their second game in the same playoffs for the first time since 1982. They ended San Diego's 11-game winning streak, on the same pitch on which the Chargers had won six in a row. They held the Chargers to their first sub-20-point game in the last 23 games.
"And we had a couple of breakdowns," said linebacker Calvin Pace. "It should have been nothing, no points, really."
Then with one more win, the Jets will deserve to be in South Florida to play in Super Bowl XLIV.
The stars were many. Mark Sanchez, in a return not too far from his Los Angeles-area upbringing, showed his moxie with a short but patient 2-yard touchdown pass to Dustin Keller to give the Jets their first TD and first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter. That play was set up by safety Jim Leonhard's return of Philip Rivers' second interception of the third quarter to the Chargers 16.
Rookie Shonn Greene tore off a 53-yard scoring run to make it 17-7. Greene finished the day with 28 carries for 128 yards — his second consecutive 100-yard playoff game.
"It's a blessing, man, a blessing," Greene said from the cramped Qualcomm visitors' locker room. "To be a rookie and to be in this situation, that doesn't happen very often. I'm just looking to taking every moment in and trying to live it up."
The Chargers are a proud bunch as well, and as the second seeds, they also deserved to be here. And they showed late life in trying to rescue this game in which they had control, then lost control. Part of the reason they found themselves suddenly behind was because Nate Kaeding, their Pro Bowl kicker, missed all three of his field goals. His 40-yard miss with 4:38 left prevented the 'Bolts from turning it back into a one-score game.
But San Diego still made it uncomfortable for the visitors with Rivers' 1-foot sneak for the TD. Kaeding converted the PAT and the Chargers trailed, 17-14, with 2:14 to play. But they had only one timeout left. And after Kerry Rhodes recovered an onsides kick, the hosts had only two chances to stop the clock.
Finally it came down to this: Fourth-and-a-foot, 1:09 left. The Jets decide to go for it. The give was a quick one from Sanchez to Thomas Jones for the win. And TJ got it, striding off right guard for 2 yards.
"It was just basically 'Hey, let's be true to ourselves,' " Ryan said. "They know what we're going to run, but lets put TJ back there and do our thing that we've done all year and that's run that power. We knew they'd expect it but I also felt great with TJ running the football behind [Alan] Faneca pulling and it was just a well-executed play. Our guys believe in that philosophy and no way we weren't going to run our bread and butter there."
And when it was all over, the Jets schmoozed with their hundreds of green-clad fans who came to the field-level fence to cheer on their heroes, Sanchez was surrounded by a pack of red-vested photographers as he made his way to the lockers, and the players continued to wear their mantle as the team nobody in these playoffs wants to face. Next up, after two days off, is a return to work Wednesday to get ready for the Colts, who dispatched the Ravens on Saturday night and will host the Jets at Lucas Oil Stadium beginning at 3 p.m. next Sunday.
After that somewhat frustrating, closely played first half, when the visitors opened with four three-and-out drives and the Chargers moved somewhat more productively to a 7-0 halftime lead, the Jets opened the third quarter as if they said they were ready to mount a challenge for this game.
Brad Smith took the second-half kickoff 36 yards, then Sanchez directed a short but robust 32-yard drive. When it stalled on fourth-and-a-meter (a little longer than a yard), at first the Jets appeared ready to go for it. But they called a timeout, and upon further review, they decided to bring Jay Feely out his first field goal try of the game. Feely didn't disappoint, drilling a 46-yard try to put the Jets on the board and cut their deficit to 7-3.
The defense then pitched its third three-and-out of the game at the 'Bolts,, but then the Jets committed their first turnover of the game as Sanchez threw his first pick in four games. The ball, intended for Braylon Edwards on the skinny post, was deflected by Steve Gregory past Edwards and into the hands of Quentin Jammer, who returned to the Jets 38.
"That one looked like it was going to be costly for us because you turn the ball over to a team like that — same way with Indianapolis, turn the ball over against Indy — those guys can get on and score in a heartbeat," said Sanchez. "It was just bad all the way around. But in games like this you have to level yourself. You have to understand there are going to be momentum swings. You never want to make mistakes, but they will happen. We needed to bounce back and all the guys on offense just told me to keep playing and to not even sweat it."
But just as quickly the Jets got the ball back with another remarkable Darrelle Revis play as he grabbed a ball that bounced off of Vincent Jackson's falling body and into his hands. That's two postseason picks and eight for the year for Revis.
The visitors from the East had to punt after that pick, but Steve Weatherford's dynamite 51-yard punt downed at the SD-4 set the stage for the next pick and the Jets' first TD. Rivers dropped back into his end zone, under pressure, threw a ball that only one player was looking for — Leonhard, who returned to the Chargers' 16.
The Jets cashed in that short field bigtime. Facing third-and-goal at the 2, Sanchez and Keller hooked up on a brilliant play. Sanchez faked the handoff to Greene, rolled to his right, and waited. Finally the TE broke free back away from the corner and caught the QB's pinpoint pass — "I put it real low and hot. That ball was coming," said Sanchez — in the back of the end zone.
The Qualcomm fans, loud all day, were stunned to grumbling silence — all except small pockets of green-clad fans around the stadium, whose chant could be heard above the din: "J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets Jets!"
The hosts moved some on their next drive, but then came third-and-long and blindside blitzer Kerry Rhodes made it fourth-and-longer by stripping Rivers of the ball. With Jerricho Cotchery's crisp punt return to the Chargers 34, the Green & White were in the driver's seat with 9:27 to play.
And then when Greene, seeing extended action, felt his way through the line, then roared over one safety and away from another and didn't stop until he had turned in a 53-yard TD run — the longest scoring run in Jets playoff history. Suddenly, it was a two-possession game at 17-7 with 7:17 left. That set the stage for the finale, and for the Jets' next excellent adventure.
"The whole team is ecstatic about the situation we're in right now," said Woody. "But by no means are we finished."
Besides his onside kick recovery, Rhodes had a third-down strip-sack of Rivers off a blindside blitz that produced a punt. ... David Harris had a game-high 10 tackles. ... DE Mike DeVito got his first full sack as a pro with a fourth-quarter wrapup of Rivers. ... DE Shaun Ellis left early with a left hand injury, but returned with the hand heavily wrapped and played the rest of the way. ... Besides his rushes, Greene came up with the first reception of his rookie season, a 4-yarder.
The Jets were outgained in the first half, 212 yards to 99, and had only four first downs. ... They ended the game with 262 yards, 169 on the ground. ... There were 10 first-half punts, six by Weatherford. ... The Jets were held scoreless in the first half for the first time in 46 games, or since the 2007 Week 4 road loss to the Bills, 17-14. ... A big statistical disparity: The Chargers, who prided themselves for being among the NFL leaders in fewest penalties and penalty yards, were hit with 10 penalties for 87 yards while the Jets got flagged five times for 37 yards.