2009 Playoffs Jets at Bengals Photos
All signs pointed to the Cincinnati Bengals being better in the AFC Wild Card Game at frosty Paul Brown Stadium than they were in last Sunday's 37-0 whitewashing at the Jets' hands in the Meadowlands.
"We got the division champs today," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "That wasn't the same team as last week. Those guys came out and showed they were ready to play."
But as good as the Orange & Black were, the Green & White didn't change their stripes at all. Their running game was still high-powered, their defense wasn't quite as smothering but was still timely, their quarterback stepped up with a big-time game, and they still had their focus and determination in front of a hostile crowd.
As a result, the Jets of first-year head coach Rex Ryan, rookie starting QB Mark Sanchez, rookie RB Shonn Greene, TE Dustin Keller returning to the fore, their band of swarming defenders, and double-duty kicker Jay Feely — those Jets are advancing to the AFC Divisional Round next weekend while the Bengals will stay at home.
"We're a good football team," Ryan said. "People can say we backed into the playoffs, I don't care. I'm just telling you we're going to be a tough out. Next week we're going to play either San Diego, who's only won 11 in a row, or Indianapolis. This was just the first step in what we think is going to be a great journey."
It's all up to the Ravens. If they beat New England on Sunday, the Jets will play at the second-seeded Chargers. If the Patriots prevail. the Jets will get their Lucas Oil Stadium rematch against Peyton Manning and the top-seeded Colts.
There'll be time to get ready this week for either foe, but on Sunday and Monday the players have off to enjoy the fruits of their first postseason victory since bumping off the Chargers on the road in the 2004 AFC Wild Card Game.
The Jets dedicated the victory and gave the game ball to owner Woody Johnson, who experienced the passing of his daughter this week .
"This one was for Mr. Johnson and his loss last week," said Sanchez. "We wanted to win one for him."
But the Jets wanted to win it for themselves. And while as usual many veterans and youngsters contributed to this triumph, the Jets' Draft Class of 2009 was on center stage.
Sanchez has been the model of efficiency for the last three wins. He's directed eight touchdown drives and six field goal series while not turning the ball over once. And in this game he struck for his first TD pass in those three games by hitting Keller on a rollout and letting his second-year TE do his bully-boy best down the right sideline to get the ball over the goal line plane.
"Mark's just growing," said Cotchery, who did his tiptoe best on several of his team-high six receptions. "He's preparing his tail off for the opponent each and every week."
"It has nothing to do with me," Sanchez aw-shucksed a postgame question. "Maybe I just lucked out."
Well, if you can call having his fellow rookie to hand off to being lucky. Thomas Jones was contained for much of the day but Greene came in and pounded away at the Bengals' defense, restocked with those three starters from their once second-ranked run defense who rested with injuries for last week's game.
Greene got the Jets on the board and tied the game at 7-7 with his first brilliant run, a 39-yard left end acceleration with a play-fake toss from Sanchez.
"The Jets knew what they were doing when they traded up to get Mark and then they traded up to get me," Greene said. "Now we just need to do our jobs."
He did his job to the tune of 135 yards on 21 carries to become the third different rookie to rush for 100 yards in a playoff game since 2000. And on one third-quarter series that he started, Jones finished up with his longest run of the game, a 9-yarder threading through the Bengals' defense behind a pulling Alan Faneca, which gave the Jets a 21-7 lead.
But Cincinnati would not go quietly, especially with Cedric Benson also back in action and bolting for 169 yards on 21 carries, including his 47-yard run to make it a one-score game at 21-14 with 11 minutes to play.
That's when the visitors from the East got some major contributions from their other two units. Feely was one of the stars of the day, not because of his great field goal day but because he came through bigtime when punter Steve Weatherford was sidelined shortly before the game with a nonthreatening heart condition that he's had since he was 16 but that hit him harder than he'd been hit before with dizziness and a racing heart.
"I found out I'd be doing the punting minutes before the game. ... I was shocked," said Feely, who had never punted as a pro, even in the preseason, had one punt at Michigan out of field goal formation with 30 seconds left in an NCAA championship game, and had one game as a punter in high school. "I just wanted to catch it and get it off."
His numbers weren't great (31.4-yard gross, 28.1 net on seven punts) but none of his last six high-hangers were returned and three were inside-the-20 punts keeping Carson Palmer's offense penned up.
Feely, who lost a 42-yard field goal on a Jets holding penalty, got to try a chip-shot field goal from 20 yards out with 5:47 to go. That moved the Green & White back into a two-score lead.
"Jay, I thought, was tremendous today," said Ryan.
Then it was the defense's turn. The back end forced Palmer into 4-for-12 passing on a drive to the Jets 11 that ended with Shayne Graham's second miss of the second half. Then the home team's last-gasp drive ended at the two-minute warning after two of the Jets' defensive stars, LB Bryan Thomas and DE Shaun Ellis, sacked Palmer on back-to-back plays.
"You've got to take your hats off to Rex and Mike Pettine," said Thomas. "They called the right plays at the right time. The Bengals couldn't block it up."
Thomas had a strong day with a forced fumble out of ex-Jets WR Laveranues Coles' grasp early that Ellis recovered, a near-interception, a tackle for loss and a team-leading seven tackles. But like Sanchez on offense, BT couldn't pick out a favorite play for himself, only a favorite stat for his team.
"The win — that's all I care about," Thomas said. "When you look back, all it's going to say is 'Jets win.' "
Not to mention Jets advance to AFC Divisional Round. Chargers or Colts, be ready. The Jets' "great journey" continues.
The Jets improved to 9-0 this season when they have a plus turnover margin. They had no giveaways, two takeaways today. And Sanchez is 7-2 when he doesn't turn the ball over himself. ... CB Darrelle Revis had the Jets' other takeaway when he picked off a Palmer pass intended for Chad Ochocinco and returned it 20 yards to start the visitors' second TD march. ... WR Braylon Edwards dropped his second end zone TD pass in two games vs. the Bengals, but he came back with a key slant catch on third-and-6 for 16 yards to set up Jones' TD run.
Coles, wearing No. 11 for Cincinnati, got the scoring started with his 11-yard TD reception. Coles had six catches for 48 yards but also left the game twice with two different injuries. ... Cincinnati, held to five first downs and a franchise-low 72 yards last week at the Meadowlands, had seven first downs and 105 yards by halftime. ... Bengals LB Rashad Jeanty suffered a broken fibula on the opening kickoff. ... Cinci's longest current playoff victory drought in the NFL continues. The Cats' last postseason win came in 1990.