Jets outlast Chargers, 17-14, reach AFC title game

New York's Nick Mangold (74) and Mark Sanchez celebrate a Shonn Greene touchdown.
New York's Nick Mangold (74) and Mark Sanchez celebrate a Shonn Greene touchdown. (Jeff Chiu/associated Press)
By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 18, 2010

SAN DIEGO -- Perhaps the last batch of doubters the New York Jets will face this season were lined up on the opposing sideline Sunday. Before their game against the Chargers, Jets linebacker Bart Scott says he heard them yapping. "You don't belong here," Scott reported hearing. "The Jets don't deserve to be here."

Since the start of these playoffs, it has essentially been an accepted truth. But after beating the Chargers, 17-14, knocking the hottest team in the NFL out of the playoffs, the Jets are the most surprising of the four teams still standing. They advance to the AFC title game next weekend in Indianapolis and find themselves just one win away from the Super Bowl.

"We believed the whole time, the whole year, when probably it wasn't the popular choice, the popular opinion," Jets Coach Rex Ryan said. "But here we are."

In the Jets' locker room following Sunday's win, wide receiver Braylon Edwards fidgeted with his iPod docking station, settling on the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling. " Elsewhere, players talked about the validation that came with Sunday's surprising win and the difficult path that has led them to Indianapolis.

"We're taking the long, hard route," offensive lineman Damien Woody said. "We've went into two hostile territories and pulled out victories."

Making their fifth playoff appearance in the past 10 years, the Jets entered the postseason with a 9-7 record and were the fifth seed in the AFC. Led by a first-year coach and a rookie quarterback, Mark Sanchez, the Jets won at Cincinnati last week and then snapped the Chargers' league-best 11-game win streak -- also on the road.

They return to the conference title game for the first time since 1998, and if they get past Peyton Manning next weekend, they'd play in the Super Bowl for the first time in four decades, when another unlikely Jets team sneaked into the championship game and upset the Colts.

"Nobody expected us to be anywhere," Scott said. "I hope this validates our place in the playoffs and will stop you guys from saying we backed in. We didn't back in. We got in. We earned where we're at."

It was a coronation that was in doubt until late in Sunday's game, and it took a backup running back to formally announce the team's arrival on the league's biggest stage.

Still officially listed as a reserve, Jets rookie Shonn Greene slipped through a narrow opening in a forest of bodies midway through the fourth quarter and emerged on the other side with two things in his sight: the AFC title game and a lone free safety standing in his way. Greene knocked down Eric Weddle -- blew through him like a bowling ball through wet paper -- and knocked out the Chargers.

His 53-yard touchdown run gave the Jets a 17-7 lead.

For the Jets, an improbable postseason run came down to a series of improbable plays.

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