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Jets shock Chargers, 17-14, to reach AFC Championship Game

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez celebrates with

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez celebrates with coach Rex Ryan during the fourth quarter against the San Diego Chargers in an NFL divisional playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2010, in San Diego. Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

SAN DIEGO - SAN DIEGO - Inside a euphoric locker room, Calvin Pace could barely contain himself, beaming from ear to ear as he thought about what his team had just accomplished.

"Everybody says what we can't do," the linebacker said. "But when you look up, we've been winning, and it's because we believe in ourselves. Nobody gives us a chance and it's so crazy. But the more they say, the more it fuels us. So to everybody who don't believe, keep on."

Believe it. The Jets, written off a month ago even by their own coach when he thought they had been eliminated from playoff contention, are marching on. They scored their second successive postseason upset on the road, knocking off the high-flying Chargers with a gutty 17-14 win in an AFC divisional-round game Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.

The Jets vaulted into the AFC Championship Game for the first time in 11 years, setting up a highly anticipated rematch with the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday. The Jets are on the doorstep of reaching the Super Bowl for the first time since January 1969.

"We believed the whole time, the whole year, when probably it wasn't a popular choice, the popular opinion," coach Rex Ryan said. "But here we are. We don't have to apologize to anybody. It's just old-fashioned ground- and-pound football and throw completions and play great defense. And here we are."

The Jets rattled off 17 unanswered points in the second half and kept the Chargers' high-octane offense in check. After surrendering 212 yards in the first half, they limited the Chargers to 132 in the second half and kept them off the board until Philip Rivers' 1-yard quarterback keeper with 2:14 to play.

Rookie Mark Sanchez threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Dustin Keller early in the fourth quarter that gave the Jets a 10-7 advantage - a lead they never relinquished. Fellow rookie Shonn Greene's 53-yard touchdown run up the gut with 7:17 left gave the Jets a 17-7 bulge, one that was just enough, thanks to a pair of missed field goals by San Diego All-Pro Nate Kaeding.

"We needed that," said Greene, who had 128 yards on 23 carries. "It picked our defense up and everything. Once you break a play like that and see the end zone, it's a wonderful feeling."

With 1:09 left and San Diego out of timeouts, the Jets had a fourth-and 1 at the Chargers' 29. Thomas Jones picked up the first down with a yard to spare, Sanchez took a knee, and it was on to Indy. "It's amazing how one yard can feel that good,'' Jones said.

Things really started turning in the Jets' favor early in the fourth. Trailing 7-3, they cashed in a Jim Leonhard interception of Rivers, needing only four plays - aided by a 15-yard personal foul on Shaun Phillips - to grab a 10-7 lead. On third-and-goal from the 2, Sanchez hit Keller in the right corner of the end zone with 13:35 left.

"T-Rich is the first read on that one and I guess he was covered," the tight end said, referring to fullback Tony Richardson. "I was actually covered on the play also. But me and Mark read it the same way. I stepped back from the defense; he put it low and outside where I can reach it.''

Said Sanchez: "I put it real low and hot. That ball was coming. So it was great on Dustin's part to improvise and make a play."

The Jets' defense is what really kept them in this one. They made a few halftime adjustments, mostly going from a zone coverage that San Diego was carving up to more of a man-to-man scheme. The Chargers mustered only seven first downs and 139 passing yards in the second half and didn't get any more big plays from their wide receivers or tight end Antonio Gates.

"We just had faith in our DBs and played more man after that second quarter on,'' safety Kerry Rhodes said, "and just frustrated Rivers a little bit."

Not many people had faith the Jets could get this far, but here they are, one win away from Super Bowl XLIV in Miami.

"It feels good to be in the AFC Championship Game," defensive end Marques Douglas said. "This is my second year in a row. I like our chances better here than when I was at the other place [Baltimore]. To see our offensive line dominate the line of scrimmage late in the game, to see our rookie running back Shonn Greene come to form, we have the ingredients. Now we just go into another hostile environment and prove that we can do it."

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