Jets Look To Colts For Right To Be Super

Jets rookie head coach Rex Ryan admitted after his clubs shocking 17-14 win Over San Diego in the AFC Divisional round Sunday at QualComm stadium, that a rematch with the Colts for the rights to go to the Super Bowl, was not what most football fans wanted to see yet added “That’s too bad. Here we come.” As the moments passed shortly following the Jets 17-14 shocker over the AFC West champion Chargers, it was hard to believe that it was the 13-3 Chargers, NOT the 9-7 Jets who were going home. Eliminated. Finished. Packing up. Well, believe it. The Chargers, a team that averaged 28 points per game in 2009, could muster only seven against the Jets until the games waning minutes Sunday. The Jets, owners of the NFL’s number one defense once again seized the moment to record their second straight road playoff win and now look to cap off an improbable month long run with the biggest win of them all. A victory against the Colts that would ironically propel the Jets shockingly into the Super Bowl in Miami.

After all it was the Colts back in week 16 who infamously resuscitated the fading Jets by benching star QB Peyton Manning in the third quarter of a 15-10 game in which the Jets trailed. Throwing their undefeated season away in exchange for the assurance of the health of their key players for the post season, the Colts handed the reigns over to QB Curtis Painter who hand’t taken an NFL regular season snap in his career. The Jets then did what THEY had to do by stripping backup QB Curtis Painter and turning it into a TD and a 17-15 lead. What ensued from there was a 29-15 win that, coupled with the following weeks 37-0 shutout of the equally unmotivated AFC North champion Bengals, paved the way for a bizarre and controversial playoff berth.

Many questioned if the Jets even deserved to be in the playoffs. Most fans will tell you that the Colts would’ve easily held on to beat the Jets and then the Bills in week 17 to go 16-0, yet the truth is, we’ll never know how THAT would’ve turned out. Instead, the Jets and Colts will do it again next Sunday both with a chance at setting their own record straight. The Jets can prove all those who feel the Colts handed the Jets the game that day wrong, by beating the Colts at full strength. By beating the Jets, the Colts can quiet the detractors who disagree that resting starters after locking up the one seed is the best way to prepare for a Super Bowl run. For the Chargers, a great regular season has again led only to a difficult playoff loss and an offseason left wondering, “how” and “why.” The Bolts self examination begins today as players began cleaning out their lockers most likely in disbelief, after one of the more surprising Jet wins in franchise history.

The Chargers, the leagues top team twenty plus yard receptions, came into yesterday’s Divisional playoff game hoping to make good on the challenge of facing the NFL’s stingiest defense against the pass. (The Jets led the NFL in pass defense, giving up just 153 yards per game in 2009.)The first quarter saw the Bolts moving the ball reasonably well through the air as Chargers QB Phillip Rivers found Bolts top wideout Vincent Jackson (7-111 yards) for some nice twenty yard gains. TE Antonio Gates (8-93 yards), the future hall of famer who at 6′5, always presents a mismatch, was gaining position in the middle of the field, and slowly becoming Rivers’ security blanket. The Jets on the other hand, failed to manage a first down on their first four drives. The Chargers finally took the lead on a Rivers 13 yard TD pass to Kris Wilson. Rather than try to add tot he lead in the air, the Chargers strength, Chargers head coach Norv Turner instead tried to force the Charger run game, ranked 31st in the NFL, rushing at just 3.8 yards per carry, down the Jets throat. The plan failed as Jet defenders consistently kept Charger legend Ladanian Tomlinson (12-24 yards), who has been slowed by toe injuries the past two seasons, in check. By playing a game of field position the Chargers hoped to wait on a mistake by Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez (who threw 20 ints in 2009, but none in the past three games), as a way to go up two scores.

San Diego’s plan may have worked had it not been for the first of three missed FGs by AFC Pro Bowl kicker Nate Kaeding (69 straight FGs form 40 yards in going into the game) from 36 yards out. Kaeding has a history of playoff misses vs the Jets. A rookie back in 2005, he had a key missed 40 yard FG against the Jets in the AFC Wildcard OT win. A 57 yard attempt by the AFC pro bowler fell short . With it, the Bolts ability to create distance and force the Jets out of the Ground and Pound in the second half. The score was 7-0 Chargers, a position Ryan admitted later made him feel good about the clubs chances in pulling off the major upset.

After a quality drive that followed Brad Smith’s return to the Jet 40 to start the third. Ryan called a timeout on a key fourth and one, midway through the 3rd, at the SD 29. Ryan then elected to change his mind and try for a long field goal, rather than the original plan to go for it. The extra time to decide payed off as K Jay Feely drilled the Jets onto the scoreboard 7-3. This left the Jets in the position to need one big play in order to take control. Enter S Jim Leonhard.

The hard nosed Wisconin Badger walk on, who forced, then seemingly recovered a first half fumble of WR Malcom Floyd in the Charger territory while falling helmetless, became the man of the moment for the Jets just after a Steve Weatherford punt left the Chargers inside their own five yard line. Leonard picked off Rivers who miss timed a Charger crossing route inside the Charger 25. After the play, a personal foul for unsportsmanlike conduct on the uncharacterisically volatile Chargers left the Jets inside the Charger 10 to start the fourth. Penalties plagued the Bolts all day. Some were a result of stupidity, others frustration, others like three false starts by the Chargers offensive line, were a result of a disguising aggressive Jet pressure that kept Rivers off balance all day.

The Leonard pick became a 3rd and 2 in side the five on the second play of the fourth, Sanchez then looked to make up for a mistake made minutes earlier when he threw his first interception in 48 possesions. Trying to find the heavily guarded Braylon Edwards, the rookie’s ill timed throw left the Chargers inside the Jet 50 with a chance to widen a 7-3 lead. CB Darelle Revis, snubbed this week in favor Charles Woodson for NFL defensive player of the year, then helped the Jets weather that storm. “REvis Island” left Jackson stranded, with an incredible pick on a pass intended that hit the Chargers main deep threat’s foot as both players fell to the ground. This helped in keeping the ball alive long enough for Revis to snatch it while lying down.

Sanchez then made the key throw of the day as he play actioned then rolled out right. FB Tony Richardson, according to Sanchez, was the primary target but was covered. Second year TE Dustin Keller who was sandwiched in the back of the end zone by two Charger defenders, t instinctively burrowed away from the defenders right corner pile on. Just at that moment Sanchez read Keller’s mind and delivered a hard low strike that Keller grabbed for the go ahead TD. The Jets, now up 10-7, were in the drivers seat as the Charger crowd sat stunned, contemplating yet another once promising year headed for disaster. The 2006 Charger team led by then QB Drew Brees were an NFL best 14-2 yet got bounced by the Pats 24-21 at home. That AFC divisional round loss to what on paper appeared to be an undermanned New England club, essentially ended head coach Marty Schottenheimer’s tenure. Now suddenly down 10-7, Charger fans faced history rearing its ugly head again.

Where was that high powered air attack that helped lead the Chargers to scoring no less than 20 points a game in 2009? It was working to a degree in the first half. Not in the second half though, after Jet defenders pleaded with Ryan at halftime to give up on zone coverage. The Jets then went man to man and the switch worked. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said during the week that the Jet secondary welcomed the chance to use press coverage on the Chargers tall wideouts at the line. By getting physical at the line, the Jets began to disrupt the timing of many Charger pass routes. All the while snuffing out screen play attempts by the leagues top screen pass offense. Attemtps to hit big gains on these plays by utilizing big play speedster RB Darren Sproles were rebuffed as the Jet front seven reacted well all day to the Bolts offensive line’s covert and latent movements into the flat . The Jets were playing with the lead and a bruising ground game in their hip pocket, knowing they were less than 15 minutes away from a rematch with the Colts.

After the Jets got a stop on the ensuing drive, the Ground and Pound took over. Rookie Shonne Greene ( 128 yards) began to impose himself on a Chargers defense that started well but began to wear down. Then the Jets broke it open. Greene , who broke a 49 yard run for a TD in Cincinnati last week in the Wildcard round, found a seem yet again on the left side. Greene then busted through and turned it on through the Charger secondary for a 53 yard TD run and a 17-7 Jet lead with just 7:17 left. The third round rookie out of Iowa has become a big factor in the Jet offense in these playoffs with two back to back 100 yard games.

The Chargers came right back after returning a poorly executed Jet squib kick to the Jet 45. The Bolts drive died however at the Jet 23, then Kaeding then missed his third FG of the day a 40 yarder with 4:38 to play. The Jets played it safe and went three and out as the Bolts got it back with under 4:00 left. The Chargers then cut the Jet lead to 17-14 with 2:14 left. A one yard sneak by Rivers helped overcome another dumb 15 yard penalty by the Chargers ( Vincent Jackson was hit unsportsmanlike on the drive for kicking Ryan’s red challenge flag thrown by the Jet head coach in order to review whether a tight catch by Jackson at the Jet 20 was done with both feet in bounds).

With only one timeout and the two minute warning Charger Coach Norv Turner then chose to make the risky decision of an onsides kick. Turner decided on the onsides instead of kicking the ball away, which may have forced the Jets , who were surely going to run on every down, to punt it back on 4th down if they were short. This scenario would have left the Chargers enough time for a last minute drive for a long game tying FG. Instead the high bouncing onsides kick fell into the hands of the recently resurgent Jets safety Kerry Rhodes. Rhodes, who prior to the season, was thought by some to become Ryan’s next version of Ed Reed, overcame a benching in week 12 for poor play leading up to it, and has been a man on the scene for Gang Green since.

The recovery left the Jets in safe four down territory, one first down away from a trip to Indy. Then it happened, THAT fourth and one with just over a minute to play. Again, had the Jets been in their own end, they would’ve certainly punted. Instead, a nation of lip readers watched Ryan say “let’s go for it.” Timeout was called. The Jets offense, on the Charger 29, briefly rested up for the big play as they saw no need to punt where an accidental touchback would gain them only nine yards of field position.

Ryan was going to put his faith into the hands of the NFL’s number one rushing offense. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer then inserted sure handed power runner Thomas Jones for Greene. The 31 year old vet, one of the leagues top rushers in 2009, followed FB Tony Richardson into the heart of a Jet offensive line sporting two pro bowlers in C Nick Mangold and G Alan Faneca. This against a tired Charger run defense, ranked just 20th against the run. Jones busted it through, delivering the game clinching four yard plunge that gave the Jets a first down. The Chargers with no timeouts, could only watch helplessly. The play sent the Jets packing for Indy while sending the

13-3 Chargers packing.

None of the CBS pre game experts which included among others, former Super Bowl winning coach Bill Cowher, gave the Jets a chance in San Diego. Some of the Chargers themselves apparently didn’t believe it could be done either . LB Bart Scott said afterwards that Charger players were chirping during pre game warm ups how the Jets didn’t deserve to be here. This Scott said, added to fuel to the fire of a Jet team that has played with heart all season. A team that has overcome it’s own inconsistency to survive long enough to allow the chance to mesh together all three phases of the game. A team with a like minded sense of purpose of going all the way that has grown and grown bigger for over a month now.

Many felt the Jets had no right obtaining a gift from the Colts then the Bengals in order to sneak into the playoffs, yet regardless the Jets are now gaining steam. Serious steam. Sanchez has figured out how to manage this run heavy offense without getting in the way by throwing the game away. The defense continues to play with a chip on it’s shoulder, taking pride in shutting every offense they face, down. The Jets players completely believe in their loud brash made for New York rookie head coach who drawn a line in the sand by saying essentially “don’t believe those 50-1 odds, the Super Bowl favorite is right here in Green and White.” In the bigger picture the franchise known for the term “Same Old Jets” is quickly beginning to reshape this image of failure into a vision of a “New Jets,” thanks to the their fearless leader, the cocky anti-Jet, Rex Ryan. The “New Jets” are club that plays with fight in its heart, and a no quit mentality. It’s a team that is showing it can come through in the clutch moments of a big game, on the road as well..

The 17-14 stunner in San Diego, the Jets biggest win in over 41 years, sets the stage for a much anticipated rematch with the 14-2 Colts. Indy were 20-3 winners over the also run heavy defensive minded Ravens on Saturday at home, in their divisional playoff battle. Only Peyton Manning and the 14-2 Colts stand in the way of the Jets first Super Bowl appearance since 1969. It’s important for any team, in this case the Jets, to relish these opportunities. Being in position to stand just 60 minutes away from the Super Bowl doesn’t come around so easily adn often, despite how the Jets top AFC East rival the Patriots have made things look over the past decade. Even when additional chances DO arise, big regular seasons that can help lead to a club earning itself a playoff bye week never guarantees anything. Just ask the Chargers.

A look back at the three keys to the Chargers:

Make SD’s offense one dimensional:

We said “we’ll steal a page out of Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s press conference on Thursday. To make the Chargers one dimensional would do wonders for a defense that is already locked in on the Air attack.” Bingo. SD had just 57 yards between LT and Sproles.

Braylon, Come on!

We said ” If Edwards can relax like his rookie QB has learned to do this month, we may have the X factor of the game right here in #17.”Well, Edwards was 2 for 41 yards in a game where Sanchez had just 100 yards passing. Perhaps Edwards stretched the field enough for Greene who sealed it with the long TD. A real deal breakout game is what we asked for. If it happens in Indy for Edwards it could make the Jets Super.

Withstand the early onslaught.

We asked Gang Green to keep it close after SD throws the big first punch. “What the Jets cant afford is a few big plays and mistakes hitting them hard early. ” The Jets did exactly that, managing to trail just 7-0 despite not being able to obtain a first down for the first 4 drives. That was HUGE. The Chargers inability to put the Jets away in the first half before the Jets were able to adjust, may be the reason why they’re going home and Jets are moving on.

follow TJ Rosenthal on twitter@ thejetreport

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