The Jets may get lucky and not have to face the hurting LaDanian Tomlinson this Monday. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
It is only September, but lackluster performances last week have both the New York Jets and the San Diego Chargers feeling a sense of urgency heading into Monday night's matchup. Each team entered the 2008 season with "title or bust" expectations, ready to dethrone the defending-AFC champion Patriots from the mountaintop. Doing so appeared to be more than a dogfight, that is, until All-Pro quarterback Tom Brady was lost for the season with tears in both his ACL and MCL.
But once again, the old mantra 'that's why you play the game' has rung true. The Patriots sit in a familar setting-atop the AFC East at 2-0-and both the Chargers (0-2) and Jets (1-1) face the painful thought of an early season slump. Suddenly that 'win now' mantra is beginning to rare its ugly head.
"We certainly don't want to slip into any bigger hole than we've already dug ourselves into," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said today in a conference call. "We certainly feel like it's now, we've got to go. We've got to get it going."
Jets guard Brandon Moore expressed similar sentiments, adding, "I think we are desperate too at 1-1. Nobody wants to be 1-2, 0-2 is not so hot either. It's a big game for us."
While the Chargers enter Monday's matchup bruised and disgruntled after two last-second losses, the Jets recognize the situation their opponent faces. Even though the Chargers may be down at the moment, Jets head coach Eric Mangini knows San Diego certainly is not out.
"It looks like they've been playing pretty hard the last two weeks. They've always played hard," Mangini explained. [Head Coach] Norv [Turner] does an excellent job. You look at the the two plays at the end of the game, you're talking about six or eight inches on both those plays, the difference between winning or losing."
Effort and preparation remains unquestioned for San Diego, as does elite talent. The lone issue for the Chargers is that their elite talent remains grounded at the moment. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who rushed for 1,474 yards and totaled 18 touchdowns last season, has been limited in practice due to a jammed toe. After an affective outing (21 carries, 97 yards) in Week One against the Panthers, Tomlinson was limited to just 26 yards on ten carries against the Broncos last week.
Talented and seemingly irreplaceable, Tomlinson's injury has San Diego on the ropes...no problem. The Chargers received a solid effort from one of their most unheralded threats last week, running back Darren Sproles. Sproles rushed for 53 yards on seven carries, ran a Rivers' screen pass 66 yards for a touchdown and returned a kick 103 yards for a touchdown. Along with the Chargers' electric backfield combination, wide receiver Chris Chambers, tight end Antonio Gates and wide receiver Vincent Jackson all prove potent to break open a game at any second. Through the first two weeks, the Chargers have already scored a total of 62 points.
So in order for the Jets to leave San Diego victorious Monday night, they know the task at hand.
"You definitely can't let Rivers sit back, be comfortable and have all day to throw," linebacker Calvin Pace explained. "He's a smart guy. He's going to take what you give him and he's capable of making the big throw down the field. It's about disrupting him and the task at hand."
The Jets' defense will certainly have a tough assignment, but through the first two weeks of 2008, the revamped unit has performed admirably. After allowing just 14 points in a season-opening win at Miami, the Jets limited the Patriots to just 19 points last week, despite falling short.
With the Chargers' potent offense next on the docket for the Jets, cornerbacks Dwight Lowery and Darrelle Revis will be relied upon heavily to bring New York a win. After all, Rivers knows how talented the two corners truly are.
"They're fundamentally sound and they don't give up a lot of big plays," Rivers explained. "Those corners, they like to get up in your face and press, and at the same time, they do a nice job with all their different schemes. It's a very balanced, solid group over there."
Surely Rivers was not speaking about the Jets' offense, but that too fits Rivers' description. Quarterback Brett Favre and his offensive counterparts were downtrodden last week, scoring only ten points in defeat. Now with the Chargers at hand, the offense will surely have to exceed such totals if they want to reach 2-1 in the standings. But will the shootout stlye of offense add to the immense pressure on Favre? Not a chance.
"The [Chargers are] going to score, they're good. It's just hard to stop all their weapons. We have to have that mentality, but we don't need to shoot ourselves in the foot as well," Favre said. "[We need to] manage the game. That's the key. When you have opportunities, however they may come, you have to make the most of them."
Out: WR David Clowney (shoulder), K Mike Nugent (right thigh)
Limited Participation: CB David Barrett (shoulder), WR Laveranues Coles (thigh), CB Justin Miller (foot)
Did Not Participate: RB LaDainian Tomlinson (toe)
Limited Participation: C Nick Hardwick (foot), DT Jamal Williams (knee)
Full Participation: LB Marques Harris (ribs), S Clinton Hart (hand), OT Marcus McNeil (neck), LB Shaun Phillips (groin)
Jets 'O' v. Chargers 'D'
With no Shawne Merriman and Phillips banged up, the Chargers' defense has suffered through the season's first two weeks. The unit has surrendered 65 total points, including an average of 437 yards per game. While the Jets' offense has not been lighting up any scoreboards-totaling just 30 points through two games-much of which has come against two stellar defenses. Both units are capable of producing game-breaking plays, but it's difficult to count on a Chargers unit that is depleted in each game.
Jets 'D' v. Chargers 'O'
Tomlinson has not been at full-strength, yet the Chargers' offense continues to click on all cylinders. Aside from Tomlinson, Sproles and rookie Jacob Hester have proven to be capable in sharing the workload. The Jets' defense struggled last week to contain Patriots running backs Kevin Faulk and LaMont Jordan on swing-screens, which is what the Chargers do best. San Diego will surely be looking to exploit the Jets in similar fashion.
The Chargers' explosive talent on offense and defense extends to special teams, where Sproles can cause opposing coaches to lose sleep over his return abilities. Last week against Carolina, he averaged 38.4 yards on five returns, one of which was brought back 103 yards for a touchdown. If there was ever a weak spot for Gang Green on special teams, it would be at this moment. Mike Nugent remains sidelined with a right thigh injury and the inexperienced Reggie Hodges has replaced Ben Graham at punter.
The Jets are entering a hornet's nest in traveling to San Diego. The Chargers are 0-2, but as Mangini noted, they are truly only two key plays away from being 2-0. Even without Tomlinson, the Chargers still possess one of the league's most explosive offenses. With Favre still learning the Jets' playbook, expect San Diego to force him into some key turnovers.
Score: Chargers 27, Jets 20
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