It was going to be different this time. No way the hottest team in the NFL, a team led by quarterback Philip Rivers, a fierce competitor and proven winner, would be a one-and-done bust.
It should have been different. Eleven straight wins, home-field advantage and a green rookie taking snaps on the other side.
Not even Norv Turner was going to screw up this one.
Reality check: It’s the postseason, a time when the pressure is on, and these were the San Diego Chokers.
Squandered scoring opportunities. Ridiculous penalties. A psyched-out kicker. An ill-timed interception. A questionable onside kick.
Nothing changed. As the sickening last seconds ticked off the clock, the home fans were booing the Chokers again.
The New York Jets ran the ball, stopped the run, made fewer mistakes and stuffed it down the throats of the Chokers in a 17-14 victory Sunday. The only remotely close game of the four in divisional round was the upset few of us saw coming.
“This was the year it looked like everything was lined up for them,” MGM Mirage sports book director Jay Rood said.
The betting public agreed. The Chokers were 7-point favorites, and the line was bet to 9 before kickoff. A clear majority of the parlays and teasers were leading to the Chokers.
Las Vegas sports books needed the Jets to cover after New Orleans, Indianapolis and Minnesota, the weekend’s first three favorites, won in blowouts.
“It’s about how much we’re not going to lose with all the favorite-favorite-favorite parlays,” Rood said. “We’re not hitting the jackpot on this, but the jackpot is not getting drilled on the four-team parlays.”
I also bet on the Chokers, putting them on a three-team teaser with the Saints and Colts. The Chokers are one of my favorite teams. I believe in Rivers, want to see good things happen for LaDainian Tomlinson and figured they would beat a wild-card team with a rookie QB.
But Nate Kaeding, the Chokers’ All-Pro kicker, coughed up two easy field-goal tries, missing a 36-yarder in the first quarter and a 40-yarder in the fourth quarter.
Rivers threw a costly interception to set up the go-ahead score. Tomlinson, swarmed after almost every handoff, was held to 24 yards on 12 carries. The Chokers committed 10 penalties for 87 yards. The defense broke down when it mattered most.
“When you let a team hang around, bad things can happen, and that’s what the Chargers did. Missing those short field goals changed everything,” said Vegas Insider handicapper Barry Holthaus, who appropriately fitted Kaeding for the biggest set of “goat horns.”
Kaeding also was the goat five years ago when the Chokers were eliminated in the first round by the Jets. After the 2006 season, the Chokers blew a fourth-quarter lead in a 24-21 loss to New England. And now it has happened again.
The Jets deserve plenty of credit. Mark Sanchez passed for just 100 yards but avoided the big mistake. Shonn Greene rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown. Rex Ryan’s defense lived up to his hype.
The Chokers weren’t the only hot team to get incinerated Sunday. Tony Romo unraveled as the Cowboys were crushed 34-3 by the Vikings.
Brett Favre, aging gracefully at 40, passed for four touchdowns to lead the Vikings into the NFC Championship Game. Rood said early money showed on the Saints, who are 4-point favorites.
“If you can look past the constant retirement talk and those annoying Wrangler jeans commercials, it is amazing how well Favre is playing,” Holthaus said. “It will be a Mardi Gras atmosphere in New Orleans with the Saints playing in the late game and a chance to go to their first Super Bowl.”
Indianapolis opened as a 71/2-point favorite over the Jets in the AFC Championship Game. The Jets are in the playoffs only because the Colts laid down for them in Week 16.
“The Colts might be breathing a sigh of relief at not having to face San Diego, which knocked the Colts out of the playoffs the past two years,” Holthaus said.
The NFL’s final four should be classic. It’s Favre against Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning on the brink of another Super Bowl. How ironic would it be if the Jets knocked out the Colts?
There are plenty of story lines. The Chokers getting eliminated early is a tale that’s all too familiar.
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907.