The Jets completed a Hail Mary on their final play Sunday in Cincinnati. Somehow after a few deflections, Chad Pennington's ball found the arms of Jerricho Cotchery in the end zone.
But the touchdown and subsequent two-point conversion came after the outcome was already determined. The Bengals overcame a 13-point second half deficit with a 28-point rally, taking a 38-31 shootout.
For a while, everything seemed to be finally breaking the Jets' way. The offense had its pistons firing and the Green & White held a 23-10 third-quarter lead.
But RB Kenny Watson, in for a banged-up Rudi Johnson, scored three touchdowns and rushed for a career-high 130 yards as the Bengals moved the ball consistently on the ground. Primarily a passing team for most of the season, Cincinnati didn't need a heroic performance from QB Carson Palmer. He was efficient, completing 14 of 21 for 217 yards.
Following the contest, Jets head coach Eric Mangini expressed his frustrations.
"It's just not good enough. It's not good enough coaching on my part, it's not good enough by the assistant coaches, it's not good enough by the players," he said. "I am tired of giving the same speech."
There have been plenty of aerial shows at Paul Brown Stadium over the past few years. On Sunday, Pennington and Laveranues Coles attempted to be the headliners. The two Jets veterans hooked up eight times for 133 yards and two went for scores.
Pennington threw a 57-yard TD pass to Coles on the Jets' third play from scrimmage. Coles executed a textbook double move and Pennington was on the money with the long ball. It was their fifth scoring connect of the season, giving the visitors a lead they wouldn't relinquish until the third quarter.
"It was fun," said Penny, who has been repeatedly questioned about his arm strength, of the downfield hurl. "I did really enjoy it."
The two struck once more before halftime, answering a Bengals touchdown. With a 13-10 advantage, Pennington threw short to Coles on a third-and-4. LC, on a crossing route, grabbed the ball and ran through a couple of would-be tacklers. A pair of Cinci defensive backs feebly attempted to trip him up but Coles sprinted through for another score.
"We knew going into this game that we would have to put up some points and do our best to keep their offense off the field," Pennington said. "No matter who they're playing, they do a great job of scoring points."
The Bengals used the long ball in the first quarter, Palmer hitting WR Chad Johnson for a 56-yard gain. That strike set up a short Shayne Graham field goal, putting the Bengals on the board. Mike Nugent, a Centerville, Ohio, native, answered with a pair of three-pointers — the second of which was set up by Hank Poteat's second interception in two weeks.
Watson's 3-yard run made it close, but the gap widened to 10 again before halftime. Pennington completed 10 of his 14 first-half passes for 170 yards.
Nugent's happy homecoming continued in the second half as he booted a 43-yarder to culminate a nine-play drive. The 13-point deficit for the home team quieted fans early in the third.
Needing an answer, the Bengals delivered. Palmer got his team into the end zone a second time, hitting T.J. Houshmandzadeh on the numbers from 3 yards out. Then after a critical defensive stop, the Bengals marched down the field and took the lead. Watson got his second touchdown of the day as Cincinnati was able to take advantage of a 20-yard Ben Graham misfire, moving 57 yards for the go-ahead score.
"We obviously have to do a better job and I have to do a better job at halftime of making adjustments," Mangini said. "That plan isn't working out well enough, either."
Down one point, the Jets committed another critical mistake. With the crowd roaring, C Nick Mangold snapped to Pennington in the shotgun. But the signalcaller was looking toward the sideline and the Bengals recovered at midfield. Seven players later, Watson was in again, this time from 2 yards.
"It was just miscommunication," Pennington said. "He thought I was calling for the ball and I didn't think I was calling for the ball."
Then in hurryup mode, the Jets turned it over once more. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph, burned on the two Coles TDs, jumped a Coles out-route, picked off Pennington and returned it 42 yards for a score.
The Jets, who are now 1-6, return home the next two weeks. They'll host the Buffalo Bills and then the Washington Redskins before their bye.
"We are going to look at it organizationally from top to bottom and do some things to be able to play a complete football game," Mangini said.
Pennington might be in the lineup next week but there is no longer a guarantee.
"Quite frankly, I just don't have a concern about whether or not I'm the starter," he said. "When my number is called — and this has been true ever since I became the starter in 2002 — I lay it on the line and I do everything I can to help us win. That's all I can control."
The Green & White had a different look in the defensive backfield with two new starters. Veteran Hank Poteat got the nod at left cornerback while rookie Darrelle Revis shifted over to the right side. And Abram Elam, a second-year player out of Kent State, started at safety alongside Kerry Rhodes.
Barrett the Bonecrusher
David Barrett delivered a thundering punch in the game's second minute. Houshmandzadeh, who reached out for a reception, was the unsuspecting recipient of the hit and had the wind knocked out of him. That silenced Paul Brown Stadium as fans were settling in.
Stunt leads to Sack
Dewayne Robertson moved right and Bryan Thomas looped left. The Bengals O-line ended up with two men on D-Rob and nobody on BT. That left the veteran end with a free shot on Carson Palmer and he picked his first full sack of the season.
Pennington was perfect in the first quarter, completing all of his five passes for 97 yards. His first toss went to TE Sean Ryan, who started in place of the injured Chris Baker. The 22-yard gain was a career long for Ryan. The Boston College product finished with anothr 22-yarder in the third quarter and three catches in all for 46 yards.