What We Learned: Chargers-Jets
SAN DIEGO -- Jets quarterback Brett Favre called Monday night's game against the Chargers a must-win. San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson found that to be a curious statement considering the Jets were 1-1 and the Chargers were 0-2.
"We're the ones that don't have a win" Tomlinson said.
Now they do. The Chargers showed why they were a popular preseason pick to reach the Super Bowl by dominating the Jets 48-29 at Qualcomm Stadium.
Quarterback Philip Rivers threw for 250 yards and three touchdowns, Tomlinson ran for two scores and the defense intercepted three passes, one of which Antonio Cromartie returned 52 yards for a score. Cromartie also added a second pick, his first two of the year after leading the league with 10 last season.
What did we learn from the game?
1. Philip Rivers is playing like an MVP: Anyone still questioning whether Rivers is an elite quarterback needs psychiatric help. The former NC State star showed his physical toughness last year by playing in the AFC Championship Game six days after having arthroscopic knee surgery. On Monday night, he showed his mental toughness by leading the team on four consecutive first-half scoring drives after throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown on his opening series.
The final three offensive scores were touchdown passes of one yard to fullback Mike Tolbert, 27 yards to wideout Chris Chambers and six yards to tight end Antonio Gates. Rivers leads the league in touchdown passes (nine) and average yards per attempt (9.9). With each week, it becomes more obvious coach Norv Turner is building his offensive game plans around Rivers and the passing game -- and not around L.T. and the running game.
2. The Jets offense is still a work in progress: The Jets didn't acquire Favre until the first week of August, and it shows. He and his receivers still appear out of sync, such as when Favre threw long and Jerricho Cotchery went short, resulting in an interception that set-up a San Diego touchdown. On another pass, Favre threw short when the receiver, running back Thomas Jones, went long, resulting in a near-pick by Cromartie, who allowed the ball to bounce off his normally sticky hands with an open field in front of him. Cromartie redeemed himself with a terrific tip-and-grab interception he returned 52 yards for a score. New York reportedly pared its playbook Monday and relied on plays Favre was comfortable with. Didn't matter. Fact is, the former Green Bay star spent 17 years running the West Coast offense and seemingly could carry out a game plan from rote memory.
Learning a new system with the Jets is going to take time, and fortunately for the Jets, the schedule is not daunting in the upcoming weeks. Their next six games: Arizona, Cincinnati, at Oakland, Kansas City, at Buffalo and St. Louis. Several San Diego defensive backs said it was obvious to them -- after watching film of Favre -- that he and his receivers aren't consistently on the same page, and those observations were confirmed in person. Favre groused about the conservative nature of the play-calling after a loss to New England two Sundays ago; but offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was more aggressive on Monday, calling pass plays on 16 of the team's 25 first-half snaps. That period produced 70 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and one defensive score.
3. Norv Turner was brilliant with his play-calling -- but not his decision-making: With the Chargers ahead 38-20 early in the fourth quarter, Turner still had Tomlinson in the game despite a sprained toe. Why? Turner said the game was not out of hand and that Tomlinson wanted to remain on the field. Perhaps, but did Tomlinson need to be in the game with eight minutes to play, up 15? The simple answer is no. The risk clearly outweighed the reward at that point, and despite Rivers' standout play through three games, the Chargers are going to need a healthy Tomlinson down the stretch if they're to achieve their goal of winning a Super Bowl. Sorry to nitpick, but it makes no sense when coaches unnecessarily expose key players to injury when the outcome is a fait accompli, which Monday night's game was in the fourth quarter.
4. The Chargers defense must still be reckoned with: In their first game after All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman was lost for the season to a knee surgery, the Chargers defense was torched for 39 points and 486 yards at Denver. The unit managed only one sack in 50 pass attempts. But against the Jets, the defense consistently harassed Favre, finishing with three sacks. That doesn't begin to tell the story of the pressure it generated. Defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell said he really didn't change anything from the previous week, although several players said he added secondary blitzes that were not in the previous week's game plan. Anyway, the Chargers showed they still have the capability to be a disruptive defense, even without Merriman.
Truth be told, they aren't going to face many offensive juggernauts in the coming weeks. Of their remaining 13 games, only four are against teams in the top 13 in scoring: Denver (1st, 38.0 points a game), New Orleans (8th, 26.7), Buffalo (9th, 26.0) and Tampa Bay (13th, 23.7). The 10 others feature teams that have offensive issues: Miami (17th, 20.7), Oakland twice (18th, 20.0), Pittsburgh (23rd, 18.0), Indianapolis (25th, 17.3), New England (26th, 16.3) and Kansas City twice (30th, 10.7).