Norv Turner was in a generous mood, awarding game balls to each one of his San Diego Chargers who sacked Greg McElroy.
Hope he stocked up on footballs.
Led by Kendall Reyes’ 3 1/2 sacks, the Chargers made things downright miserable for McElroy, taking him down 11 times and tying the team record while ruining the New York Jets quarterback’s first NFL start in place of the benched Mark Sanchez in a 27-17 victory Sunday.
”A lot of those sacks weren’t where they beat a guy quick and went,” Turner said. ”It was guys staying relentless and staying after the quarterback. You’re playing a young quarterback. You’d like to be able to pressure him and disrupt it.”
That’s exactly what San Diego did. Shaun Phillips had 2 1/2 sacks, Corey Liuget added two more, and four other players helped the Chargers (6-9) finish one short of the NFL record set by a handful of teams, last by the Giants in 2007.
With Turner and general manager A.J. Smith facing uncertain futures – and lots of speculation that they’ll be out after the season – it was a dominant effort by the defense with one game left. San Diego also had 11 sacks against Dallas in 1986.
”The game plan was definitely to get pressure on him, sack him and make him nervous,” Liuget said, ”and make them want to run the ball.”
McElroy, the third-stringer, moved the offense for the Jets (6-9) early but faced pressure all game. With a chance to get New York back into it with less than 5 minutes remaining, McElroy was taken down by Phillips – the Chargers’ eighth sack of the game – and lost the ball. Phillips recovered and San Diego sealed the win, but not before sacking McElroy three more times.
”I’m disappointed,” McElroy said. ”This team’s goal was to finish 8-8 and win the last two games and we’re disappointed we’re going to finish short of that goal.”
McElroy, the team’s seventh-round pick out of Alabama last year, became the first Jets quarterback to be sacked 11 times since David Norrie by Dallas in 1987, a game played by replacements.
”It was great on their part,” said Rex Ryan, guaranteed his first losing season as Jets coach, ”but ridiculous on our part.”
With most of the pregame drama centered around whether Sanchez or Tim Tebow would back up McElroy – turned out, it was both – Philip Rivers threw touchdown tosses of 37 yards to Danario Alexander and 34 yards to Antonio Gates to lead the Chargers.
It was the 82nd touchdown catch of Gates’ career, snapping a tie with Lance Alworth for the franchise lead.
”The San Diego Chargers have had unbelievable production in the passing game with great players in the passing game,” Turner said. ”He’s a very special person and a very special player. I’ve been fortunate to be around Hall of Fame guys who have done some incredible things. He’s right up there with them.”
After Gates caught his milestone touchdown, the entire offense celebrated with him in the end zone.
”There is no better feeling than to score and have 10 other guys run up to you and congratulate you,” Gates said.
Rivers was a modest 11 of 22 for 165 yards, while McElroy finished 14 of 24 for 185 yards with an interception and the lost fumble. Both offenses struggled, though, as San Diego went 2 of 12 on third downs, while New York was 2 of 11. But the Chargers’ defense bailed out Rivers and the offense.
”That’s awesome,” Rivers said. ”It was certainly fun to watch them when they’re rolling like that.”
Ryan had Sanchez and Tebow active for the home finale, the first time all three quarterbacks were available for a game. Both were listed as the backup on the team’s flip card in the press box.
Ryan announced after the game that McElroy would start the season finale next Sunday at Buffalo.
The Jets ran the wildcat a handful of times – but with wide receiver Jeremy Kerley instead of Tebow, who stood on the sideline the entire game without getting a snap. Several times throughout the game, with the defense on the field, McElroy and Sanchez often sat with offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, while Tebow was off to the side talking with other teammates.
”Obviously, (the season) didn’t go as we thought, as I had hoped,” Tebow said.
Moments after McElroy jogged onto the field to big cheers from a half-filled MetLife Stadium, there were loud boos as Micheal Spurlock took a punt 63 yards for a touchdown to put the Chargers up 7-0 just under 2 minutes into the game.
It was the first punt returned against the Jets for a touchdown since Oakland’s Phillip Buchanon took one 78 yards in 2003 – a span of 150 games, the longest active streak in the NFL.
The Jets came right back, though, to tie it at 7 on Shonn Greene’s 1-yard touchdown run – two plays after McElroy nearly ran it in from the 8 but was ruled down just short of the goal line.
After a three-and-out by San Diego, Greene plowed in for another 1-yard score to give New York a 14-7 lead. It was the first time the Jets had at least two touchdowns in the opening quarter since 2009 at Oakland.
The Chargers opened the second half with a 37-yard touchdown catch by Alexander that gave San Diego a 17-14 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
NOTES: The Jets held a moment of silence before the game for the victims of the Connecticut shootings last Friday, and had banners on the sidelines that read ”S.H.E.S” for Sandy Hook Elementary School. … Chargers rookie S Brandon Taylor was carted off the field in the third quarter after injuring his right knee. Jets DB Ellis Lankster left in the second half with a concussion.