The New York Jets opened their second season at New Meadowlands Stadium tonight. Two things as a result were pretty certain. One was unexpected.
It rained. In their 11 games at NMS, the Jets have played in precipitation six times.
And if it's a home game against the Bengals, good things will happen. Heading into this contest, the Jets had beaten Cincinnati on their home turf 11 consecutive times, including once in the playoffs and twice in the preseason.
Make that 12 in a row. The Jets, with their first teams playing the entire first half against the scuffling Stripes, put together 17 points off of interceptions to post the first summer win of their "Bring It Home" 2011 season, 27-7, over the Bengals.
And a big reason for that outcome was that fairly unexpected development. Plaxico Burress was back big-time.
"It feels great," said Burress. "It just feels like football."
Burress, playing in his first game as a Jet and in fact his first game in three seasons after being convicted of a gun possession charge as a Giant, was a monster in the first-half passing game as the Jets opened a 17-7 lead. On their first offensive play, he caught a 20-yard completion from Mark Sanchez. Early in the second period he added another 20-yarder.
Then came the sleekest play of the rainy night. On third-and-10 from the Bengals 26, Sanchez faced an all-out Bengals blitz. His answer was to loft it up for the 6'5" Burress singled up on CB Fred Bennett. Burress separated, left his feet, and gathered the 26-yard fade just inbounds on the left side of the end zone. That made it 17-7 with 51 seconds left in the half. Plax punctuated the catch with a bow to the be-ponchoed fans in the stands.
"It's a good thing to make it seem like everything is moving in slow motion because that means the game's still slow to me," Burress said of that delightfully floating, on-target pass and catch. "Nothing's moving fast, everything just feels normal — it just feels like football. To be honest with you, it feels like I never left. I had that ball up there hanging in the air with the lights and things like that and I just trusted myself to make an over-the-shoulder catch and just try to bring it in."
"That's why he's here," head coach Rex Ryan said. "We're excited. We saw all that tape of him before. The thing that surprised me more than anything was the condition he's in. He's a great athlete who can catch the football, and I'm just happy we've got him."
What's more, the strike completed a 99-yard TD drive, the first by the Jets in the preseason since at least 2001. The last time the Green & White put together a regular-season 99-yard march — two 99-yarders, actually — was in the 1995 season.
For the half, it made Sanchez 12-for-20 passing for 173 yards, two TDs (he hit Santonio Holmes on a 16-yard slant on the Jets' second drive) and a sparkling 121.5 passer rating. Burress' night ended with those three receptions for 66 yards and a TD.
The first offense went the entire first half, which covered seven possessions and 34 plays. The two negatives were the rushing game, which gained only 16
With the Bengals' first defense seemingly keying on LaDainian Tomlinson, starting for Shonn Greene (foot infection), the Jets' first unit was held to 16 yards on 11 carries, and the third-down group, which went 0-for-8 until Sanchez hit TE Dustin Keller for one conversion and then Burress on the TD.
"Mark wanted to go the whole half," Ryan said. "We decided we were going to do that unless we had 50 plays or something like that. We wanted to get Mark some work with Plaxico and Santonio, and he wanted to get a two-minute under his belt. That's why he played the whole half."
The Rest of the Half
After the Jets defense opened up with a three-and-out, Burress was in on the Jets' first offensive play of the game as Sanchez, off play-action, hit his big new target 20 yards downfield.
The drive fizzled in the drizzle after that as two incompletions off of miscommunications brought on Nick Folk for a 43-yard field goal try that drifted wide right.
The Jets' second offensive drive started almost immediately when rookie Dalton threw high to rookie WR A.J. Green. S Eric Smith was off and running with the deflection, but only for a few strides before lateraling to Darrelle Revis who took it the rest of the way to the Bengals 16.
"I thought I was stumbling," said Smitty, who added another PD later in the quarter. "I saw him out there and I saw a lineman coming, so I figured I'd let him run with it."
One play later, Sanchez hooked up with Holmes on the post route for the TD. And a significant score it was — it was the Jets' first first-quarter offensive touchdown since Game 4 at Buffalo last year. Thus it ended a drought of 37 first-quarter possessions in all games without a TD.
The visitors continued to struggle with Dalton at the controls. On third down he cleanly overthrew Andre Caldwell, with Jim Leonhard waiting in "center field" for the line-drive interception. It was Leonhard's first pick since last Thanksgiving night against these same Bengals, and thus his first big play since breaking his leg in practice on Dec. 3.
Leonhard weaved his way to the Cincy 10. The Jets' first offense couldn't move, so Nick Novak came on for the 30-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead with 6½ minutes left in the opening frame.
Eventually, the visitors from Ohio got untracked. Dalton found Rutgers product Brian Leonard on the screen for 33 yards to the Jets 14 on the first play of the second quarter. That led to Leonard's 1-yard touchdown run that cut the hosts' lead to 10-7 two minutes into the frame. And that's how it stayed until the final minute of the half.
The prospects for that second TD drive by the first offense seemed slim and none when rookie Jeremy Kerley couldn't get to a short Cincinnati punt, which bounced past him and was downed at the Jets 1 with 4:53 to play in the half.
But Sanchez got the offense out of that hole by finding a wide open Dustin Keller for a 43-yard completion and that set up the third act of the Sanchez-to-Burress Show.
The Twos in the Second Half
With Mark Brunell out, having suffered his second injury of the summer with a hamstring pull in Friday's practice, it was rookie Greg McElroy's second turn for some extended play. His first drive ended in a strong Chris Bryan punt, his second in a 50-yard field goal by Folk for a 20-7 lead with 5:35 left in the third quarter.
Helping move that drive into Folk's range was TE Jeff Cumberland, who made a nice 26-yard catch shielding his defender off, then a juggling 17-yarder to the Bengals 28.
"I'm feeling pretty good in the offense," said Cumberland, who's the Jets' leading summer receiver with eight catches and 120 yards. "Last year it was like learning a new language. This year I've been in the offense a whole year and that allows me to play a lot faster and play up to my speed."
In the last two minutes of the third, backup QB Bruce Gradkowski took a quick drop and tried to fire to WR Andrew Hawkins. But he didn't see Jets LB Brashton Satele, who jumped the pass and returned it 32 yards to the Bengals 4.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, third-and-goal from the 3, McElroy found Joe McKnight heading for the right pylon and hit him for the TD, the first of McKnight's pro career in any game, to put the home team up by 27-7.
With less than six minutes left, Aaron Maybin made his first play as a Jet, closing from behind to administer a strip-sack of Cincy third QB Dan LeFevour.
"Obviously, anytime you have a game situation, you want to do everything you can to help win the game," said Maybin, who now has six preseason sacks in his 2½ NFL preseasons. "Something needs to happen to put the nails in the coffin and the victory in the bag."
The final big nail in the Bengals coffin this night came after the ensuing punt, when RB Chris Jennings turned on the jets with a 69-yard dash to the Bengals 8 and to the two-minute warning. It was the longest run by a Jet in the preseason since Curtis Martin went 80 yards for a touchdown on Aug. 28, 1999 at the Giants.
Keller was the Jets' top receiver in the game with four catches and 73 yards. ... Jennings wound up with 81 yards on four carries and his long run lifted the Jets ground game to a 156-yard night. ... Maybin's sack was the only one of the night for the Jets defense, but the D did hold the Bengals to 203 yards, 12 first downs and 3-for-13 on third-down conversions. ... Drew Willy got his first action at QB as a Jet and threw one incompletion in the fourth quarter.