Cinderella Jets provide drama (cont.)
Revis and the Jets defense wound up surrendering 298 yards on 27 of 40 passing by Rivers, but it intercepted him twice, forced him to fumble once, sacked him twice, and prompted his first bad game in an otherwise superb season. The Chargers started an abysmal 1 of 8 on third downs, and managed only 4 of 13 conversions the whole game, despite moving the ball at the very end against New York.
Though San Diego recovered Rivers' fumble when he was hit by blitzing Jets safety Kerry Rhodes on 3rd and 13 from the Chargers 43, the play, which came with San Diego trailing 10-7 with 10:20 remaining, served notice that New York had the Chargers squarely on the run.
"Sometimes when you hit the quarterback, the whole team feels it," Ryan said, quite tellingly.
The Jets being the Jets, the real turning point of the afternoon came with New York refusing to go away from its top-ranked running game, even when it was being overwhelmed by the San Diego defensive front early on. The Jets run because that's their mindset, and when Greene broke a 53-yard touchdown run for the eventual game-winning points with 7:17 remaining, New York's get-tough approach on that side of the ball was vindicated as well.
"When you keep running the ball, keep pounding it, it's going to break at some point," said Greene, who finished with a game-high 128 yards on 23 carries, after having just 35 yards on nine attempts in the first half. "We like to wear teams down at the end of the game."
There was one more dramatic chance for New York and its running game to impose its will on San Diego, and it came in the game's final two minutes, with the Jets facing a fourth-and-1 at the Chargers 29, protecting its three-point lead with 1:09 remaining. Others in the press box assumed Ryan would either try and draw San Diego offside, or pooch punt it inside the Chargers 10. But not me. I was certain New York would run it and go for the kill right then and there. Thomas Jones went two yards up the middle, and the game was over.
"Our guys believe in that philosophy," Ryan said. "There was no way we weren't going to run our bread-and-butter there. It was just basically, 'Hey, let's be true to ourselves.' They know what we're going to run, but let's put T.J. back there and do our thing that we've done all year, and that's run that power."
By now, these Jets also believe in the resilient Sanchez, the rookie who started the season on fire, struggled horribly in the middle and late in the schedule, and has now rediscovered his moxie and big-play touch. Sanchez finished 12 of 23 for just 100 yards passing, but he was intercepted just once, threw the go-ahead touchdown (a 2-yard pass to tight end Dustin Keller), and managed New York's win with ever-increasing aplomb.
"I try not to think about stuff like that," said Sanchez, when asked his thoughts at being one game removed from playing in a Super Bowl as a rookie. "Just roll. Just keep going, and keep playing. Don't change a thing. I'm definitely not shaving. I'll wear the same stuff and go to the same places to eat, and study like crazy."
Some will say the Chargers' beat themselves on this day, and to be sure San Diego deserves a mountain of blame for its sloppy play, a very dubious and unsuccessful late-game onside kick call by head coach Norv Turner, and those three crushing Nate Kaeding missed field goals (36, 57 and 40 yards, despite entering the game with an NFL record 69 consecutive conversions of less than 40 yards).
But to call the Jets lucky to be here is sounding more hollow with each passing week. New York keeps winning the New York way, and even if the Jets can count on getting Peyton Manning for all four quarters next Sunday in Indianapolis, there's nobody in Ryan's locker room who will back down from next week's challenge.
"They know we're a good football team and all that kind of stuff," Ryan said. "Do we know they're a great team? Of course. There's no question. I don't know if Santa Claus is going to be that good again, [but] I will say it: I'd like to see Peyton Manning not play this week."
Sorry, Rex. I'm afraid it's out of the question this time. But then, you have only yourself and your Cinderella football team to blame for that.
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