Defense sparks comeback, puts Jets back on course

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- So the San Diego Chargers drop another road game to an AFC East team, and take your pick as to who's responsible for the latest setback. Plaxico Burress? Shonn Greene? Mark Sanchez? All should pull down votes because all played significant roles.

But they didn't win this one. The New York Jets' defense did.

Basically, it did what it was supposed to do -- stuff San Diego, force critical mistakes and set up Burress, Greene and Sanchez for the plays that lifted New York to a 27-21 comeback victory.

Skeptics will point to Burress' three TDs as the difference, but check this out, people: San Diego didn't score in the second half, and it's hard to lose when your opponent can't find the end zone with a Sherpa.

The Chargers not only were blanked on six second-half possessions, they had a grand total of five first downs, two interceptions and were 1 for 7 on third down. Now, compare that to a first half where they scored three TDs, had 11 first downs and were 6 of 7 on third down, and you know why our game ball belongs with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's unit.

"We saw our team," said coach Rex Ryan, "the one that we envisioned the start of the season. We were slow to get it going, but we saw it."

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It took 30 minutes, but he has that right. For one half, at least, the Jets looked like a club that could be playoff worthy -- which is a departure from where they've been most of this season. I mean, things had gotten so bleak around here that Ryan last week was asked if he still believed he had an "elite" defense.

Of course he said he did, but the Jets had to play like one ... and for one half Sunday they did. And they did it with star linebacker David Harris hobbling around on a bad ankle.

Their first interception not only stopped a sure San Diego score, it led to the Jets' go-ahead touchdown. Surprise, it was Darrelle Revis who made the pivotal catch-and-run. The game's top cornerback did it against Miami on Monday, and he did it again six days later.

The second pickoff abbreviated another fourth-quarter drive, this one at midfield, and set up the game-clinching score -- Nick Folk's second field goal.

On both deliveries, the Jets mixed coverages -- with cornerback Antonio Cromartie later saying the idea was to confuse quarterback Philip Rivers. Cromartie should know something about that. He played four seasons with Rivers before joining the Jets and was involved in the first interception, covering Vincent Jackson when the ball ricocheted off his hands.

"We just wanted to try to mix it up and show him different things," said Cromartie. "Make it look like zone but be playing man coverage. We were trying to confuse him a little bit and make him throw interceptions. ... The biggest thing for us was to get our hands on [receivers] on the outside, disrupt the timing of the routes and make plays on the ball."

Mission accomplished. But they did more than that. Tight end Antonio Gates, who hadn't played since the second week of the season because of a painful foot injury, torched the Jets in the first half -- scoring once and producing first downs with all three of his catches.

CBSSports.com Grades
San Diego Chargers
San Diego Chargers
C+
After a fast start, the Chargers became their own worst enemy, committing 13 penalties for 95 yards. QB Philip Rivers' two INTs changed the momentum of the game. On defense, the Chargers allowed the Jets their highest rushing numbers of the season. One bright spot was the return of TE Antonio Gates, who had five receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown.
New York Jets
New York Jets
A-
The offense put together solid pass protection for Mark Sanchez, who finally established a connection with Plaxico Burress. LaDainian TOmlinson and Shonn Greene combined for the team's best rushing numbers of the season. The defense continued to suffer injury woes. However, the team pulled itself together and head into their bye week at 4-3.
By Lisa Zimmerman
RapidReports Correspondent

Heck, even when he wasn't making catches he made a difference. On a pass to Gates at the goal line, safety Jim Leonhard tried to jump the route to bat down the ball but he committed pass interference instead, setting up San Diego's third TD.

Essentially, Gates was a matchup nightmare for New York -- without anyone or anything to stop him ... until the second half, that is. He not only didn't have a reception in the third quarter; the Chargers threw to him only once. And by the time Rivers rediscovered him in the fourth period, it was too late. San Diego already was behind.

I don't know if that says more about the Bolts or the Jets, but the result was the same: An effective weapon was marginalized, and San Diego suffered the consequences.

"We knew the tendencies they were running," Cromartie said of the second-half about-face. "We were disappointed on the way they converted the third down -- they were 6 of 7 in the first half. So we wanted to come out and change that and get a little pressure on Philip and get him outside the pocket. He's not an accurate passer when he's outside the pocket."

He wasn't accurate when he had to be Sunday, and stop if you have heard this before. Rivers, one of the league's premier passers, committed two crucial interceptions the last time the Chargers played an AFC East opponent on the road. That was at New England in Week 2, and it was San Diego's other loss.

But look what's going on with Rivers this season. He has two more interceptions (9) than touchdown passes (7) and four games with two interceptions in each. This from a guy who the past three years has 92 TDs, 33 interceptions and passer ratings of 101.8 or higher each year.

Rivers isn't himself, but the Jets' defense is. Finally. I don't know what this means for San Diego, other than another disappointing loss in a predictable location. The Chargers haven't beaten an AFC East opponent on the road since 2006 when they held off Buffalo.

For the Jets, it's business as it should be -- with the defense setting up the offense which produced the win. Revis called it "a must-win for us," and he's right. The Jets could not afford to fall farther behind the Patriots and Bills, each of whom they meet following this week's bye, and they did not.

"The defense complemented the offense, the offense complemented the defense and special-teams made big plays out there," said cornerback Kyle Wilson, who had the second interception.

That's how it should be. No, that's the way it must be for the Jets to get back where they think they belong. Ryan insists his team is still Super Bowl worthy, but they're a long, long way from there. But, for the moment at least, they demonstrated they're not as bad as they have been and could be ... I said could be ... as good as they were.

"We just feel like we're hitting our stride now," said Ryan. "We had more than hiccups along the way, but here we are."

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