EditorsNote: changes to “visiting Oakland Raiders” in ninth graf
Chargers beat Jets, keep playoff hopes alive
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Christmas came a few hours early for the Los Angeles Chargers.
Coincidentally, the crosstown Rams played Santa Claus.
Bidding to become only the second team since the 1970 merger to make the playoffs after an 0-4 start, the Chargers beat the New York Jets 14-7 Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium.
When the Tennessee Titans lost to the Rams a few minutes later, the Chargers (8-7) remained in contention for an AFC wild-card spot.
The Chargers cannot win the AFC West because the Kansas City Chiefs wrapped that up with their win over the Miami Dolphins, but even being in this position is somewhat miraculous.
“(Shoot), we still got hope,” Los Angeles wide receiver Keenan Allen said.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers gathered with some teammates around a tablet to watch the end of the Titans-Rams game, but soon, all the big screens in the locker room were tuned in. When the Rams ran out the clock to win the NFC West, the Chargers went bananas. Someone in the back of the room shouted, “Playoffs, here we come!”
Hold your horses for a second.
For the Chargers to make the postseason for only the second time in the last eight seasons, they need to defeat the visiting Oakland Raiders next week, have the Titans (8-7) lose at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars and either the Baltimore Ravens (9-6) beat the Cincinnati Bengals at home or the Buffalo Bills (8-7) lose at Miami.
“Not exactly where we wanted to be, but it is what it is,” Allen said. “We’re still trying to do what we can on our end, so we’ve got one more week left and we’ll see what happens.”
Los Angeles has won five of its past six but looked to be dead after a 30-13 loss in Kansas City on Dec. 16. Things looked shaky against the Jets (5-10), but Rivers made clutch passes, running back Melvin Gordon carved up New York’s front seven for 81 yards, and the defense, despite giving up long runs to Bilal Powell, bent but did not break. Even 37-year-old tight end Antonio Gates got into the act while replacing the injured Hunter Henry.
Still, the Jets had the ball on the Chargers’ 17-yard line with 3:11 to play and a chance to tie the game after Joey Bosa’s questionable roughing-the-passer penalty earlier in the drive. However, New York quarterback Bryce Petty, as he was most of the day, was inaccurate on a fourth-and-7 pass to Robby Anderson.
Petty completed 15 of 28 passes for 119 yards and an interception.
Los Angeles newcomer Nick Rose, the Chargers’ fourth kicker this season, missed a 47-yard field-goal attempt wide right in the third quarter. The Jets capitalized when Powell took a toss left 57 yards for a touchdown to tie the game 7-7 with 10:00 left in the third. Powell gashed the Chargers’ defense for 145 yards on 19 carries.
“Even though it was sometimes ugly, we ain’t apologizing for it,” first-year Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said in his postgame address to his team. “What you really did was you hit the reset button and eliminated a lot of the distractions to come on the road and get this win.”
On the ensuing possession after the Powell touchdown, Rivers led the Chargers on a season-saving, eight-play, 75-yard drive, capped by Gordon’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Gordon went 28 yards on the first two plays of the drive, and then Rivers completed three passes for 50 yards, including a 15-yarder to Gates and a 23-yard strike to tight end Sean McGrath to set up the Chargers on the 2-yard line. Rivers finished 22 of 40 for 290 yards and a touchdown.
“These are the kind of games good teams win, and are we a good team? I think we’re a good team,” Rivers said. “Are we a playoff team? We’ll know in about eight days.”
The Chargers opened the scoring with a 3-yard pass from Rivers to Gates with 8:55 left in the second quarter. It was the 87th Rivers-to-Gates touchdown connection, the most for a quarterback-tight end combo in NFL history.
With nothing to lose, the Jets started the game with some trickery. Chandler Catanzaro opened with an onside kick, recovered by rookie Marcus Maye at the New York 48-yard line. However, the ensuing drive did not produce points after Anderson’s offensive pass interference penalty negated a 38-yard pass to the Los Angeles 2-yard line.
At that point, it looked as if the Chargers might get coal in their stockings this year. But, after the game, they realized the gift they had been given.
“It sucks having your fate in someone else’s hands,” Gordon said. “But we put ourselves in this position, so we have to deal with the ups and downs of that.”
NOTES: Chargers LB Korey Toomer, starting in place of the injured Denzel Perryman, had his first sack of the season. ... Chargers TE Antonio Gates had a 27-yard reception in the second quarter, his longest of the season by 11 yards. ... Los Angeles LB Hayes Pullard had the first fumble recovery of his three-year career. ... Chargers WR Keenan Allen picked off a Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half, the first INT of his career. ... Los Angeles QB Philip Rivers eclipsed 4,000 passing yards for the ninth time in his career and ninth time in the last 10 seasons. ... Chargers RB Melvin Gordon went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time in his three-year career. ... Jets RB Bilal Powell has three runs of 50-plus yards this season, all at home. ... New York RB Matt Forte lost his first fumble since Week 7 of last season. ... The Jets’ onside kick was their first successful one to start a game since 2012.