Let’s call it for what it was: The Chargers choked.

No matter how much more talent, coaching or overall advantages one squad has over another, teams still have to show up ready to play for 60 minutes on game day.

There’s no way to describe what the Jets did to the Chargers today than to stating the obvious: They just flat out outplayed them in the second half. The Jets were better today and that’s why they’re heading to Indianapolis to take on the Colts in the AFC Championship Game next weekend.

But let’s not overlook the fact that the Chargers were the hottest team coming into the playoffs and they couldn’t even make it out of the Divisional Round. They hadn’t lost since a mid-October Monday night game against the Broncos and many people considered them the team to beat in the postseason.

So excuse me for not shrugging my shoulders and saying, “Ah well, the better team won in San Diego today.” It’s not that simple to just write off the Chargers’ loss as another game when everything was set up for them to make a deep postseason run.

The Bolts had home field advantage, were facing a rookie quarterback playing in only his second postseason game of his career and they had momentum after winning 11 straight games. They weren’t supposed to lose today – no matter how good Rex Ryan’s defense played – and the defeat was eerily similar to their 2007 Divisional Round loss to the Patriots after they finished 14-2 in the regular season.

The blame cannot fall on just one man’s shoulders; it took a complete team effort for the Chargers to lose today. Norv Turner’s game plan failed, the defense had trouble coming up with a big stop in the second half (especially on Shonn Greene’s 53-yard touchdown run), Philip Rivers turned the ball over twice (although one was a fluke) and the usually automatic Nate Kaeding missed three field goals, including two within 40 yards.

San Diego just didn’t execute today, which is why they’ll be at home come February when the Super Bowl is being played – the Super Bowl that many people figured they’d be playing in.

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How did Rex Ryan not get a head-coaching job sooner?

The only thing shocking about the Jets’ 17-14 upset over the Chargers on Sunday is how it took Rex Ryan this long to land a head coaching job.

All right, so maybe there were more shocking things that occurred than that. For example, how a San Diego team that averaged over 30 points a game this season was held to only 14 today, or how that same Charger team went an entire quarter without recording a first down.

But see, that all plays into the perplexing question I raise about Ryan. How could this guy have not landed a head-coaching job sooner than January 21, 2009 (the day the Jets hired him)? He interviewed for multiple jobs before then, but kept getting passed over. How does Jim Mora get two head coaching opportunities before Ryan gets his first? That’s mind-boggling.

Ryan continues to prove that he’s the best defensive game-planner and schemer in the league. But he’s more than that to the Jets, because he’s also a master motivator that rubs off on his players in a positive way. He’s brash, cocky and confident – and I mean for none of those three things to be perceived as a negative.

What Ryan has done this year in transforming the Jets’ defense into the best in the league has been impressive. But for New York to reach the AFC Championship Game with a rookie quarterback that can’t be counted on for more than 100 yards of passing per week has been remarkable. I know the Jets win in spite of Sanchez, but give credit where credit is due: Ryan has been an excellent head coach this season.

Some are no doubt disappointed that the AFC Championship Game won’t feature the Colts and Chargers, but keep in mind that Ryan has already studied Peyton Manning and Indy’s potent offense once this season. If there’s anyone that can figure out a way to contain what the Colts do offensively, it’s Ryan. Granted, the Colts’ offense shredded the Jets in the first half of that Week 16 matchup, but I for one am still excited about the prospect of watching Manning vs. the No. 1 defense in the league.

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What’s next for Romo, Phillips?

If recent history was any indication, a Cowboy postseason defeat was inevitable. They had played well throughout December and had gotten the playoff monkey off their backs with a first round rout over the Eagles last week. It figures that Tony Romo and Wade Phillips were due to fail, which they did in Dallas’ 34-3 loss to Minnesota on Sunday.

Romo didn’t play well today, but blame could hardly be put solely on his shoulders. He was under constant pressure because his offensive linemen couldn’t block a statue and he also received little to no help from his running game. That said, there was no excuse for him to turn the ball over three times. His fumble in the second quarter set up a Vikings’ field goal and his brutal interception late in the second half sealed any comeback attempt by the Cowboys.

The turnovers didn’t help, but what killed the Cowboys most of all was the fact that they couldn’t finish off drives. Several times throughout the game Romo led Dallas into Minnesota territory and failed to generate points. Of course, if the Cowboys had anything resembling a kicker they would have sported more than a field goal on the scoreboard. Shaun Suisham missed two field goals and essentially sealed his fate in Dallas this offseason.

As for Phillips, there’s not much more he could have done in terms of play calling. His defense just failed to execute and the big play doomed them in the end. Phillips was able to drum up some pressure and Dallas did a great job containing Adrian Peterson, but they couldn’t come up with that big stop to turn the momentum in their favor.

The question now becomes: Will Jerry Jones keep the combination of Romo and Phillips in the offseason? There’s no doubt that the ‘Boys failed to live up to Jones’ expectations, but Romo and Phillips each turned in a great season. I would have to imagine that Romo will be around in 2010, but there’s no guarantee for Phillips. People said he had to win a playoff game to keep his job, and he did that. But after they played so poorly today, that may not have been enough.

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Favre, Rice, Vikes’ defense crush Cowboys

For those that have been waiting for the Cowboys to self-destruct since December, your wait is officially over. Dallas was a complete disaster in the Metrodome on Sunday, as the Vikings pounded the Cowboys 34-3 to advance to the NFC Championship Game.

The Vikings were led by a defense that harassed Tony Romo the entire afternoon and forced three turnovers. Minnesota’ held Dallas’ potent rushing attack to less than 100 yards (92) and just 248 yards of total offense. They also sacked Romo six times and gave him zero time to scan the field and find open receivers (not that there were many to choose from).

Offensively, the combination of Brett Favre and Sidney Rice absolutely terrorized Dallas’ secondary. Favre completed 15-of-24 passes for 234 yards and four touchdowns, while Rice caught six passes for 141 yards and three scores. Given how well he played, I wouldn’t be surprised if fans inside the Metrodome confused Rice for Randy Moss. That’s how good he played today.

The Vikings showed today that when they play up to their potential, they’re as good as anyone in the league. A Saints-Vikings matchup was the best the NFC could offer and that’s exactly what fans will get next week. It should be a thriller at the Superdome.

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Colts can finally put Jets’ saga behind them

It’s over with – done, finished, finite. What Jim Caldwell did in the second half of the Colts’ loss to the Jets in Week 16 is now moot after Indy soundly defeated the Ravens 20-3 on Saturday night.

Given the reaction of some folks, you could have sworn that Caldwell not only killed the Colts’ quest for a perfect season when he pulled his starters in the second half against the Jets, but he unleashed the spawn of Hades as well. He took a ton of criticism for the decision to rest his starters in the final two weeks of the season, as plenty of people boastfully claimed that the Colts would lose in the first round because of it.

But they didn’t. The defense looked well rested and energized, as it forced four turnovers and held Baltimore to 270 total yards. Peyton Manning and the offense wasn’t as crisp as it has looked throughout the season, but they still racked up 275 total yards and converted in two of three trips inside the red zone.

Granted, the Ravens shot themselves in the foot all night and had they taken better care of the ball, the final score would have been closer. But give credit to Caldwell and his coaching staff for having the Colts well prepared. The Ravens could do very little offensively and when there was a big play to be made, Indianapolis made it – not Baltimore.

Had the Colts lost, the criticism that ensued following Caldwell’s decision to pull his starters against the Jets would have been just. And in some ways, the criticism is still warranted because he pulled the plug on a perfect season.

But the bottom line is that the Colts are moving on thanks in part to Caldwell’s decision to keep everyone healthy and rested during those final two weeks. Ask Bill Belichick if he would have given up part of his salary to go back and sit Wes Welker the week before the playoffs. (Not that it would have made too much of a difference with the way the Pats played that way – but you get the point.)

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