|Jets' confidence flying high after shocking Chargers 17-14|
|Updated 1/18/2010 6:06 PM ET|
Fifth-seeded New York (11-7) advanced to next Sunday's AFC Championship Game on the road against the Indianapolis Colts in no small part because Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers gift-wrapped the go-ahead touchdown.
With the Jets trailing 7-3 and having shown little offensively for almost three full quarters, Rivers was backed up at his 5-yard line. He let fly to, well, there was not a Chargers receiver in the vicinity. New York safety Jim Leonhard pulled it in and returned it to San Diego's 27-yard line.PHOTOS: Divisional playoffs highlights ROAD TO THE SUPER BOWL: Results, schedule
"It was a huge turning point," Leonhard said. "We needed a break, and luckily I was able to provide that spark."
Rivers' mistake was made worse on the visitors' first play from scrimmage, a 2-yard run on which linebacker Shaun Phillips was whistled for unnecessary roughness, advancing the ball to the 7.
BOX SCORE: Jets 17, Chargers 14
Rookie Shonn Greene ran for 1 yard and then 4, leaving third-and-goal at the 2. This time, the ball was left in the hands of rookie quarterback to Mark Sanchez to make a play. He did, rolling slowly to his right and waiting for someone, anyone, to break free. He cut loose a bullet to tight end Dustin Keller, who made a diving grab deep in the right side of the end zone only 1:25 into the fourth quarter.
"It came in pretty hot," Keller said, "but it was a very catchable ball."
Other breaks in favor of New York?
With the chance to give San Diego an early lead, Nate Kaeding pulled a 36-yard field goal attempt wide left midway through the opening quarter. He had gone 4-for-4 on field goal tries between 30 and 39 yards during the regular season.
The Jets again benefited from the unexpected when Kaeding misfired from 40 yards out in the fourth quarter, sending this boot past the right upright.
Said Keller, the significance of both botched kicks — and the emotional swings involved — could not be overstated.
"Those were definitely huge," Keller said. "This game was just filled with emotion. It was all over the place. With all the veterans we have, they keep us steady."
New York will have much to prove. It visited the Colts on Dec. 27, a week after coach Rex Ryan thought a 10-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, which dropped them to 7-7, meant mathematical elimination.
Indianapolis was ahead by five points in the third quarter when coach Jim Caldwell, with his team two games away from a perfect regular season at 14-0, made the controversial decision to pull quarterback Peyton Manning and other key starters. The Jets stormed back for a 29-15 victory.
Ryan made a joking reference to the turn of events by saying, "I don't know if Santa Claus is going to be that good to me again, but I will say I'd like to see Peyton Manning not play this week."
Keller said of the challenge ahead, "We have to go out there and prove that game wasn't a fluke. Whether it is the first team — no matter who is in — we can win."
New York had its share of good fortune against San Diego but also showed how potent its combination of a defense that led the NFL in allowing 14.8 points per game can be when paired with the league's most potent ground game.
The Jets continually turned back a San Diego offense that had paced the AFC with 28.4 points per game. Greene, with 23 carries for 128 yards that included a 53-yard score that created a 17-7 margin with 7:17 to play, paced a ground game that churned out 169 yards.
"We don't have to apologize," Ryan said of his team's surprising presence in the AFC title game. "It's old-fashioned ground and pound football and great defense."
Said center Nick Mangold, "When we're doing what we want to do — pound the ball — it's a matter of time before things go in our favor."
Ryan, who had raised eyebrows by saying his team should be favored to win it all and by distributing an itinerary last week that anticipated a Super Bowl parade down the Canyon of Heroes on Feb. 9, is still talking the talk.
After praising Indianapolis, he said simply, "We expect to win."
|Posted 1/17/2010 7:57 PM ET|
|Updated 1/18/2010 6:06 PM ET|