The Meadowlands was a wind-chill wonderland tonight.
The fans were ready in the 20-degree temperature and 20-mph gusts to party. They had their terribly terrific towels, emblazoned with the slogan "Win and We're In!", and they were twirling them like mad. They were observing the final regular-season game ever to be played in this stadium. Jets alumni of all ages were waiting in the wings, then waving from midfield at halftime in honor of the 26 seasons the Green & White played in this building.
All the night required for a perfect ending and a promising beginning was a win.
The current Jets were happy to comply. And then some.
In a dominating affair that began against most of the Cincinnati starters and ended with half the crowd still in the stands and half back at their cold vehicles in their own victory formations, the Jets ran roughshod over the Bengals, on offense and defense, for a mind-numbing 37-0 triumph. Before it was over, the players gave first-year head coach Rex Ryan a Gatorade shower. Then after it was over, they took a victory lap as suggested by Ryan, in a snowfall of confetti, to thank the fans for their support.
The Jets won and they're in — the playoffs, of course. It's their second postseason berth in four years, their fifth of the decade and the 13th in franchise history. They are the AFC's fifth seed.
And the Green & White's reward: finish their home-and-home with the Bengals, the fourth seed, at Paul Brown Stadium. NBC, which aired this game, the NFL's 2009 regular-season finale, will do it again on Saturday, Jan. 9, with the kickoff set for 4:30 p.m.
"We're happy getting to the playoffs, but we're definitely not satisfied," said Ryan, who has guided the Jets from a 4-6 mark to five wins in their last six games. "We've got to take our show on the road and get it done without our fans. ... I think we'll keep this thing rolling."
The Bengals, who entered with the chance to gain the conference's third seed with a win, instead were steamrolled by the Jets offense's 275 rushing yards and by the Green & White defense's swarming display that allowed the visitors 72 total yards — second-fewest by an opponent in franchise history — and zero net passing yards — tied for the second-fewest by an opponent in franchise history.
"That's not the outcome we wanted today," losing coach Marvin Lewis understated.
But it was just the experience the Jets were seeking.
"It's a special feeling," said rookie QB Mark Sanchez, who had only 63 yards on 8-for-16 passing but directed four touchdown drives and, as he did in last week's must-win at Indianapolis, played mistake-free football. "A few weeks ago, everyone had us counted out. This was a huge one for everybody in the organization and for the fans who showed up. It was a special atmosphere."
Enhancing the ambience were the Big Green sidebars. Leading the ground game were Thomas Jones, rookie Shonn Greene and the Jets' own "bengal," former Mizzou Tigers QB Brad Smith, who topped all rushers with 92 yards on four carries.
They secured their position as the NFL's No. 1 rushing offense for the only the second time since the 1970 merger and set the franchise season mark with 2,756 rushing yards, and Jones broke his own season yardage mark with 1,402 yards on the year as well as his franchise rushing TD mark with his 13th and 14th scoring carries.
Tackle Damien Woody, asked if the Jets had given the Bengals more to think about than they thought they'd get, replied, "One thing we gave them to think about was 'How are we going to stop this rushing attack?' "
Meanwhile, the Jets' defense wasn't in too much danger of losing its No. 1 rankings in total yards, passing yards and points allowed and in three-and-out series by opponents, but made absolutely sure with its most smothering performance since, well, since Tampa Bay three weeks ago.
The Jets held the Carson Palmer to 9 yards of offense and zero yards on 1-for-11 passing before the Bengals' starting QB gave way to backup J.T. O'Sullivan with 9:36 left in the third quarter, after Jay Feely banged through his third field goal in three tries from 40 yards out for a 30-0 lead.
Chad Ochocinco? Early in the week the loquacious, dangerous wideout tweeted about making a jailbreak from "Revis Island." But he left the game with a knee injury in the third quarter with no receptions.
"Darrelle played a great first half," Ochocinco said, trying to avoid making excuses for the knee that he banged on the turf during pregame warmups. "Regardless if I had one leg or not, he did a great job tonight."
"That's what I do every week, cover these great receivers," said Revis, who had some top-shelf help from safety Kerry Rhodes in pitching the shutout. "We talked back and forth during the week on Twitter a bit, but I cut it off by Wednesday so I could focus on my job and my preparation. Me and Chad are good friends. It just wasn't his day."
Then the second half the D kept repulsing the visitors' offense. First they drove O'Sullivan and company back from first-and-10 at the 12 to fourth-and 37 at the 39.
Then the Bengals faced third-and-6 at the Jets 14 on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Jets' response: a double safety blitz. Jim Leonhard applied the strip sack at the 30, then Kerry Rhodes, crowning a fine game, took the fumble 44 yards to the Bengals 26. That set up Jones' second TD, this one from 2 yards out.
Finally, Cincinnati took the ball close to the red zone with Quan Cosby's 40-yard punt return to the Jets 26. But the backup defense preserved the shutout as James Ihedigbo ran down and stripped O'Sullivan, Jamaal Westerman returned it to the Cinci 28 and Kellen Clemens kneeled down to run out the clock.
"We were knocking on the door of the playoffs," said DT Sione Pouha. "That was a pretty big knock that we put on today."
"It was great to put it all together," said LB Bart Scott, "and show what this team can be capable of. We just played to each other's strengths. We ran the football and I think it opened everything else up. We were able to play stifling defense. It shows that when we don't beat ourselves and don't turn the football over and have blown coverages and mistakes, we can be a dangerous team."
But are the Jets that proverbial most dangerous team that no one else wants to face?
The Bengals have no choice. But they also deactivated Cedric Benson, their leading rusher, as well as four injured starters from their second-ranked run defense. They'll tighten things up this week and get ready to take on the Jets in front of their fans on Saturday. And they'll be hoping the Jets who scuffled during their 1-5 midseason will show up, rather than the 5-1 regular-season finishers.
Ryan said good luck with that.
"A lot of people were writing us off, and maybe rightfully so," said the coach, still ruddy-faced from the cold and the Gatorade. "But nobody in our organization thought we were done. I know the outside, they can think it, they can say what they want, but I know one thing: You don't want to play us."
Smith's rushing game was built on two big plays out of the Seminole, a 57-yard burst to the Bengals 1 on the Jets' sixth play and a 32-yard TD dash in the second quarter. ... The Jets had a first-quarter yardage edge of 142 yards to 1 and a first-quarter time of possession of 13:57, their most in any quarter since their 14:09 second quarter in the 1998 playoff game vs. Jacksonville at the Meadowlands. ... And the 11:11 drive to Feely's first FG was the longest by time since 1999 at New England.
CB Dwight Lowery is hot with his fourth PD and his second INT in the last two games off of Palmer with 20 seconds left in the first half to set up Feely's second FG to end the first half at 27-0. ... LB David Harris hobbled off with an ankle injury on Lowery's INT and watched the second half from the bench. No word on how serious Harris' ankle is. ... Ex-Jets WR Laveranues Coles led the Cinci receivers with three catches for 19 yards.
This was the Jets' first home primetime game since Game 11 in 2005, a 21-19 loss to the Saints. And it was the first home primetime win since the 2004 Monday night 41-14 rout of Miami. ... The Jets' five game captains were RB Thomas Jones, LBs David Harris and Bart Scott, T D'Brickashaw Ferguson and DE Shaun Ellis. What's the thread? They're the Jets' five Pro Bowl alternates.