Monday, January 18, 2010

Stunt flight

Quarterback Mark Sanchez has reason to jump for joy after the Jets converted the first down that enabled them to run out the clock.

Daring Jets do the trick, tip Chargers

SAN DIEGO - Remembering what happened in Week 16, and seeing the questions coming, Rex Ryan just blurted it out, like he does so many other things.
“I’ll say it,’’ the Jets coach said with that trademark smirk. “I’d like to see Peyton Manning not play this week.’’
The coach might not want to repeat that to his players, a team that rode an unwavering confidence - through thick and thin - to qualify for next week’s AFC Championship game.
A lot, of course, has changed for the Jets since Ryan was installed as Eric Mangini’s replacement last January. One thing hasn’t: The coach’s belief in the team he’s leading, and the players’ belief in themselves.
That, more than anything else, is how the Jets halted the Chargers’ 11-game winning streak yesterday at Qualcomm Stadium, outlasting and outfighting the AFC West champions and knocking out San Diego by a 17-14 count.
New York travels to Indianapolis next Sunday to face the Colts team that helped give it passage to the playoffs in that Week 16 game by sitting its starters through most of the second half in a game the Jets won.
This one was over when, with 1:09 left, Thomas Jones barreled through the line and converted a fourth and 1 with a 2-yard gain, sapping the last drop of hope from the home team. It covered just 6 feet of grass, yet said so much about this game.
“Being able to finish it on the field like that, with our bread-and-butter play, that’s an ecstatic feeling,’’ said guard Brandon Moore, a Jet since 2002. “We’ve been successful in goal-line and short-yardage all year, and there was never any doubt that we were going to go for it and get it.’’
And after a kneeldown by Mark Sanchez the Jets were on their way to their first AFC title game appearance since the 1998 season and a shot at their first trip to the Super Bowl in 41 years.
The Jets knew what they were going to call, the Chargers did, too, and it became the ultimate test of physicality. Which is just what New York wanted the game to become, on both sides of the ball.
“[The Colts] believe in Peyton Manning and they believe in the way they play,’’ linebacker Bart Scott, a Ryan import from Baltimore, said. “They get ahead, they let those guys come off the edge, and put pressure on your defense, and if they get up a couple scores, they let the dogs loose.
“They play to Peyton Manning, the strength of their team. Our strength right now is our defense . . . We have to believe in the way we play.’’

Belief is sticking to the plan, even when it takes a quarter-and-a-half to churn out your initial first down. Belief is continuing to rely on your strength, even when that strength - in this case, the defense - is showing cracks when faced with the opponent’s strength.
The Jets believed it would work out the way they’d planned, and it did. At the half, the Chargers held a 212-99 advantage in yards from scrimmage, and Philip Rivers had rolled up 159 yards through the air. Yet, San Diego led just 7-0, on a 13-yard scoring strike from Rivers to backup tight end Kris Wilson, and that meant the Jets had their hosts right where they wanted them.
There were tweaks to the plan. New York mixed coverages wildly in the first half, but went with more man-to-man after the break, keeping it simple in back, which allowed Ryan to be more exotic with his pressure up front, and playing the receivers physical to throw off Rivers’s timing. Offensively, a heavier emphasis was put on the short-passing game, to extend drives and maximize the pounding the Jets could inflict.
“We felt like we were the more physical team,’’ All-Pro corner Darrelle Revis said after turning in another spectacular performance. “First half, they had us on our heels a little bit. Second half, we just adjusted - let’s stick to what we were doing the whole season.’’
The offense set the tone right away after the break, giving Jones two carries, and grinding out 12 yards between the tackles to move the sticks. That drive may have only gone 32 yards, but it produced a field goal, and contained five running plays, further inflicting the damage.
The defense responded with a three-and-out, then really turned up the heat. San Diego’s next two possessions ended with interceptions, the first an eye-opening pick by Revis while he was flat on his back, and the second by Jim Leonhard, which put the offense on the Chargers 16-yard line.
Four plays later, the Jets had the lead for good. A Shaun Phillips personal foul, a pretty clear sign of San Diego’s frustration, pushed along the process, and rookie QB Sanchez’s 2-yard dart on a bootleg to tight end Dustin Keller made it 10-7.
“We say that we’re chopping down a tree,’’ said Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold. “Today’s tree was a lot bigger than some other ones, so it took a lot longer than usual. But in the end, we got that thing down.’’
The final swing came on the Jets’ next possession.
Greene took a handoff from the New York 47, ran downhill into a clearing - “all I saw was green grass,’’ he said - and all he had to do from there was lower his shoulder into safety Eric Weddle, break loose, and run to daylight. Yes, it was one play. But it was the result of so many more in a game in which the Jets ran the ball 39 times, and threw it just 23.
“When you’re able to break something like that,’’ Mangold said, “all those 2-yard, 3-yard gains, it makes them all right.’’
The Chargers responded by driving to the Jets 22, but Nate Kaeding missed his third field goal of the day, a 40-yarder. San Diego got the ball back and drove 63 yards on seven plays, a Rivers 1-yard run cutting the lead to 17-14, but it would be the last time they’d have the ball after failing on an onside kick attempt.
Jones’s final first down may have been frustrating for San Diego, but in the end, the Chargers could look in the mirror to find the real answers. All three of the Chargers’ first-quarter drives went deep into New York territory, and were sunk by penalties. There were the turnovers and missed field goals, and in the end, another opportunity blown by a talent-laden club.
“Everyone is going to be looking for someone to blame,’’ said defensive end Luis Castillo. “We’ll have nine months for every individual to find a way to point to themselves and find a way, one of these years, to get past one of these games.’’
The Jets found that way, and it was the same way it has been all year, come hell or high water.
“If you believe, and you’ve seen it before, then you don’t question it,’’ said Scott. “See, a lot of guys may not have believed it at first. But I believe it because I’ve seen it. I’ve been through it. And that franchise I was with before won a Super Bowl that way.
“That’s not trend anymore. The trend is airing the ball out, putting a lot of points on the board, and then making the opposing team throw the ball so you can get interceptions and make big plays later. We’re old school, throwback style.’’


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