EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A yellow flag flew in the first quarter and the referee began marking off a penalty against the New York Jets.
And the crowd went wild.
|Wayne Chrebet spins out of a tackle to get into the end zone. (AP)|
They never really stopped celebrating as the Jets routed the Green Bay Packers 42-17 to complete one of the NFL's best turnarounds. From 1-4, they finished 9-7, won the AFC East and set up a first-round game on Saturday with Indianapolis.
"We've definitely opened some eyes and people realize we are not a fluke," Chad Pennington said after throwing four touchdown passes. "You always wonder if you will be able to stay focused and answer every challenge. We have a lot of character on this team. It's about coming together as a team when no one thinks you can."
The loss was costly to the Packers, who blew home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs and dropped to the third seed. They must play Atlanta on Saturday night - yes, a January night game at Lambeau Field, if you can imagine.
"We knew what was at stake," Brett Favre said. "Obviously they had something at stake and apparently they wanted it more than we did.
"The chips were falling in line for us and it was there for the taking. It's upsetting."
Imagine how New England and Miami, also 9-7, feel as they sit out the postseason while the Jets move on. New York won the division because of a superior division record to Miami and a better record against common opponents than New England.
When the Jets were flopping around in October, coach Herman Edwards benched Vinny Testaverde for Pennington, an untested third-year quarterback. Running back Curtis Martin got healthy, the defense, with six new starters, began to jell and the Jets made their charge.
Still, they needed help on the final day of the season, and the Patriots provided it.
"When we went out there, we didn't know what was happening," cornerback Ray Mickens said of the Dolphins-Patriots match. "The crowd went crazy when we got a penalty and we were wondering why. I looked at the scoreboard and we knew New England won.
"We went on the field believing New England would pull it out and to take care of our business, and that's what we did."
Did they ever. Pennington threw touchdown passes of 12 and 18 yards to Wayne Chrebet, 1 yard to Richie Anderson and 13 to Santana Moss. Curtis Martin, who two months ago called the Jets a sinking ship, had a 5-yard TD run. LaMont Jordan had a 3-yarder.
Pennington, the AFC's most efficient passer, had a 134.7 rating for the game, hitting 17 of 24 passes, as the Jets beat Green Bay for the sixth straight time.
"Chad has been our leader and said we are going to go 9-0," Martin recalled of when Pennington became the starter. "He was like that little kid with big dreams. There is something about him that made us all believe.
"This is the best moment of my career. We've been through so much, we were at the bottom of not only the division but this league. We were becoming the laughingstock of the NFL. And to win the division, I tip my hat off to this team."
One of the players who deserved such accolades was Chrebet, who in the middle of a four-game winning streak complained he didn't get the ball enough. Then his fumble erased any chance of a comeback win against Chicago in Week 14.
But Chrebet turned into a hero against the Packers.
"That was a tough week for me. I felt as low as I could be," he said of the Bears loss. "I didn't care what I had done in the past seven seasons. I wanted to make up for it."
The Packers have some making up to do. They never have lost a playoff game in Lambeau Field, but to get to the Super Bowl they must play at least once on the road.
That isn't the way they expected to enter the postseason.
"We've earned the 12 wins and we've played hard," Favre said after throwing one touchdown pass and an interception Sam Garnes returned 65 yards. "I can't question that. Sometimes teams can win just because of who they are. We're not one of those teams."
- The Jets have won one other NFL division title, four years ago.
- Chrebet had a career-high nine TDs this season.
- Martin moved up to 14th in career rushing with 10,361 yards. He finished with 83 yards Sunday and 1,094 for the year, his eighth consecutive over 1,000. Only Barry Sanders also has done that at the start of a career.
- Green Bay's secondary struggled without injured Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper, leaving several Jets receivers wide open.
- Terry Glenn caught a 14-yard TD pass from Favre and Doug Pederson hit Bubba Franks for a 20-yarder.
- The Packers also got a 23-yard field goal from Ryan Longwell .
- Both New York teams are in the playoffs for the first time in 16 years.
- Packers WR Donald Driver bruised his left shoulder and RB Tony Fisher jammed his neck.
- Favre was 16-for-33 for 172 yards.
The Associated Press News Service
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