Chargers beat Jets 14-7 to keep postseason hopes alive
By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
Dec. 25, 2017
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — When the Los Angeles Chargers opened the season 0-4, few gave them much of a chance to make the playoffs.
Other than the players themselves, of course.
Written off by many after the first month, the surging Chargers kept the faith. And now, after a 14-7 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday, they're a win — and some help — away from the postseason.
"That's all we can ask for at this point," quarterback Philip Rivers said, "starting 0-and-4, digging the hole we dug, is to be alive in Week 17."
And, in pretty good position, too.
The Chargers (8-7) take on AFC West-rival Oakland at home next Sunday. Tennessee (8-7) lost 27-23 to the Rams, and Buffalo (8-7) fell to New England 37-16 — each helping Los Angeles' playoff hopes. The Titans are home against Jacksonville next week, while the Bills are at Miami.
The Chargers would be in the postseason if they win, Tennessee loses and Baltimore (9-6) beats Cincinnati.
"We've put ourselves in a better position, even though we don't control our own destiny," cornerback Casey Hayward said. "We're still in it. You're never out until they say, 'You don't have a chance.'"
A 30-13 loss to Kansas City last week appeared to be ominous, and the Chargers had to guard against that defeat lingering while they prepared for the Jets.
"If we're still worried about the Chiefs, then we probably wouldn't be in New York, right?" said wide receiver Keenan Allen, who grabbed his first career interception on Bryce Petty's desperation heave to end the opening half. "We put that away on the way back home."
But they had to sweat this one out a bit against the Jets (5-10). Rivers threw a touchdown pass to Antonio Gates, and Melvin Gordon ran for a score for the Chargers.
Los Angeles had a tough time getting much going consistently against a spirited effort by the Jets' defense, but didn't need much offense in this one. Rivers finished 22 of 40 for 290 yards.
"We knew we were going to have a heck of a challenge," Rivers said, "and we found a way to get it done."
Allen had five catches for 63 yards and the interception. Allen, who has 93 catches for 1,260 yards this season, is the first player in NFL history with at least 90 catches and an interception in the same season. He is also the third player in NFL history to have at least 1,000 receiving yards and an interception in the same season, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer Don Hutson (1942) and Randy Moss (2009), who is eligible for induction in 2018.
Gordon had 81 yards on 19 carries to put him over 1,000 yards for the first time in his three NFL season. But he left late in the game with an ankle injury. He remained standing on the sideline as the Chargers tried to run out the clock, and coach Anthony Lynn was not immediately sure of the severity.
PETTY READY TO FINISH
Despite a rough second start of the season, Petty is expected to be under center and not Christian Hackenberg for the Jets' season finale at New England next season.
"As of now, yes," coach Todd Bowles said.
Petty, playing in place of the injured Josh McCown, missed open receivers and repeatedly flexed his right hand, which he banged up early in the game. But he remained in and said his hand is fine, finishing 15 of 28 for 119 yards and an interception.
"It's frustrating," Petty said. "This team deserves better, this offense deserves better — and I know I can make those plays."
BACK IN BUSINESS
Gates turned back the clock a bit, finishing with a team-leading six catches for 81 yards and a 3-yard touchdown.
The 37-year-old tight end had a diminished role this season while backing up Hunter Henry, who emerged as a primary target for Rivers this season. But Henry was placed on injured reserve with a lacerated kidney, so Gates was back as the starter this week.
"I told you in the beginning of the week," Rivers said, "it was weird when Hunter goes down and you're like, 'OK, the tight end group's got to pick it up. Oh, it's Antonio Gates. He's a Hall of Famer, all-time touchdown leader in the history of tight ends.' You knew he'd be ready to go. He has been all year."
NO MO' MO?
Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was inactive after being benched at New Orleans last Sunday for being late to a team meeting.
Wilkerson practiced with the team all week, and coach Todd Bowles insisted the veteran "served his sentence" when asked if further discipline might be used. Bowles said it was "a coach's decision" for Wilkerson to not play. Wilkerson, who wore sweats on the sideline, declined to speak to the media after the game.
The coach wouldn't use Wilkerson's contract situation as having played a role. His $16.75 million salary for next season is fully guaranteed against a serious injury.
"All a coach's decision," Bowles said.
It's likely Wilkerson won't play next week, either, which probably ends his Jets career. Next season's salary becomes guaranteed on the third day of the league's new year in March, and the Jets will save $11 million on the salary cap by cutting him.
NO MORAL VICTORIES
Bowles has been praised for the Jets sticking around in almost all of their games during this rebuilding season. But the close losses, New York's seventh by 10 points or fewer, are wearing thin.
"It's tough," said Bilal Powell, who ran for 145 yards and a TD. "We have a young team. We just have to learn to close out the fourth quarter and close out the game."
Added wide receiver Jermaine Kearse: "Being competitive is winning games, and that ain't happening. I don't know how long we're going to say, 'We're in the game.'"