The Jekyll and Hyde New York Jets continue to love playing at home and their brash head coach seems to equally enjoy playing the San Diego Chargers.
While Jets’ head coach Rex Ryan may not have convinced many that he’d have won a pair of Super Bowls with the Chargers in the past, he once again was able to beat the coach who earlier beat him out for a head coaching job on the nation’s other coast.
Scoring the game’s final 17 points to erase a 21-10 halftime deficit against the Chargers (4-2), the Jets (4-3) won a second consecutive game at home for the second time this year (sandwiched around a three-game road losing streak), while cooling off hot San Diego, which entered Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Sunday riding a four-game winning streak.
Storming back in the second half was necessitated by another slow start for New York, as San Diego’s defense accounted for the game’s first score on the fourth play from scrimmage when linebacker Donald Butler (4 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 TD), a California native, scooped up a fumble by Jets’ tight end Dustin Keller (4 catches, 53 yards, 1 lost fumble) after a four-yard reception and raced 37 yards for a touchdown to put San Diego ahead 7-0, just 1:49 into the game.
The Jets immediately answered with a 35-yard field goal by kicker Nick Folk, which capped an eight-play, 64-yard drive and pulled New York to within 7-3 with 8:25 left in the opening quarter.
But, two Chargers’ possessions later, San Diego turned the game’s second turnover into another touchdown after another California-born Charger stopped the Jets’ offense.
Safety Eric Weddle (6 tackles, INT) intercepted quarterback Mark Sanchez (18-33, 173 yards, 3 TD, INT, 2 sacks) at the San Diego 25-yard line, to cut short a New York drive that traveled 42 yards on seven plays.
Weddle’s pick sparked a 14-play, 75-yard trip which used 6:28 and culminated with a two-yard touchdown throw from quarterback Phillip Rivers (16-32, 179 yards, TD, 2 INT, sack) to tight end Antonio Gates (5 catches, 54 yards, TD, playing for the first time after missing three games) to extend San Diego’s lead to 14-3 with 12:11 left in the first half.
Again, the Jets responded with a score on their next possession, but only to have the Chargers counter with one of their own the next time they touched the ball.
New York embarked on its longest drive of the game, going 77 yards on eight plays to cut San Diego’s lead to 14-10 on a three-yard touchdown pass from Sanchez to wide receiver Plaxico Burress (4 catches, 25 yards, 3 TD) with 7:18 left in the half.
The Chargers came right back with the game’s longest drive, going 87 yards on 11 plays in 5:56, to increase their lead to 21-10 on a one-yard touchdown plunge by running back Mike Tolbert (11 carries, 58 yards, TD) 1:16 before halftime Tolbert also had a key 29-yard run in the drive.
The second half was a far different story, as New York’s defense harassed and hurried the three-time pro bowler Rivers, who at one point, threw six straight incompletions during the third quarter while finishing the game with 128 passing yards below his season average.
San Diego punted on all three of their third-quarter possessions, during which they ran only 11 plays and gained a total of just 17 yards.
During the fourth quarter, the Chargers’ offense struggled even more, as Rivers was intercepted twice, each time, leading to a Jets’ score, before New York held San Diego on a final last-ditch drive.
New York’s offense meanwhile, took advantage of a short field to score three times in the second half.
A Jets’ drive of 43 yards on seven plays stalled at the Chargers’ 48-yard line, but punter T.J. Conley pinned San Diego at its own six yard line, from which the Chargers could gain nothing and were forced to punt.
A ten-play, 55-yard drive followed, finishing with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Sanchez to Burress, that brought New York to within 21-17 with 2:57 remaining in the third quarter.
Two Chargers’ possessions later, Rivers’ first interception stopped a San Diego drive at the New York 17-yard line, as cornerback Darrelle Revis (2 tackles, INT) intercepted his third pass in two weeks and returned the ball 64 yards to the Chargers’ 19-yard line. Six plays later, Sanchez threw to Burress for another 3-yard touchdown pass that gave the Jets the lead for good, 24-21, with 8:41 left in the game.
Five plays later, Rivers was intercepted again, this time, by cornerback Kyle Wilson (2 tackles, INT), a New Jersey native playing in his home state, who returned the ball ten yards to the Chargers’ 47-yard line.
With running back LaDainian Tomlinson getting a rare start (and early exit due to flu symptoms) against his ex-team (with whom he was a five-time pro bowler) but struggling (just 5 carries for 14 yards on Sunday), the Jets used 3:47 to go 35 yards on nine plays, staying on the ground for five of those plays with running back Shonn Greene (20 carries, game-high 112 yards).
Folk finished the drive with a 30-yard field goal that pushed New York’s lead to 27-21 with 1:36 remaining.
Starting at the Chargers’ 24-yard line with no time outs left, Rivers desperately tried to rally his team for a last-minute, game-winning score.
He completed three straight passes to take San Diego to its own 49-yard line, but he threw incomplete twice, the second time, on fourth down, with just three seconds left.
Though he was limited and not involved that much in his team’s victory, the win was a memorable one in a couple of ways for Tomlinson, who was facing his former team for the first time since the Chargers let him go after the 2009 season.
“I’d be lying if I said this didn’t add some satisfaction,” he admitted. “Just moving on, you never really get to close that chapter until you face them, and the win makes it even better.”
Tomlinson also added three catches for 37 yards. His first, a six-yard reception prior to Folk’s first field goal, made the 2006 league MVP only the fourth running back in NFL history to reach 600 career receptions.
He was unable to find the end zone however, which prevented him from joining wide receiver Terrell Owens as the only players to score against all of the NFL’s current 32 teams.
Ryan, who can relate to the Chargers not wanting Tomlinson, credited his running back with giving all he could despite being sick. “Before the game, he was ill, it looked like NASCAR coming in,” Ryan said of Tomlinson. “Like getting four tires and gas, they were all working on him.”
Along with Tomlinson, Ryan again got the last laugh on Sunday after causing a media stir earlier in the week. Ryan, who was overlooked for the Chargers’ head coaching job in favor of San Diego’s current head coach Norv Turner in 2007, asserted on Wednesday that he would have pair of Super Bowl rings by now had the Chargers hired him instead of Turner.
While neither coach can claim a Super Bowl title yet, this was the second head-to-head meeting between the two as head coaches, with Ryan’s Jets taking both games, including a big divisional round playoff upset of Turner’s Chargers in San Diego two years ago.
Far from a clinic at times, the game featured 21 penalties (13 by the Chargers) for 155 yards (95 for San Diego), but it was certainly a win that New York, seeking its third straight AFC title game appearance (and more) will gladly take as it searches for more consistency.
The Jets now head into their bye week, presumably to try to figure out how to do on the road this season what they’ve only been able to do at home – win a football game.
New York finishes the season with five of its final nine regular season games away from home, starting with a trip upstate for the first of two meetings within four weeks with AFC East rival Buffalo (4-2) on Sunday, November 6th, at 1 pm ET.