By Nina Mandell
MANHATTAN — Nobody thought the Jets had a chance to make the Super Bowl this year. That its, nobody except head coach Rex Ryan.
Ryan's Jets are one win away from the Super Bowl after stunning the heavily-favored San Diego Chargers 17-14 at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday.
The win earned Gang Green a trip to the AFC Championship game against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts next Sunday.
“A matchup that probably nobody wanted, but too bad,” coach Ryan said after the game. “Here we come!”
It was only the second time in team history that the Jets had won two playoff games, and the first time they'd done it since 1982.
“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.”
Gang Green's defense stifled San Diego's offense to keep the team in the game until the offense woke up in the second half.
Mark Sanchez became just the second rookie quarterback in NFL history to win his first two playoff games. Sanchez threw for just 100 yards and one touchdown, but he made enough plays to lead the offense to 17 second half points.
After a Jim Leonard interception deep in Chargers territory, Sanchez quickly got the Jets into the endzone with a two-yard scoring strike to tight end Dustin Keller to put New York up 10-7 early in the fourth quarter.
"He's just grown up," backup quarterback Kellen Clemens said about the rookie quarterback. “In the last month, he's made huge, huge strides. There's been a ton of growth. He's a huge factor on our hot streak."
Sanchez wasn’t the only rookie to shine. Running back Shonn Greene rushed for 128 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to put the Jets up 17-7 and seal the game.
The Jets also got some help from the mistake-prone Chargers. San Diego committed 10 penalties and Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers threw two interceptions after throwing just nine during the regular season.
Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding missed three field goal attempts and was the first kicker to go 0-3 in an NFL playoff game since 1995. Opponents have attempted five kicks against the Jets in the playoffs and missed all of them.
The upstart Jets, who have won seven of their last eight games, advanced to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since the 1998 season.
It's an improbable run for a team that only four weeks ago was declared finished by its own coach. However, they received some early Christmas gifts from the Colts and the Cincinnati Bengals, who sat their starters against New York the last two weeks of the regular season to propel Gang Green into the playoffs. The Jets then thanked the Bengals by beating them again in the wild-card round, and they're hoping to do the same to the Colts.
Manning and the Colts continued their dominant season by dismantlng the Baltmore Ravens 20-3 on Sunday. The Colts will undoubtedly be heavy favorites next Sunday, but the Jets a pefectly comfortable in their new role as spoiler.
"Everybody believes Peyton is going to the Super Bowl. I'm sure they would love to see Brett Favre and Peyton Manning go,” said linebacker Bart Scott. “We're going to play the spoilers.”