SAN DIEGO, Jan. 8 -- Marty Schottenheimer stormed down the sideline, anger emanating from every pore, yanked his hat off his head, then finally resisted the urge to chuck it on to the field. What the San Diego Chargers' coach had just seen, he simply could not believe. His team was caught with 12 players on the field while fielding a punt and trailing by a touchdown with less than seven minutes to play in an AFC playoff game against the New York Jets at Qualcomm Stadium.
Schottenheimer, named the 2004 NFL coach of the year Saturday and a former coach of the Washington Redskins, would be a ball of emotions from that point on, experiencing a wild flurry of mood swings while his team came back to tie the game in dramatic fashion, then suffered a gut-wrenching, 20-17 loss, on Doug Brien's 28-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining in the first overtime period, sending New York through to the next round and giving Schottenheimer his fourth straight playoff defeat.
Chad Pennington's pass floats past Quentin Jammer's arms and into wide receiver Santana Moss's hands for a 47-yard touchdown.
(Kevork Djansezian -- AP)
San Diego appeared to have the game wrapped up with less than five minutes left in the overtime period, but rookie place kicker Nate Kaeding missed a 40-yard field goal and the Jets came roaring back, with Santana Moss snagging an 18-yard pass in full stride and running back LaMont Jordan plowing ahead for 19 yards to help give Brien a shorter kick.
"It's hard to describe to you the disappointment that's in that locker room right now," Schottenheimer said. "But as disappointing as it is, and it will linger for some time, nobody thought we'd be here, and that's the kind of thing you can build on."
An otherwise orthodox game turned batty the moment the Chargers were caught with too many players on the field. That five-yard penalty was enough to give the Jets a first down, sustaining their drive and taking two more precious minutes off the clock, but New York could not add to its lead. The Chargers took over at their 20-yard line with less than five minutes to play and promptly moved inside the Jets 10, with Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates rumbling 44 yards on a screen pass. Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees ran the ball to the 1 with 71 seconds remaining, but LaDainian Tomlinson was dropped for a one-yard loss and San Diego faced fourth and their season from the 2-yard line.
Linebacker Eric Barton surged through the line and had Brees scrambling desperately, forcing a lob into the end zone that was knocked to the ground. But Barton was called for roughing the passer -- he delivered a gratuitous forearm to Brees's head -- and the Chargers got another shot, and a first down, from the 1 with 16 seconds to play. Brees hit Gates in the end zone on the next play; the game was tied at 17 with 11 seconds remaining and headed to overtime.
New York came out throwing at the start of the game; Curtis Martin, the NFL's top rusher, faced the league's third-ranked run defense, while San Diego's 31st-rated passing defense beckoned to be tested.
New York gained 10 yards or more on five its first 15 plays, picking up chunks of yards in the secondary, but its crisp opening drive was for naught, as Brien missed wide right from 33 yards as the rain pelted down. After each team had possessions end with punts, Chargers opened the scoring on a methodical, 8-minute 25-second march downfield. San Diego used Tomlinson to attack the Jets. He carried eight times on the scoring drive, accounting for 39 of his team's 88 yards.
Brees called an audible on a key third and five from the Chargers 42 -- the only third down San Diego faced on this 13-play crusade -- and handed off to Tomlinson, who slithered ahead for six yards. Brees took his first real shot downfield from the Jets 26 and found wide receiver Keenan McCardell several strides ahead of the coverage in the back of the end zone; McCardell pulled the ball in and dragged his toes inbounds for the touchdown. The back judge initially ruled he did not have possession of the ball, but the call was overturned on a replay challenge and San Diego led 7-0 about six minutes into second quarter.
New York had to cover just 37 yards to counter that score, despite the yells of protest from Schottenheimer. Schottenheimer believed his punter, Mike Scifres, was hit by Jets cornerback Jon McGraw deep in Chargers territory and ran on the field screaming for a flag; when it came, it went against Schottenheimer, and that 15-yard boost put the Jets in striking range with just more than five minutes left in the half.
Chad Pennington again looked for gaps in the Chargers' coverage and found Justin McCareins on a slant for 21 yards on third and nine -- Pennington went 5 for 5 for 59 yards in the first half on third-down throws -- and connected with tight end Anthony Becht on a 13-yard touchdown pass two plays later.
Brees had San Diego on the move again late in the half, but a pass bounced off McCardell and was intercepted by safety Reggie Tongue and the teams headed back to the locker room tied at 7.
Pennington issued a salvo early in the third quarter to give his team its first lead. San Diego's vulnerable secondary was conceding yards in bunches -- all three of Pennington's completions on the five-play drive went for at least 10 yards -- and the quarterback continued his third-down mastery here, finding McCareins on a slant for 10 yards on third and three (he was now 6 for 6 on third downs). That brought that ball to the Chargers 47 and on the next play Pennington found Moss streaking down the middle of the field, beyond cornerback Quentin Jammer and safety Jerry Wilson, and the perfectly thrown ball went through their outstretched hands and right to Moss's, making it 14-7.
The Jets added three points to their lead the next time they got the ball. New York was taunting the Chargers now, using multiple four-receiver sets, and a 23-yard screen to Martin keyed the drive, with stalwart center Kevin Mawae and guards Pete Kendall and Brandon Moore hustling downfield to open a huge lane after the catch.
Brien, who missed his first attempt, barely connected from 42 yards, getting a fortuitous carom off the right upright, and San Diego trailed, 17-7, with less than 90 seconds remaining in the third quarter. The Chargers' promising drive to the start the fourth quarter stalled at the Jets 17, and they settled for a 35-yard field goal from Kaeding to pull within seven.
"Games aren't usually that dramatic," the Jets' Martin said. "This was one of the most dramatic games I've ever been a part of."