Coach Rex Ryan and the underdog Jets still are playing the "no respect" card as they approach Sunday's AFC championship game in Indianapolis, but they made a believer of at least one Charger with their stunning 17-14 playoff upset of 13-3 San Diego.
Linebacker Stephen Cooper said the Jets "wore out" the Chargers with their punishing ground game and generally played harder.
Asked if the underdog Jets wanted it more, Cooper said, "Yeah. You could see they grinded out four quarters of football. They forced turnovers. They got after our quarterback. They kept running the ball, and they wore us out in the fourth quarter and it showed."
Although the Chargers came out intent on matching the Jets physically, they never got the upper hand.
Ryan called it a "15-round fight," and the Jets had more left in the championship rounds at the end.
"We always had opportunities, but we played into the way the Jets wanted the game to go," Cooper said. "We get a turnover, and then we gave momentum back [with an interception]. It was just a push-and-shove grudge match the whole game, and they pushed a lot harder than we did."
Many others in the San Diego organization focused on the Chargers' three missed field goals, 10 costly penalties and failure to execute in critical third-down situations. But they also gave the Jets a measure of grudging respect.
Coach Norv Turner and quarterback Philip Rivers noted they had 298 passing yards, one short of the season-worst allowed by the Jets' No. 1 passing defense, but it amounted to only 14 points, snapping the Chargers' 22-game streak of scoring at least 20 points.
"They're first in third-down defense, which was a factor in the game," Turner said. "I thought we made a number of big plays on them that people haven't been able to make on them. We just had a tough time finishing drives."
Referring to All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, who had one interception, Turner said, "They've got a guy who I believe is the best corner in the league. Then, with their nickel fronts and their blitz schemes, they come from all over. You have to communicate throughout, and I think that's why we had a couple false starts early . . . [cornerback] Lito Sheppard is not talked about a lot because of Revis, but they have outstanding cover guys."
Rivers said the Jets didn't surprise or confuse him with multiple looks, but he credited them for outplaying the Chargers' offense in critical spots.
"We did some things uncharacteristic of ourselves that hurt us," Rivers said. "The Jets certainly had something to do with that. They're playing in the championship game. They earned it. Had we played our best, I think we would have won, but we didn't."
Running back LaDainian Tomlinson predicted the Colts will win the AFC title by stopping the run and forcing Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez to pass more, and he expressed confidence on Colts quarterback Peyton Manning to pass as effectively as Rivers did statistically.
But Cooper suggested the NFL MVP might have a tough day. "With Peyton Manning at quarterback, it's hard to go against [the Colts]," Cooper said, "but Rex Ryan has his guys believing and they're playing great team football. So, you never know. It's going to be a toss-up, a pick 'em."