The Jets will be leaving soon for a 2,800-mile trip to San Diego and the AFC Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. But it’s not uncharted territory for all the Green & White. Jerricho Cotchery should feel right at home.
For one thing, he’ll renew acquaintances with a Qualcomm Stadium VIP before the game. That would be the Chargers’ Philip Rivers, his former QB for four seasons at North Carolina State.
"I’ll say hi to Phil pregame, but that’ll be about it for the day," Cotchery told me today as the team finished packing up in the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center locker room before their flight. "It’ll be good seeing him again. It’ll bring back a lot of memories."
The memories will in general involve Cotchery’s record-setting tenure with the Wolfpack. After his 2003 senior season, Cotchery could boast (if J-Co did ever boast, which he doesn’t) of his school-record 200 receptions and 15 100-yard receiving games, and of his senior season during which he caught 86 balls, most of them from Rivers, for 1,369 yards, both figures second in NCSU history to Torry Holt.
What game, season or emotion does Cotchery remember most from his days of playing catch with Rivers?
"The chemistry we had throughout those four years — it hasn’t been the same way since we left N.C. State," he said. "And the last memory I had was walking off the field at the Tangerine Bowl after we had just put up a lot of points on Kansas."
The Wolfpack won the 2003 Tangerine, 56-26, with Cotchery catching 13 passes for 171 yards and a TD.
"Me and Jerricho still talk all the time," Rivers said this week. "He will be and always has been one of my all-time favorite teammates. He’s the ultimate competitor. We both grew up in Alabama competing in football and basketball. Jerricho gives you the same thing every day in practices and what he does on the field. The Jets players know it and appreciate it. He’s a heck of a player. It will be fun. We will not be competing directly, but I am looking forward to seeing him."
You can’t blame Cotchery for looking forward to seeing Qualcomm. In his only other two visits there, both in 2004, he left as a rookie victor.
"We had the winning field goal in overtime. That sticks out in my mind," Cotchery said of Doug Brien’s 28-yarder that lifted the Jets over the Chargers in the ’04 AFC Wild Card Game, 20-17. "And we had the game won the first time and a penalty [on Eric Barton] gave them a second life.
"But it was a great feeling going into the locker room cheering with all the guys. I was a rookie and I was having a blast. And it was probably one of the shortest flights I can remember making on a West Coast trip."
As much fun as that game was for the Jets of five years ago, Cotchery recalls thinking of the players on that team: "We were kind of feeling our way through things. A lot of guys were tired. We had fought hard to get into the playoffs. I didn’t get the sense that we were really sure where we were headed."
They were in fact headed to another 20-17 overtime game, the bitter AFC Divisional Game loss at Pittsburgh. But J-Co is getting a different vibe this week.
"This team is a really confident team. We have the talent to make a run at it," he said. Which is why the former college catcher and pitcher who used to fight each other tooth and nail in Madden on their Raleigh, N.C., campus, checked in with each other last Sunday, will do so once more before this Sunday’s kickoff, and then will go at each other’s defense as if they don’t know each other.
"Our main focus is for us to go out and get a win," Cotchery said with a steely edge that is rare, except on the field of battle. "It’s not a family reunion."
Jets head coach Rex Ryan did not address reporters today before the team left for San Diego. His next public words will come after the game, the final one of Divisional Weekend, which will kick off at 4:40 p.m. ET (1:40 PT). … The Jets have won three of the last four at Qualcomm, including that crazy 44-13 stunning in 2002. The Jets are 11-19-1 all-time in the rivalry, 6-12 at SD. … Here’s a stat that probably means nothing: Including last year’s minus-3 turnover margin in the Monday night loss at "the Q," the Jets have a plus-11 TO margin in their last seven games vs. the Bolts and a plus-5 in their last four games on the West Coast.
The Jets’ injury report is updated through today’s practice. All eight players listed are probable for the game, with all participating fully today except LB Bart Scott (ankle), who was limited. The Chargers’ report won’t be updated until this evening, but considering that this week only one player, P Mike Scifres (groin, full), has been listed, we’re not expecting any dramatic announcements.
Tags: Jerricho Cotchery, Philip Rivers, Qualcomm Stadium, Rex Ryan, San Diego Chargers
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