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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Now comes hard part for Jets: Big test against Chargers

Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson carries the ball

Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson carries the ball against Tennessee. (Dec. 25, 2009) Credit: AP

Rex Ryan never did write down the teams he'd be facing after the Bengals when he handed out his playoff schedule to the Jets a few days before Saturday's win.

Ryan's day-by-day itinerary of the Jets' playoff run - which even included the Super Bowl parade - didn't mention the Chargers as the Jets' opponents in Sunday's AFC divisional round.

But it didn't matter to Ryan. Chargers or Colts, he'd gladly play either one. And now that it's officially the Chargers, it's all the same message from Ryan: Bring 'em on!

"We're ready for whatever comes our way," he said. "We don't expect anyone outside our locker room to understand it, and we really don't care. If you're not man enough to have faith enough in your team to put it on the schedule . . . We think we have an excellent team, and we're not ashamed to think it's going to happen."

But if it's going to happen, the Jets will have to take the next step - an immeasurably bigger one - after dispatching the inept Bengals. And that won't be easy. After all, the Chargers might be the hottest team in football right now. After a 2-3 start, they have won 11 straight heading into the playoffs.

"Both teams have carried a lot of momentum," Ryan said of his Jets and the Chargers. "It's going to be who can 'out-execute' the other."

The Chargers have it going on both sides of the ball.

On offense, they're as good as they come: Philip Rivers has matured into a dominant passer, leading the AFC with a 104.4 rating and throwing for 4,254 yards, 28 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

And there are a host of terrific skill position players, including Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates and emerging receiver Vincent Jackson, who enjoyed a breakout season.

Oh, yeah, there's that future Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson, too. He has shown some signs of slowing down - he failed to rush for 1,000 yards for the first time in his nine-year career, gaining only 730 - but he remains a threat. So does the elusive Darren Sproles, who is to the Chargers what Leon Washington is to the Jets.

"When you look at San Diego, they're really rolling on offense," Ryan said. "Their lowest points total for the year [in a single game] is 20 points, and that's pretty amazing. I've been on teams where it felt like the most points you had in a game were 20."

Ryan was referring to some of his old Ravens teams, which suffered through some dismal quarterback performances. But those teams always had dominant defenses, something you can't necessarily say about the Chargers. If there's one weak link, it's on defense, an area in which they have been inconsistent.

The Chargers allowed 320 points during the regular season, much more than the 236 allowed by the Jets. They allowed quarterbacks to complete 61 percent of their passes and allowed 23 passing TDs; the Jets allowed only eight.

Could this be the game in which the Jets allow Mark Sanchez to break free and air it out? Perhaps. But the Jets surely will continue to feed the ball to Thomas Jones and rookie Shonn Greene, hoping to wear down a defense that has had to deal with big injuries.

The biggest loss was nose tackle Jamal Williams, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first week. He is one of the top run-stuffing tackles in the game.

After returning from a severe knee injury suffered last season, linebacker Shawne Merriman has had a quiet year with only 36 tackles and four sacks. Also anchoring the defense are outside linebacker Shaun Phillips and inside linebacker Stephen Cooper.

Ryan's biggest challenge rests with his own defense. The Jets must clamp down on the run after giving up 171 rushing yards to the Bengals. Ryan pointed out the poor run defense in his remarks after the game, and he did so again Sunday during a conference call with reporters.

He'll need a solid plan to deal with Tomlinson and Sproles and keep Rivers in check. Easier said than done; this isn't a team with the nickname "Bungles."

As good as the Jets were against the Bengals, they'll have to kick it up a notch - or 10 - against the Chargers.

>> PHOTOS: Jets playoff history  | Jets 24, Bengals 14

>> BLOG: Latest Jets news and analysis

>> STATS: JetsChargersThe matchup

>> FUN: Why the Jets should fear themselves | Best of Rex Ryan

>> MORE Jets playoff coverage | 2009 season recap

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