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Robert Saleh: Jets Defense Lacked That Finishing Touch vs. Bengals

Cincinnati Built 27-12 Win on 3 TDs in First 33 Minutes, All Coming on Joe Burrow 3rd-Down Scoring Strikes


What seems easy in the NFL often is difficult.

Take Sunday's Joe Burrow calculus. In Cincinnati's two season-opening losses, the Bengals QB was sacked 13 times, the most in the NFL. Ergo, the Jets and their pass rush should have been able to provide a key component of a Green & White home win over the Bengals by taking Burrow violently to the MetLife turf more than a few times.

Didn't happen.

"I was disappointed just from allowing him to get out of the pocket when he did," head coach Robert Saleh assessed one of the key shortcomings of the Jets' 27-12 loss to the Bengals. "We were surrounding him and he finds a way to slip out in the first half and create off-schedule opportunities. Those are the ones we've got to finish, when his head goes down. We've got to figure out a way to get off the block and make the play."

Burrow was a latter-day Houdini the way he escaped some of the Jets' pressure to make plays for points in the game's first half plus the first three minutes of the third quarter.

Opening drive, third-and-goal, Jets 12: Burrow escaped a certain sack, scrambled left, then feathered a pass to Samaje Perine for the 12-yard TD and the game's first score. Cincy would never trail from there.

Third drive, third-and-7, Jets 44: The unflappable Burrow beat the blitz with a toss down the middle to Tyler Boyd, who bounced off tackle attempts by S Jordan Whitehead and nickel CB Michael Carter II and sped downfield for the 56-yard TD reception on the final play of the first quarter.

Opening drive(s), third quarter, third-and-goal, Jets 5: A third-down twofer for the Bengals. On the Jets' first series of the second half, Joe Flacco suffered a third-down strip sack courtesy of DE Trey Hendrickson and the Bengals went 24 yards in four plays, the final one a 5-yard Burrow dart to Ja'Marr Chase.

But those third-down issues of tackling and coverage were aided and abetted by other errors. A big play was DL John Franklin-Myers' roughing of Burrow on third-and-9 as the two tumbled out of bounds near the Cincinnati 20. The incompletion would've made it a fourth-and-9 punt. The penalty allowed the half-field catch-and-run by Boyd.

"We were falling together. We were both surprised when they called that," Franklin-Myers said, seemingly feeling strongly both ways. "It was a bang-bang play. They shouldn't have called that. ... But it is what it is. I have to be better about it. Completely my fault and I will be better."

"Our vets made critical mistakes at critical times," Saleh said. "John Franklin-Myers had a third-down personal foul. Ticky-tack or not, he just doesn't have to [do that]. Then Corey [Davis] with the penalty he had [unsportsmanlike conduct after a pass play in the final period]. It's got to get fixed."

"It is frustrating," the coach added, summing up those first 33 minutes and the game. "Anytime you turn the ball over four times and get only one takeaway, obviously you're never going to win the game. We had opportunities in the second half to try and change momentum, and they tried to help us with momentum, on fourth-and-1, on the missed field goal. We've got to be able to take advantage of those."

The Jets defenders did have good moments. They did take Burrow down twice, by inside rushers Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins. Williams had three QB hits, and former Cincinnati edge Carl Lawson had two. They held the Bengals' big guns in check again, as they did in last year's 34-31 surprise at MetLife, with Chase getting six catches but for 29 yards while RB Joe Mixon was being held to 24 yards on 12 carries. Veteran LB C.J. Mosley led the Jets with 12 tackles, while rookie CB Sauce Gardner had his first two-PD game as a pro.

But some bottom lines remain for the Jets defenders. They occasionally need more than one takeaway a game. They need to start faster and end stronger. And they definitely need more third-down stops when those stops really count.

"It could've been a big day from our defense if we finished those third downs," Saleh said. "We didn't finish."

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