Jets' D Responds to Chargers' Insults
Underdogs. Pretenders. A mediocre but lucky team that lost six of seven games midseason and barely squeezed into the postseason as a wild-card with a 9-7 record, thanks in large part to the Indianapolis Colts' self-imposed Week 16 hiatus.
And the Jets got another earful on Sunday during warmups at Qualcomm Stadium before knocking helmets against the No. 2-seeded Chargers. More smack, insults and personal affronts.
Bad, bad idea, San Diego.
"We were real agitated, because when we came out a lot of those guys on the San Diego sideline were saying we didn't deserve to be here," said Jets trash-talking linebacker Bart Scott, who immediately seized upon the disrespect being shown to the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense and top-ranked rushing attack. "That kind of gave us extra motivation as well.
"The fact that we didn't believe they respected us as a football team ... sometimes you can look at records and pre-judge an opponent, but you have to take every opponent seriously in the playoffs. Every team is dangerous. You never know what is going to happen.
"It was chatter, man, a lot of chatter before the game. But we never said anything disrespectful about them during the week. So I don't know if that was a way of motivating themselves or what, but it kind of put us on edge."
What the Chargers got was a face-full of the Jets' dominant front four and a whole lot of coach Rex Ryan's attitude, swagger and his "46" defense on piling on top.
"If that weren't a New York Jets win right there!" bellowed a grinning Ryan, whose defense forced Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers to throw two interceptions -- the second of which the Jets turned into a go-ahead 2-yard Mark Sanchez touchdown pass to Dustin Keller four plays later, giving New York a 10-7 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The swarming Jets (11-7) rattled the Chargers badly in all phases: San Diego's All-Pro kicker Nate Kaeding missed all three field goal attempts, the offense converted only four of 13 third-down opportunities while the Bolts defense allowed the Jets' run attack to romp for 169 yards on 39 carries (4.3 yard-per-carry average).
Jets rookie running back Shonn Greene had 23 carries for 128 yards, including a soul-crushing 53-yard TD run midway through the fourth quarter that left the Qualcomm crowd of 69,498 steaming mad and booing their once-beloved Chargers.
San Diego (13-4) carried an 11-game winning streak into this contest, and the Chargers were persistent in handing off to LaDainian Tomlinson on first down, hoping to use that to set up play-action downfield.
But the Jets held L.T. to 24 yards on 12 carries, and San Diego found itself in third-and-long far more than it wanted.
Dominating on first down definitely helped the Jets stop the Chargers so often on third down, Scott said.
"It takes the play-action away. When it's third-and-7 and sometimes it's third-and-3, third-and-4, they can get the ball to [Antonio Gates], runs screen, draws," Scott said. "A couple of times they tried to catch us in that situation because Cincinnati caught us in that situation, in a sub-situation of running the ball.
"Like I said, we learn from our mistakes and understand how teams want to attack us. So we were prepared."
In many ways, it was that Ryan in-your-face demeanor, that defensive bluster that the rookie head coach imported from his days as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator, that propelled the Jets into next week's AFC Championship game against the team that rested its starters against them on Dec. 27.
"A matchup that probably nobody wanted, but too bad," Ryan said. "Here we come!"
After mistakenly declaring his team out of the playoffs before the improbable 29-15 win over the Colts' backups on Dec.27, Ryan's Jets clinched a postseason berth the following week by routing the Bengals 37-0 in Week 17.
They knocked off Cincinnati again in the wild-card round 24-14 by hanging around and being patient, a trait that's worked well for this team.
"We looked ugly there for awhile, we took their best shots and were hanging in there," Ryan said. "We say that the fourth quarter is like championship rounds. Our guys really stood up."
What should the Colts think about drawing the Jets and not the Bolts, a team that has zapped them from the playoffs each of the last two seasons?
"I hope we're their worst nightmare," said safety Kerry Rhodes, whose blindside hit on Rivers in the third quarter on third-and-13 caused a 10-yard loss and punctuated an overall explosive defensive effort. "We're a team that's hungry right now, we believe in ourselves and we're playing great on both sides of the ball."
San Diego's prolific offense got a second-quarter boost from Antonio Gates' one-handed fingertip catch that set up Rivers' 2-yard scoring pass to blocking tight end Kris Wilson. But what followed – almost an entire second half of pure misery, broken up only by Rivers' 1-yard touchdown sneak -- left the Chargers reeling.
"You like to be playing your best football in January in games like this," Chargers coach Norv Turner said.
But this was, as Ryan put it, a Jets' kind of day: His team recovered the onside kick and controlled the clock the rest of the way, forcing Rivers and Co. to watch the Jets celebration in total frustration.
"Nobody expected us to be here anyway. I hope this validates our place in the playoffs and will stop you guys from saying we backed in. We didn't back in. We earned where we're at," Scott said.
No team had held the Chargers to 20 points or fewer all season.
"We really should have held them to seven," Scott said. "We'll go back and get those things corrected. That's an explosive offense, a great team with a lot of weapons.
"People can say what they want, that they're the better team, but we were the better team today. And that's all you need in the playoffs."