SAN DIEGO – Rex Ryan is on a roll.
The rookie coach who declared his team Super Bowl favorites after he figured out they were still in the playoffs is just a game away from being hailed for his psychic powers.
His Jets are still playing.
Rookies Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene led New York to a stunning 17-14 upset of San Diego in the divisional playoffs Sunday, each providing a touchdown in the fourth quarter that marked another Chargers postseason pratfall.
The jovial, rotund Ryan isn’t afraid to say what’s on his mind, and his players are taking his lead as they head into the AFC championship game against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
“A matchup that probably nobody wanted, but too bad,” Ryan said. “Here we come!”
Or, “Here we come again.”
It was the Colts who pulled Manning and other starters in the second half of their Week 16 game against the Jets, who rallied for a victory that put them in control of their playoff destiny.
Before that game, Ryan said his holiday wish was for the Colts to rest Manning & Co.
“I don’t know if Santa Claus will be that good to me again,” he said. “But I will say that I’d like to see Peyton Manning not play this week.”
After the Jets finally did clinch a playoff spot by routing Cincinnati the following week, Ryan created a postseason itinerary for his players that included the Super Bowl in Miami followed by a parade two days later.
New York fans are ready.
One at Sunday’s game held a sign that read: “I don’t have another 41 years,” a reference to the Jets’ only Super Bowl title, the one that Joe Namath predicted.
“We believed the whole time, the whole year, when it probably wasn’t the popular choice,” Ryan said. “We don’t have to apologize to anyone.”
The upstart Jets (11-7), who have won seven of their last eight, advanced to the AFC championship game for the first time since 1999.
“It’s a big win for our franchise, and we’re not done,” Sanchez said.
“Don’t pay attention to the words he says,” linebacker Bart Scott said about his coach. “Pay attention to the content. We’re not the same old Jets, and we’re trying to change what people think of us.”
Sanchez threw a go-ahead, 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dustin Keller three plays into the fourth quarter, then Greene gave the Jets some breathing room with a 53-yard scoring run on their next possession.
The mistake-prone Chargers let New York hang around long enough, and the Jets finally got out of their own way, becoming the only road team to win in the divisional round.
After Philip Rivers scored on a 1-yard sneak with 2:14 left to pull the Chargers within three, the Jets recovered the onside kick.
Facing a fourth-and-1 from the 29 with 1:09 left, the Jets called timeout. Ryan decided to go for it and Thomas Jones bulled through the Chargers’ line for 2 yards.
“That symbolizes what this team is all about,” guard Alan Faneca said. “The hard nose. We’re coming at you. We’re that kind of team.”
Sanchez pumped his fist and pointed his hand forward in the first-down signal.
On the sideline, Ryan lifted much smaller offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer off the ground in a bear hug.
Schottenheimer’s father, Marty, presided over two playoff losses with the Chargers, one against the Jets after the 2004 season and one against New England after the 2006 season in which top-seeded San Diego imploded in a flood of errors.
This one was just as big a nightmare.
“We didn’t, obviously, play our best game and it’s disappointing,” said coach Norv Turner.
The Chargers (13-4) saw their 11-game winning streak end.
“It was the best defense I’ve played this year,” said LaDainian Tomlinson, who after nine seasons might have played his final game with the Chargers. “Run, pass, and they are really prepared. Hats off to them.”
San Diego’s All-Pro kicker Nate Kaeding missed three field goals. He was wide left from 36 yards on San Diego’s second possession and was short from 57 yards as the first-half clock expired. With 4:38 to go, he was wide right from 40.
Jets 17, Chargers 14
SD—Wilson 13 pass from Rivers (Kaeding kick)
NYJ—FG Feely 46
NYJ—Keller 2 pass from Sanchez (Feely kick)
NYJ—Greene 53 run (Feely kick)
SD—Rivers 1 run (Kaeding kick)
|Total Net Yards||262||344|
|Time of Possession||31:31||28:29|
RUSHING—N.Y. Jets, Greene 23-128, Jones 14-41, Cotchery 1-1, Sanchez 1-(minus 1). San Diego, Sproles 3-33, Tomlinson 12-24, Rivers 3-4.
PASSING—N.Y. Jets, Sanchez 12-23-1-100. San Diego, Rivers 27-40-2-298.
RECEIVING—N.Y. Jets, Cotchery 3-25, Keller 3-19, Edwards 2-41, Richardson 2-12, Greene 1-4, Woodhead 1-(minus 1). San Diego, Gates 8-93, Jackson 7-111, Floyd 3-30, Sproles 3-30, Tomlinson 3-0, Hester 1-15, Wilson 1-13, Tolbert 1-6.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—San Diego, Kaeding 36 (WL), 57, 40 (WR).