SAN DIEGO -- Twenty-eight teams wish they were the New York Jets.
Imagine that. The Jets have reached the final four. They're in the conference championship game, one victory away from the Super Bowl.
The Jets silenced Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday. They scored all of their points in the second half to stun the San Diego Chargers, 17-14.
The Jets -- the Jets! -- will play the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium for the AFC title.
How did this happen?
It's preposterous, really. The Jets looked mediocre for most of the season. Their rookie head coach appeared flummoxed at times. Their rookie quarterback was disastrous some games. The Colts and Cincinnati Bengals needed to form a coalition of the willing to escort the Jets into the playoffs at all.
"People want to say it, go ahead and say it," Jets outside linebacker Calvin Pace said. "We've heard it all. We're pretenders. We're chokers. We can't finish games. We can't do this, can't do that. You know what? A lot of that might've been true. But we are what we are right now for a reason."
The Jets have pulverized the tournament bracket. They've gone on the road to eliminate a pair of division champions. The Jets have won four straight games and seven of their past eight. Five of their past six victories have been on the road.
"We had a lot of stuff go our way in order for us just to get into the playoffs, but you can't question the way we've been beating these teams," said Jets tight end Dustin Keller, who caught Mark Sanchez's touchdown pass Sunday. "It's just our destiny to go further."
Said head coach Rex Ryan: "We don't have to apologize to anybody."
Ryan has been the NFL's court jester all year, and fans were having a good laugh two weeks ago, when he declared the Jets should be favorites to win the Super Bowl as opposed to the long shots Las Vegas installed them as.
"And you thought he was out of his mind, right?" linebacker Bart Scott asked a reporter.
Oh, you betcha.
A victory over the Bengals wasn't inconceivable, but the thought of the Jets winning at Cincinnati and San Diego and Indianapolis sounded farcical.
Not inside the Jets' locker room. When Ryan handed out the practice schedule for the first-round playoff game against the Bengals it wasn't for that week only. He planned out the next week, too. And the AFC Championship Game. And the Super Bowl, right down to the date of the victory parade through the Canyon of Heroes -- Feb. 9 if you want to make plans.
Word of Ryan's audacious itinerary went public the morning of the Bengals game. Hilarious, everybody thought. The Jets still were a joke to most, expected to enjoy their gift-wrapped playoff berth and quickly get the hell off the field so the legitimate clubs could compete for glory.
"They're idiots," Jets receiver Braylon Edwards said. "They need to watch us play football. Us lucking up or this and that, they're going to keep going against us. They're going to keep picking the opposition.
"Eventually, it's going to come down to us winning the Super Bowl. That's what it's going to take for us to get respect."
The road to validation the Jets have in front of them is shaping up symbolically. They humbled the Bengals, who didn't put up much of a fight in the regular-season finale the Jets needed to clinch their playoff berth. Then the Jets knocked off the Chargers for a crack at the Colts, the other team that laid down for them in Week 16.
"If they just gave us that win, this gives us a chance to make it more legitimate," Keller said. "I don't see them pulling starters out of this game. All of the doubters, saying that game was given to us, we definitely want to put those things to rest."
The underdog Jets, with their defiant proclamations, going up against the classic horseshoe helmets will conjure memories of Super Bowl III, when Ryan's father was an assistant coach on Weeb Ewbank's staff.
"It's us against the world, and for whatever reason, we've been thriving on that," Pace said. "It's going to be that same way in Indianapolis.
"The pressure ain't on us. It really isn't. When you're not supposed to be there, you can let it all hang out. When you're the No. 1 seed, and you got a first-round bye and you go 14-2, they got the pressure. We're just riding the wave. We got great momentum."
Maybe if the Jets get past the Colts they can play old friend Brett Favre for the Lombardi Trophy.
And those who rolled their eyes at that sentiment maybe haven't learned enough about these Jets yet.
"They don't understand the resolve of this football team," Scott said. "This team has been through a lot, but this team still stays the course. Throughout the year, our fans and the media, they can be up and down.
"We have to believe. That's the only way you have a shot. If you start questioning the system and start not believing, then you have no shot."