Sports

NFL playoffs: Chargers come up empty

San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson sits on the bench in the final minutes of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the New York Jets on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2010, in San Diego. The Jets won 17-14.
San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson sits on the bench in the final minutes of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the New York Jets on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2010, in San Diego. The Jets won 17-14. Associated Press

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.

“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 past eight, advanced to the AFC championship game for the first time since 1999.

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. Many people had San Diego picked to win its first Super Bowl title.

“We didn’t, obviously, play our best game and it’s disappointing,” said coach Norv Turner, who was trying to guide the No. 2-seeded Bolts to their second AFC title game in three seasons.

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.”

Sanchez, playing in his native Southern California, went from looking like the rookie that he is to a guy who now has two straight playoff wins on the road.

Leading 10-7 in the fourth quarter, the Jets turned to their top-ranked running game on their next drive, and Greene, a third-round pick from Iowa, broke his long scoring run up the middle, running over safety Eric Weddle in the process.

“Once I got to the secondary, I had one tackle to break and I did, and it was off to the end zone,” said Greene, who had 128 yards on 23 carries. “A lot of people didn’t know about me, but they know about the Jets.”

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 the Chargers trailing by 10 with 4:38 to go, he was wide right from 40.

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