This one wasn't really a flashback I was relishing writing, but unfortunately it had to be done. For whatever reason, I seem to have blocked most of the specific details from the Chargers' last playoff loss from my memory, so I'll have to go more on what I read than what I remember (that consists mostly of dejected sighs and curses). Suffice it to say, here we go.
As far as playoff collapses go, this one wasn't entirely unpredictable. In fact, most of the people who looked at the way the Chargers and Jets were constructed knew that this was a really bad matchup for San Diego. The Chargers came into this game with a historically great passing offense that was paired with an atrocity of a rushing offense and a defense that was average on a good day. The Jets, on the other hand, had an atrocity of an offense on the whole, a terrible rookie QB, a historically great passing defense, and a mediocre at best rushing defense. It was a perfect case of strength matching with strength.The opening drive of the game started well enough, with the Chargers getting a first down and appearing to move the ball at a decent pace. The drive busted, though, when Nick Hardwick, in just his third game back from injury, sailed a shotgun snap over Philip Rivers's head. Philip managed to fall on the ball, but not without losing 10 yards, putting the Chargers in third down and a mile. The teams then proceeded to trade punts. The Chargers had a scoring opportunity early, but failed to cash in when Nate Kaeding pushed a 36 yard field goal attempt wide left.
San Diego finally did strike first two possession later , when Rivers hit Kris Wilson in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. And, for their part, the Charger defense held the Jets without a first down until their 5th possession, with only 8:25 remaining in the half. The Chargers even had a chance to extend their lead at the end of the first half on a 57 yard field goal, but unfortunately it fell short. This one you can't really blame Kaeding for, folks.
The Jets got on the board with their first possession of the second half with J. Feely hitting a 46 yard field goal. A couple possession later, the first turnover of the game came for San Diego, when Quentin Jammer picked off Mark Sanchez and ran it back to the New Jersey 38 yard line. It was not to last however. Several plays later, Rivers tried to go to Vincent Jackson on a deep route, and the ball was tipped into the air, bounced twice off Jackson's back and leg, and was plucked millimeters off the turf by Darrell Revis for an interception. This wasn't really anyone's fault as it was the result of some freaky bounces and a great play by Revis.
The Jets weren't able to make anything of the pick, and punted it away. In his first real mistake of the game, however, Rivers gave it back when he threw another interception, this time by safety Jim Leonhard who brought it back to the San Diego 16. Three plays later, Sanchez his Dustin Keller for a two yard TD, giving the Jets their first lead of the day.
The biggest play of the game happened two possessions later, when Shonn Green broke loose for a 53 yard TD run. We don't need to rehash this one more, do we?
San Diego tried to rally, tacking on a TD with 2:20 left in the game, but New Jersey was able to burn what was left of the clock on their last possession, ending the Chargers' season.
For whatever reason, this latest playoff loss didn't bug me as much as others did. Perhaps it was because this time, I was well aware of San Diego's strengths and weaknesses (strong passing, not much else), and that they didn't match up well with those of the Jets. For whatever reason, I don't harbor lingering resentment over this one, like I do the losses against the Patriots after 2006 and the Steelers after 2008.
The present Charger team is worse in just about every way than the 2009 one (except rushing offense, which is better, and overall defense, which is about the same). Rivers is having a down year, Gates and Jackson are both hurt, and the defense is again struggling to find any kind of consistency. The Jets have gotten better, through experience and drafting. Mark Sanchez isn't great, but he's not absolutely terrible like he was in 2009. Their offense is no longer an abomination, and their defense and special teams are both excellent. Unpleasant though the thought might be, especially given that it's in New Jersey, the Jets have the edge in this rematch.