By John Melillo
Jets, Staff Writer
January 7th, 2005

This Saturday’s showdown with the 12-4 San Diego Chargers will be a stern test for the New York Jets as they prepare to quiet the critics and rebound from two tough losses at the end of the regular season. The Jets, who were victorious in their last trip to San Diego in Week 2 this year, are aware of how much has changed since their last go-around with the Chargers.

ALSO, LATEST INJURY REPORT: Abraham out, Chrebet questionable.

This Saturday’s showdown with the 12-4 San Diego Chargers will be a stern test for the New York Jets as they prepare to quiet the critics and rebound from two tough losses at the end of the regular season. The Jets, who were victorious in their last trip to San Diego in Week 2 this year, are aware of how much has changed since their last go-around with the Chargers.

“They are an entire different team. Both teams have matured,” RB Curtis Martin said, who pounded out 119 rushing yards in the first meeting. “They are playing a lot better together especially on defense and on offense. They have gained the chemistry that it didn’t seem as though they had when we first played them, but now they have developed that. That is what makes good teams so it is going to be a dogfight.”

The Chargers team the Jets defeated 34-28 in Week 2 was fresh off a disasterous 4-12 campaign in 2003 and did not possess the fan support that will rocking at Qualcomm Stadium come Saturday night.

“When we played them, they could not sell enough tickets and the game was blacked out,” coach Herm Edwards said. “And now it's sold out, everyone is wearing Chargers’ jerseys.”

The most popular Charger jerseys to litter Qualcomm stadium are found on the offensive side of the ball, where San Diego features Pro Bowlers RB LaDainian Tomlinson and TE Antonio Gates. Yet, the player who guided the offense is NFL Comeback Player of the Year QB Drew Brees. Edwards discussed his concerns in facing the talent offensive trio and how daunting a task it will be for the Jets’ defensive unit.

“Brees has had a fantastic year,” Edwards said, citing the QB’s 3100 passing yards with 27 TDs and just 7 interceptions. “Those two guys (Gates and Tomlinson) who contribute are probably 3/4ths of all their touchdowns, the tight end and the runner. They do a great job. They are playing with a lot of confidence.”

While Tomlinson has maintained an elite status over the years, it has been Gates who has blossomed into one of the top tight ends in the NFL this season. Gates, a former converted basketball player, has used his tremendous athletic skills to lead the Chargers in receptions (81), receiving yards (941) and receiving touchdowns (13) in route to his first Pro Bowl berth this year. While Gates has made many opposing linebackers look foolish in route to his NFL record 13 receiving touchdowns by a tight end this year, Edwards said the team could assign two defenders to cover the Chargers’ TE this Saturday.

“Oh, certain downs,” Edwards said. “He has a lot of catches and he's a really good player, and there's certain times you have (double cover), no doubt about it.” Especially when they split him out. They do a good job of moving him around and getting mismatches on linebackers and safeties, and he does a good job of catching the ball he's very athletic.”

While Brees and Gates have broke onto the scene as a terrific quarterback-to-receiver duo this year, the driving force and biggest offensive threat remains all-world RB LaDainian Tomlinson. Edwards stressed the defensive unit’s primary job is to limit Tomlinson to few big plays.

“Their running back is one of the premiere running backs in the league, no doubt about it,” Edwards said of Tomlinson, who was held to just 87 yards rushing in Week 2. “It always starts with the runner. For a defensive coach, you always want to try to stop the run, and he's a handful, believe me. He's a heck of a player, especially when you get him in space. They get him the ball a lot of different ways.”

Getting the ball to their playmakers has allowed the Chargers to light up the score board this season, as they are averaging about 28 points per game, with a slightly better average at home (32), according to Edwards. The Jets’ Coach realizes the offense needs to be running on all cylinders to match the Chargers’ offensive explosiveness.

“If you're going to compete with them, it's got to be in the 20s,” Edwards said of how many points the Jets will need to post. “We just need to score points. When we get in the red zone, we have to score points. That's what you have to do when you get in the playoffs because you know it's vital.”

Another vital component when entering a playoff game is momentum and the Jets are lacking in that category as they enter Saturday’s game riding a two-game losing streak. The two-game skid has fueled Jets’ critics to believe the team has no chance versus a red-hot Chargers team that has won nine of its past ten games, but QB Chad Pennington begs to differ.

“I think it has given us motivation,” the Jets’ QB said. “When you have lost, you want to get that winning feeling back so you work harder. When you lose, it exposes some things you need to work on. For us, the last few weeks has really given us some things to really work on and make sure we have those things shored up before we go into San Diego.”

The Jets must smooth out wrinkles that have dogged them in recent weeks in order to get back to their winning ways. Additionally, the team realizes what’s at stake during the playoffs and is hyped to leave the West Coast with a victory Saturday night.

“The excitement, the adrenaline rush and just the overall intensity of the game and against the other players,” Pennington said. “It really steps up a notch. Guys are going to play for 60 minutes. There is no, ‘well we will get them next time’ or ‘well they got us this time but…There is none of that. This is all out for 60 minutes.”

Edwards concurred with his quarterback.

“We're excited, we really are,” Edwards said. “We know that it's a new season and we are really excited about the having the opportunity to go in and play.”

MISCELLANEOUS TIDBITS: Jets LB Jonathan Vilma was named the NFL’s 2004 Defensive Rookie of the Year early Friday morning. Vilma started 14 games for the team this season, anchoring a unit that finished fifth against the run and finishing with 116 tackles. Despite the prestigious honor, Vilma is focused on another coveted piece of hardware to be awarded in Jacksonville later this season.

“It’s flattering,” Vilma said. “Right now, I’m so focused on winning Saturday night and getting to the Super Bowl that I can’t really enjoy it yet. There will be a time for that, but it’s not now.”

-Vilma’s teammate and fellow LB Eric Barton finished the year as the team’s leading tackler (126) and was tied for an NFL-best four fumble recoveries by a defensive player in 2004.

-WR Justin McCareins posted some career-highs in 2004 including receptions (56) and yards (770). Additionally, McCareins posted two or more receptions in all but one game in 2004.

-Pennington has been perfect inside the red zone during his career, posting a remarkable 39 TDs and zero interceptions. In addition, Pennington needs one touchdown pass to surpass QBs Richard Todd and Vinny Testaverde for most all-time by a Jets’ QB.

-Edwards is first coach in Jets history to lead the team to playoffs three times.

INJURY REPORT: Both DE John Abraham (knee) and WR Wayne Chrebet (concussion) were downgraded on Friday to questionable from probable. However, ESPN is reporting that Abraham will not play. Obviously this is a big blow to the Jets' defense. DE Bryan Thomas will continue to sub for Abraham while he's out. Chrebet's status will be a game time decision. Backup LB Kenyatta Wright (foot) remains questionable.

-LB Kenyatta Wright (foot): Questionable
-DE John Abraham (knee): Questionable
-WR Wayne Chrebet (concussion): Questionable

The Jets-Chargers game will be broadcast locally on ABC with kickoff scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. The television broadcasters will be Al Michaels and John Madden. CBS radio will carry the AFC wild card game with Marv Albert and John Riggins calling the shots. Check back often to Jets for all the latest Jets news and team reports.

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