Chargers’ tenuous playoff hopes hinge on beating Jets first
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — All the momentum the Los Angeles Chargers gained in their playoff push came to a screeching halt last Saturday.
Their four-game winning streak ended with a clunker in Kansas City.
Now they’re in must-win mode again, starting this weekend against the New York Jets.
“I don’t know that there are doubts, it’s just your natural emotions,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. “You’re just going, `What has happened? … Is this all, come falling down?’ So, some of it is just your emotions in the heat of the season and where we were.”
The Chargers (7-7) are still in the middle of the AFC playoff mix , but their margin for error has disappeared. Los Angeles, which lost to the Chiefs 30-13 , needs to win each of their last two games — at MetLife Stadium on Sunday and home against Oakland next week — and get lots of help elsewhere.
“We can’t let one hiccup last week cause us to tank or do anything crazy,” Rivers said. “We just have to take care of our business.”
They’ve done it before.
In 2013, the Chargers had the same record and faced the same playoff predicament. They won their last two, got some help from other teams losing and completed an unlikely run to the postseason.
“A couple of us who were here said it kind of feels like that again,” Rivers said.
Meanwhile, the Jets (5-9) saw their playoff hopes end with a 31-19 loss at New Orleans last Sunday.
Now they’re hoping to play the role of spoiler while looking to end the season on a positive note.
“I feel like we are getting closer,” cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “As long as we keep preparing and fighting the way we’ve been fighting, it’s going to eventually come together for us.”
Here are some other things to know about the Chargers-Jets matchup:
PLAYOFF PICTURE: The Chargers can still win the AFC West, but need the Chiefs to lose both of their final two games: home vs. Miami and at Denver.
That might be the most clear-cut of the possibilities for Los Angeles, but maybe the most unlikely. A wild-card spot might be the way in, but the Chargers also would need Tennessee (8-6) to lose at home to both the Rams and Jacksonville because the Titans would hold a tiebreaker at 9-7.
Los Angeles also has Baltimore (8-6) and Buffalo (8-6) standing in the way. The Ravens finish with home games against Indianapolis and Cincinnati, while the Bills are at New England and Miami.
“All the scenarios out there, we’re aware of and they all include us having to win,” Rivers said. “That’s the focus, just find a way to win this game in New York and then we’ll worry about Oakland.”
NOT-SO-NICE BRYCE: The Jets will start Bryce Petty at quarterback after he was far from impressive in his first start of the season last week .
Petty, playing in place of the injured Josh McCown, went 19 of 39 for 179 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in the loss. The 2015 fourth-round draft pick is trying to prove to the Jets that he could be their quarterback of the future.
“He was a little anxious on some throws, but he was confident,” coach Todd Bowles said. “He has to get his footwork down a little bit, but I thought he played with confidence. He missed some throws that he just has to settle himself down and calm himself down, but I think he’ll get better going forward this week.”
HUNTER DOWN: The Chargers will be without one of their key offensive targets in tight end Hunter Henry, who was placed on injured reserve with a lacerated kidney.
Henry is third on the team with 45 receptions for 579 yards and four touchdowns. He was hurt last weekend when the Chiefs’ Bennie Logan slammed into him with a blindside block.
Henry’s absence means veteran Antonio Gates will take over as the Chargers’ No. 1 tight end. The 37-year-old Gates has 20 catches for 189 yards and two TDs, and could have fresher legs than usual this late in the season.
“I sure hope so,” offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said. “To me, he’s true pro. He works hard and he’s prepared. When he gets his opportunity, hopefully it will work out great.”
NO MO’ MO?: Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson returned to practice this week after being benched last Sunday for showing up late to a team meeting. Bowles remained non-committal on whether Wilkerson will play against the Chargers.
The coach said Wilkerson, who has a history of tardiness issues, had no lingering disciplinary issues that would keep him from playing. But Wilkerson’s contract could play a role: He’s likely to be cut in the offseason, and his $16.75 million salary for next season would be fully guaranteed if he suffers a serious injury.
KICKING CAROUSEL: Next up for the Chargers: Nick Rose. He’s the fourth kicker for Los Angeles this season , following Travis Coons, Nick Novak and Younghoe Koo.
Rose was claimed off waivers from Washington, for whom he went 10 of 11 on field goal attempts and 18 of 20 on extra points in eight games. He was originally signed by Atlanta last year as an undrafted free agent out of Texas, and also has spent time with San Francisco.