WHAT’S AT STAKE
If the Jets win, they will have pulled off their second straight postseason upset and would be playing for the AFC Championship for the first time since 1999. This a little over a month after thinking they were eliminated from the playoffs. They will have won consecutive playoff games on the road, no easy task, and improve to 2-0 all-time against the Chargers in the postseason. Chatter about them making a Super Bowl run like the Cardinals did this time last year would certainly increase and their bandwagon would get a bit crowded.
If the Jets lose, the players can cross Rex Ryan’s date for a ticker tape parade off the schedule he handed out. Instead, they’ll most likely be cleaning out their lockers back in Florham Park tomorrow and begin looking ahead to next season. The questions about what the Jets will do with their potential free agents (unrestricted of restricted) commence because` they have a lot of tough decisions to make, especially in light of the uncertainty surrounding the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
3 players the Jets must stop
QB Philip Rivers: He can talk trash with the best of them, but he’s back it up more than ever with a career season. He passed for a career-high 4,254 yards, and his 28 touchdown tosses are the fourth-most in team history. He’s taken great care of the ball, getting picked off nine times in 486 attempts.His interception percentage (.019) was the sixth-lowest and Rivers also boasted one of the league’s best quarterback ratings. His 104.4 mark was the third-highest.
RB/KR/PR Darren Sproles: Much like Leon Washington was before breaking his leg, the diminutive all-purpose back is the Chargers’ Mr. Versatility. He’s the team’s second-leading rusher with 343 yards and is their fourth-leading receiver with 497 yards. He also serves as the punt returner, already taking a 77-yarder to the house, and stockpiled 1,300 yards on 54 kickoff returns. His 48 points tie him for fourth on the team.
TE Antonio Gates: The former Kent State basketball standout had a solid 2009 campaign, catching 79 passes for a career-high 1,157 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s a beast in the red zone and is tied for the single-season record for touchdowns by a tight end (13). Kerry Rhodes will most likely see extensive duty on the Pro Bowl tight end, but the Jets will throw multiple looks at him to try to throw him off his game.
3 Jets who have to play well
QB Mark Sanchez: Can the rookie quarterback do it again? Sanchez returns to his native Southern California riding a season-high streak of three games without a turnover. He’s looking more comfortable of late and is showing off a quiet confidence. If he’s able to come close to duplicating Saturday’s performance -- when he completed 12 of 15 attempts for 182 yards and a touchdown and became just the fourth rookie quarterback to win a playoff game -- the Jets will be right in it and have a legitimate shot at pulling the upset.
RB Shonn Greene: After waiting his turn behind Thomas Jones and Leon Washington, the rookie running back has started to make a name for himself nationally with the increased production. His 135 yards against the Bengals Saturday tied him with Freeman McNeil for the second best rushing performance in Jets postseason history. With Thomas Jones still nursing a bruised knee, Greene could have a starring role again today.
WR Braylon Edwards: Rex Ryan said earlier in the week that he’s expecting a big game from the wide receiver soon, and Edwards agreed that he’s about due. He’s beginning to draw the ire of some fans for his drops, especially the ones that have come in the end zone in the Jets’ last two games. He said his reason for the drops stems from his lack of opportunities, which causes him to press. But with the Chargers’ high-flying offense, he’s going to need to be productive.
The wild card
Stopping the Chargers’ screen game is imperative for the Jets. San Diego’s rushing attack isn’t intimidating, having run for just 1423 yards total. But that number is somewhat deceptive because the Chargers use screen passes as a way to run the ball. With defenses worried about the deep pass going to the likes of Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd or Antonio Gates, Philip Rivers sometimes dumps the ball off to Darren Sproles and LaDainian Tomlinson on controlled screens and those creative plays rack up the yardage. So the Jets can’t play soft coverage, otherwise San Diego will carve them up underneath.
How the Jets win: By not deviating from the formula that’s become their staple during this stretch run where they’ve won six of their last seven games. They must pound away with Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene, but also take some shots downfield to loosen up the Chargers front seven, which will surely load the box to stop the NFL’s No. 1 rushing attack. Additionally, Mark Sanchez must take care of the ball and not turn it over. It’s no coincidence he hasn’t had a turnover in his last three games and the Jets have won all three.
How the Jets lose: By falling victim to the San Diego’s lightening-quick starts and finding themselves trailing by a large margin early. During their 11-game winning streak, the Chargers have outscored the opposition 83-16 in the first quarter. Scoring early and often has been their forte this season. With that in mind, it’s going to be imperative for the Jets to get off to a fast start offensively as well as defensively because they aren’t built to play from behind.
>> BLOG: Latest Jets news and analysis