Tonight was a bit of a special night for the Jets, since Tim Tebow was making his Jets debut behind Mark Sanchez at quarterback.
But Tebow couldn't alter one aspect of recent Green & White preseason history. For the fourth straight summer, Rex Ryan and his Jets lost their preseason opener, this one to the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, 17-6.
Tebow did move the Jets offense, gaining 105 yards of offense on 23 plays and five series in the middle two periods, driving the Jets to Josh Brown's 42-yard field goal in the second quarter. But Tebow also threw an interception to undrafted free agent rookie LB Vontaze Burfict on a third-quarter march in to Cincinnati territory that ended his night.
"I liked the poise Tim showed," Ryan said. "Obviously he made some big runs and that's what we say he can do. If you want to come after him, you'd better get to him. In time he'll kill you running, and that's what he did."
All this came after Mark Sanchez and the ones managed 20 yards on 14 first-quarter plays, both of which ended in punts. Sanchez completed four of six passes for 21 yards.
"Was it our best? No. But we're not just going to crawl in a hole right now," Sanchez said. "We've got to learn from it, move on, give everybody a chance to play, and things will get better."
The Jets' first defense also had some highs and lows, as it held the Bengals to a three-and-out on its first drive but then yielded a long drive to a Mike Nugent field goal to start the second quarter.
Then the twos took the field and yielded two touchdowns to third-year RB Cedric Peerman in a 5:02 span of clock time. Peerman recovered a blocked punt at the end of the second quarter for a 10-3 lead for the Stripes, then powered off right tackle for a 1-yard TD run to complete an 80-yard possession and up the advantage to 17-3 at the start of the second half.
"I think we did some good things and I saw some guys finishing some blocks down the field," Ryan said of the first half. "Overall, it wasn't too bad, but obviously you can't have a blocked punt. It's ridiculous."
Perhaps the brightest spot of the Jets' attack wasn't just Tebow's takeoffs for first downs but the play of first-round rookie DE Quinton Coples. He finished with five solo tackles that included a couple of stops behind or at the line and also had his first sack as a pro, of third-stringer Zac Robinson, and a rejected pass thrown by No. 2 QB Bruce Gradkowski.
"Coach [Karl] Dunbar told me to take a deep breath and let it go," Coples said. "I've been practicing hard. I've been getting the feel of the game. I go against a Pro Bowler [D'Brickashaw Ferguson] every day in practice. He told me to relax and take advantage of my opportunities."
Second-round WR Stephen Hill showed a little as well with two catches for 17 yards, although he dropped a third-down conversion throw from Tebow.
And don't overlook third QB Greg McElroy, who took his first game snaps since he started the Jets' preseason finale at Philadelphia and dislocated his thumb before halftime. McElroy completed four of six for 49 yards and set up Nick Folk's only FG try of the game, from 38 yards with 11:33 to play to cut the Jets' deficit to 17-6.
Overall, it wasn't pretty, as many NFL preseason games aren't. In part it was because of four injured starters who stayed home on this roadtrip. But there's not much time left now before the games get etched in granite. As Sanchez said, the Jets will have a better outing next time. They have no choice.
The Jets' first offensive series of the preseason was underwhelming as a flare pass to Cincinnati-area native John Conner and a toss to Shonn Greene gained 1 yard, then a seven-man Bengals blitz took Sanchez down for a sack, producing a three-and-out.
But the first defense returned the favor to the Bengals as old Patriots nemesis BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 2 yards, then Andy Dalton threw a pair of incompletions.
With Jeremy Kerley (hamstring) sidelined, Kyle Wilson took the Jets' first punt return of the summer games 6 yards to their 20 and the first offense took its second whack at the Bengals. This also went three-and-out as rookie Jordan White couldn't hold a possible short first down pass on third-and-2 — or so it seemed. But the Bengals were called for covering center Tanner Purdum, a no-no this year on long snaps, and the first down gave the Jets new life.
Patrick Turner caught two passes for the Jets' first scrimmage first down of the game, then a third to set up third-and-5 at Cincy's 43. A Sanchez scramble converted another for the first third-down conversion of the game. But another Sanchez sack stalled that drive.
Then the Stripes struck on a 15-play, 76-yard march. Green-Ellis had a 12-yard run and an 18-yard reception on a route over the middle, beating Bart Scott, as Cincy moved to first-and-goal at the Jets 5 as the first quarter ended. But the defense stiffened, WR A.J. Green couldn't pull in a high put catchable goal-line slant from Dalton, and former Jets K Mike Nugent put the Bengals up 3-0 with a 22-yard field goal.
Second Quarter Is Tebow Time
With the Jets' first offensive series of the second quarter, it was Tebow Time as No. 15 took the field with the "twos," ducked under center, and clicked on his first play with a high dart to Hill. Tebow's first completion as a Jets QB was also Hill's first reception as a pro.
Later on the drive, Tebow twice escaped pressure and took off on patented runs of 14 and 10 yards, the latter to the Bengals 24. But the march stalled there, so Josh Brown came on for a 42-yard field goal try. Brown fired the first in-game shot of the kicking competition with Nick Folk, splitting the uprights to tie things at 3-3 with 12:32 left in the half.
"I love playing the game of football," Tebow explained about his fist pump after the 14-yarder. "I know as a quarterback you want to have ice water in your veins, calm before the storm. But I'm an excited, passionate football player. All pregame, I'm excited, ready to go play. That's who I am. Sometimes I've just got to let it out a little bit."
The Green & White's second defense then had their first series and it was Q-uite a success. Coples set up at RE and came up with two nice pressures of Cincinnati backup Bruce Gradkowski, forcing a short throw on second down and rejecting Gradkowski on third down for a three-and-out.
But Hill dropped that Tebow pass, so the home side took over and drove to the Jets 27. But Coples, who had two tackles for loss/no gain of Brian Leonard, was held by C Reggie Stephens to set up third-and-27. Another incompletion and the Jets seemingly had dodged a two-minute bullet. Punter Kevin Huber did a nice job with a drop punt to the Jets 4 with 45 seconds left in the half.
However, it proved to be a costly 45 seconds. Three Jets running plays netted 9 yards, with Cincinnati calling timeouts after each. Then T.J. Conley was swarmed over as Dan "Mota" Skuta blocked his punt and Peerman recovered in the end zone, giving the Bengals a 10-3 lead that they took into their Paul Brown locker rooms.
That was some preseason history the Jets would care not to dwell on. It was the first blocked punt and first blocked punt recovery/return for a TD since Aug. 19, 1995, when the Giants' Keith Elias snuffed Bryan Wagner's punt and Willie Beamon fell on it for the TD.
The Jets were minus WRs Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley, tackles Wayne Hunter and Dennis Landolt, NT Sione Po'uha and rookie LB Brett Roy. Austin Howard started at RT for Hunter, then flipped to LT for the second OL in the second quarter.
S Eric Smith hobbled off under his own power after hitting the turf on a second-quarter punt-return tackle. Smith had hip and knee injuries on the play. X-Rays taken during the game were negative and he is being listed as day-to-day.
Before tonight the Jets had won 12 of their last 13 over the Bengals (3-0 preseason, 8-1 regular-season, 1-0 playoffs) dating to 1992, and had outscored Cincinnati in that span by 340-198. But this time they didn't fare as well, after being outgained in the first half, 120 yards to 83, and by 213-173 on the night.
The Bengals lost three starters to knee injuries — G Travelle Wharton, LB Rey Maualuga and DE Carlos Dunlap — all in a seven-play span of the first quarter. S Taylor Mays then went off with a head injury in the second frame.