It had all the signs of yet another late collapse by the Jets' defense. The offense had climbed out of an 11-point hole to cut San Diego's lead to four, but now it was the fourth quarter, and quarterback Philip Rivers had the Chargers moving again to a third-and-5 situation at the Jets' 25-yard line.
This is where a defense as great as the one coach Rex Ryan claims to run comes up with the big play, but the Jets hadn't been doing that lately. Case in point: The end of the loss at New England, when the Patriots ran it down the Jets' throats to salt away a win.
But before the season could spiral out of control, the Jets' defense produced the play that ultimately made a 27-21 victory possible and restored much of their swagger.
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie broke up a pass intended for Vince Jackson, and Darrelle Revis gathered in the tipped ball at the Jets' 17. He returned it 64 yards to the San Diego 19 to set up the Jets' go-ahead touchdown five plays later.
Revis, who had lined up on the same side of the field as Cromartie when the Chargers split two receivers left, said, "We showed man, and it was really a zone. Their receiver went underneath, and Cromartie broke the play up. It was a great play by him, and the ball popped up to me."
On the previous Monday night, it was Revis' 100-yard interception return for a touchdown that sparked the Jets' win over Miami. This time Rivers and tight end Randy McMichael succeeded in cutting Revis off before he could score, but there was no doubt the tide had turned. "It was a key play because they were in the high-rent zone and they were going in to score,'' Revis said.
Once the Jets had the lead, the defense protected it. Second-year cornerback Kyle Wilson picked off another pass by Rivers at the Jets' 43, setting up a field goal for a six-point lead, and the Jets stopped the Chargers again in the final 1:36. It was quite a turnaround from a first half in which the Chargers converted six of seven third-down situations and built a 21-10 lead.
"The secondary just played tighter coverage, communicating what we were doing,'' Revis said of the halftime adjustments. "In the first half, we had a little bit of miscommunication on third down a couple times.''
Revis didn't deny the defense needed a turnaround. "It's real big because we struggled a lot earlier in the season,'' he said. "That boosts our confidence sky high.''