Jets at Chargers pregame

The day has finally arrived. The Chargers and Jets will battle to move on in the AFC playoffs, a rematch of a game earlier in the year.

KICKOFF: Saturday, 8:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 01/08/05
SURFACE: Grass
TV: ABC, Al Michaels, John Madden, Michele Tafoya
SERIES: 30th meeting. Chargers lead series 17-11-1. The Jets have won the last two meetings, including a 34-28 win at San Diego in Week 2 this season. Yet the Jets say that game means little once you reach the playoffs. It's the third time the Jets will play San Diego twice in a season since 1968.
2004 RANKINGS: Jets: offense 12th (3rd rush, 22nd pass); defense 7th (5th rush, 14th pass). Chargers: offense 10th (6th rush, 16th pass); defense 18th (3rd rush, 30th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Jets' confidence has to be a major concern with them riding a two-game losing streak and dropping three of their past four to end the regular season. And the matchup doesn't play out particularly well for New York. The Jets' strength is their running game behind RB Curtis Martin, but the Chargers feature the league's No. 3 run defense. While San Diego's secondary can be burned for big yardage, Jets QB Chad Pennington has struggled to stretch the field since returning from a shoulder injury. When the Chargers have the ball, they want to use RB LaDainian Tomlinson to control the clock and help avoid the Jets' strong pass rush. New York DE John Abraham will only play a handful of snaps at best, however, so San Diego's impressive young line has a chance to hold up. QB Drew Brees has had a tremendous season, but needs to prove he can get it done in the playoffs. The return of WR Keenan McCardell should help open the passing game against the Jets' vulnerable secondary.

FAST FACTS: RB Curtis Martin accounted for 35 percent of the Jets' total offense in the regular season. His 1,942 yards from scrimmage were more than a third of the team's total of 5,619. ... Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer is back in the playoffs for the first time since 1997 and the 12th time in his career. His playoff mark is 5-11. ... Jets coach Herm Edwards was on Schottenheimer's staff in Kansas City. Edwards was also a defensive back at San Diego State, where his son, Marcus, now plays. ... The Jets haven't won a postseason game on the road since 1983. ... The Chargers and Falcons were the 23rd and 24th teams since 1967 to win their division after finishing in last place the previous season. The Chargers were 4-12 in 2003. ... The Chargers are 8-1 when leading after the first quarter and 10-1 when scoring first.

PREDICTION: Chargers 23-20

PERSONNEL NEWS:

Jets:
Wayne Chrebet's concussion may be more serious than the team is letting on. He practiced lightly on Thursday but it looks like rookie Jerricho Cotchery will get most of the work out of the slot.

Jerricho Cotchery is likely to get most of the playing time when the Jets bring in a slot receiver. The fourth-round pick has four catches in the last three games, three for 10 yards or more.

Kenyatta Wright didn't practice Thursday because of a sprained right foot. He hasn't practice all week and probably won't play at San Diego Saturday. His role is primarily on special teams.

Shaun Ellis has often struggled to get sacks when John Abraham is out of the lineup but he has gotten good penetration over the last month while Abraham has been out with a sprained knee. Ellis had a career-high three sacks last Sunday against the Rams.

LaMont Jordan could see some extra carries against the Chargers if Curtis Martin has trouble in the early going inside against San Diego's linebackers. Martin is having a fabulous season but he has faltered somewhat against the League's best run defenses. Jordan, however, doesn't need time to warm up and is often productive as soon as he gets in the game.

Chargers:
Mike Scifres is certain his tweaked thumb won't hurt his drop when kicking. Scifres, a Pro Bowl first alternate, hurt it slightly when bungling a snap in the regular-season finale.

Keenan McCardell (hamstring) went through another full practice. He is a go for Saturday.

Igor Olshansky returned to practice after missing the past two workouts with the flu. He'll play Saturday.

Backup CB Sammy Davis (leg) returned, after missing the past two practices with a family emergency. Davis, still bothered by his leg, might not go on Saturday. Jamar Fletcher will be the nickel back.

Jesse Chatman (toe) practiced and will play Saturday.

Tim Dwight (toe) went through the practice. He will go Saturday.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

Jets:
Defensive end John Abraham said he wanted to be at 80 to 90 percent before returning, yet he was limited in practice Wednesday and was only at about three-quarters speed Thursday.

"I have to weigh my options," said Abraham, who has missed the last four games with a sprained lateral collateral ligament. "I think we avoided surgery just letting it heal for the last four weeks and I don't want to have to put myself in a situation that I am going to need surgery if I go out there and get hurt again."

Abraham didn't experience any swelling immediately after practice, nor did he have great difficulty coming off the edge during practice. Abraham's biggest obstacle may be in his head.

"Obviously I was a little tentative because I just started practicing so I can't say I felt like perfectly myself," said Abraham, who has 9.5 sacks. "Mentally and physically you have to feel pretty much perfect or at least on that line to perfection. I can't really say if I'm at that level yet or not."

In Abraham's defense, he's in a tough position. He wants to play and help the Jets against San Diego Saturday but he also has to be somewhat selfish. Abraham can ill afford to injure his knee further and risk surgery, not when he's due to hit the free agent market after the season.

The Jets have the option of slapping the franchise tag on Abraham, paying him roughly $7 million in 2005. Yet if he hits the market, Abraham could get a hefty signing bonus, possibly topping the $16 million Jevon Kearse got from Philadelphia last offseason.

As part of his extension signed in November, teammate Shaun Ellis received $15.5 million in guaranteed money.

"Either way, whatever I do is pretty much going to factor in on my life whether we move on or whether we lose," Abraham said. "I don't want to run back out there too soon and get another injury to this knee and have to get surgery or something like that."

Chargers:
Most important player for the Chargers on Saturday in their playoff game with the New York Jets? Jamal Williams?

The defensive tackle could be the key for the Chargers, as the critical part of the Jets' offense is running back Curtis Martin.

Williams is the anchor for Chargers run defense, which is ranked third in the league. And the thinking is if the run is stopped, the Jets will have to lean on a passing game which is hampered by Chad Pennington's bum shoulder.

Williams was overlooked in the Pro Bowl balloting, but he's not forgotten by coach Marty Schottenheimer.

"He has a terrific, terrific year," Schottenheimer said.

It's the dirty work Williams does up front which allows linebackers, especially Donnie Edwards (151 tackles), to swoop in and get the glory. Still, Williams has 32 tackles and four sacks.

Williams, though, will have his hands full with Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae. That'll be one of the better matchups of game.


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