One thought must have crossed their minds: "Oh no. Not again."
No matter that Tomlinson was dazzling, with a career-high four touchdowns and one particularly impressive move that left Pro Bowl cornerback Ty Law frozen in his tracks. Drew Brees fumbled with 3:06 to go, and a surprisingly effective Brooks Bollinger had 30 yards to lead the Jets to the winning score.
This was all too much for the Chargers, whose four losses all came in the closing minutes. But Quentin Jammer rescued San Diego when he batted down a fade pass for Justin McCareins on fourth-and-goal, preserving a 31-26 victory.
"It was nice. So many times we've been on the losing end of games like this. I figured one game would have to go our way," Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson scored on three runs and one catch, becoming the first Charger since Chuck Muncie against Denver on Nov. 29, 1981, to have four touchdowns in one game.
Heading into the contest, Tomlinson had the same number of touchdown passes (three) as Jets quarterbacks. Bollinger changed all that with a furious charge. Vinny Testaverde's straight right calf tightened up, so Bollinger replaced him in the third quarter, then threw two touchdown passes to make it a game.
"We needed to make a play," Jammer said. "They ran a couple fades on me. I figured they were going to try to run another one and I just made a play on the ball."
"That was the first thing in my mind. I'm sick of these type of games," said Antonio Gates, who had eight catches for 132 yards. "I was, like, this ain't about to keep happening. We worked too hard."
Tomlinson, who finished with 25 carries for 107 yards, staked the Chargers to a 21-10 halftime lead. On his 25-yard touchdown reception, Tomlinson took a short pass from Brees and scooted down the sideline. He juked out Law so badly, Law seemed to freeze in place.
"I was like the fans," Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "I saw the cut on the touchdown he made against Ty Law and I was anxiously awaiting the replay of it. I wasn't sure what I saw actually happened."
Or, as Tomlinson said: "I was just being me. I enjoy making people miss. You don't have time to think. You just react to what Ty is doing. Ty was kind of giving me the inside. He was forcing me inside so I kind of stuck him outside and made him hesitate. Then I burst past him."
"All you can ask is to have the ball in your hands with a chance to win the game," Bollinger said. "I did, we did -- I just didn't get it done."
Curtis Martin had 21 carries for 72 yards and became the 16th player in NFL history to score 100 touchdowns, when he reached the mark with a 1-yard scoring run early in the second quarter.
Now a season that started with such high hopes is virtually ruined. No 2-6 team that lost in its eighth game has made the playoffs.
"It's about time something good like this happened," Brees said.
Jets WR Wayne Chrebet sustained a concussion, at least the ninth in his college and pro career. Jets TE Chris Baker broke his left ankle, and Edwards said, "He's done." RB Curtis Martin got poked in the left eye and it was swollen half shut.
Chargers WR Reche Caldwell had a career high in receptions with five for 43 yards.
The Chargers played without five starters: linebackers Steve Foley, Randall Godfrey, strong safety Terrence Kiel, offensive tackle Roman Oben and center Nick Hardwick.
The Associated Press News Service
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