Reporting from San Diego — New York quarterback Mark Sanchez might have been awarded the game ball in the Jets' 17-14 divisional win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.
Then again, he might not have.
Regardless, the ball wound up in his hands.
"I just grabbed it," Sanchez said, standing before a large cluster of reporters crammed into a tiny interview room. "Didn't really ask too many questions."
Sort of the way his Jets got their ticket to the AFC championship game. They didn't ask any questions -- and certainly didn't take any outside opinions to heart -- and just ripped it from the hands of a San Diego team that had won 11 in a row.
It looked as if the Chargers were headed for a third consecutive season with a playoff game against Indianapolis. Instead, they're done.
San Diego could sum up its day in two words: Gag Green.
Really, though, that slights the Jets. Their defense kept them in the game for three quarters, then their offense came to life with two touchdowns in the fourth.
Asked if he was surprised to get this far, the Jets' Rex Ryan -- the rookie head coach who has already planned his team's Super Bowl parade -- was predictably, disarmingly defiant.
"We believed the whole time, the whole year, when it probably wasn't the popular choice, the popular opinion," he said. "But here we are. We don't have to apologize to anybody. It's just old-fashioned ground-and-pound football, and throw completions, and play great defense, and here we are."
It was far from a thing of beauty. The Jets didn't get a first down until midway through the second quarter, and they benefited greatly from field goal misses of 36, 57 and 40 yards by San Diego All-Pro Nate Kaeding, who had come into the game having made 69 in a row inside of 40 yards.
It turned out to be déjà blew for Kaeding, who, in a home playoff game against the Jets in 2004, missed a 40-yarder on a wet field in overtime. The Chargers lost that game too.
"Unfortunately, some days like this will come," Kaeding said. "And my really bad days have been untimely ones."
He wasn't the only one. The Chargers couldn't get in sync on offense, played extremely conservatively, insisted on getting the ball to LaDainian Tomlinson (2.0 yards per carry), and converted just four of 13 third downs.
What's more, the Chargers had twice as many penalties (10) and intercepted passes (two) as the Jets.
"It's not a good feeling, I'll tell you that much," Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman said. "Especially when you come so far and you've done all the right things to get in the position that we were in. To fail like this is a horrible feeling. Horrible."
Still, San Diego had its chances at the end, even after a fourth-quarter flurry by New York that included a two-yard touchdown pass by Sanchez and a 53-yard scoring run by fellow rookie Shonn Greene.
With his team trailing, 17-7, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers cut the deficit to three with a one-yard touchdown plunge with two minutes 14 seconds left.
The Jets recovered the ensuing onside kick, however, and ran out the clock with three consecutive short runs by Greene, and a clutch two-yarder up the middle by Thomas Jones on fourth-and-one.
That play was demonstrative of the more physical Jets imposing their will. Another one came earlier in the fourth quarter, when safety Kerry Rhodes came on a blitz and leveled Rivers, stripping the ball from his grasp.
"Sometimes when you hit the quarterback," Ryan said, "the whole team feels it."
And will for some time to come.