The Cincinnati Bengals were determined, but the New York Jets were better.
The Jets, bolstered by running back Thomas Jones' first career three-touchdown game and a stalwart team defensive performance, got the four-quarter battle they expected and responded with a businesslike 26-14 win Sunday at the Meadowlands.
It was a smothering effort by the Eric Mangini/Bob Sutton defense, which limited the Bengals to just 171 total yards — the lowest total of the Mangini Era and in fact the lowest output by a Jets opponent in seven seasons. They also racked up four sacks and their takeaway directly led to Jones' second score.
Donning their Titans blue and gold, the Jets also played well on special teams and received just enough offense to secure the much-needed "W." Cincinnati never threatened to score in the final half when it was still anyone's game and Jones' final tally with 2:22 remaining sealed it as the Jets moved to 3-2 and kept the Bengals winless at 0-6.
"We know we have to be able to run the ball successfully because it's demoralizing to a defense when you can run the ball," said Jones, who rushed for 65 tough yards on 17 carries, with his 1-yard dive ended any upset hopes.
Even without start quarterback Carson Palmer, the Bengals gave a pesky effort with Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm. They couldn't run it against a stout Jets front (20 carries, 42 yards), though, and their passing game was held in check throughout the afternoon. Brett Favre's two interceptions in enemy territory prevented the final margin from being more substantial.
"Nobody is ever happy about picks. On the flip side, he makes a bunch of tremendous throws into tight coverage and that makes him difficult to defend," said Jets head coach Eric Mangini. "You want to go through the best decision-making process possible. He's made a ton of decisions and a ton of them have been really, really good."
Despite a brief hiccup that may have made lesser teams nervous, the Jets rebounded like a good team should and steamrolled the Bengals for much of the first half. But the lead for the home team was only 17-14 as Cincinnati plugged away before the halftime gun.
The Jets defense was virtually impenetrable for most of the first 30 minutes — the Bengals didn't pick up their first first down until less than four minutes remained in the opening half. But Fitzpatrick's 1-yard keep with eight seconds on the second-quarter game clock made it close heading into the third stanza.
Trailing, 7-0, the Jets were set up by Leon Washington's 46-yard kick return for a zany three-touchdown possession. A pair of Favre scores — a 4-yard pass to rookie tight end Dustin Keller and a 9-yard hookup with Jerricho Cotchery — were both nullified, by an ineligible-receiver-downfield infraction on Brandon Moore and a Chansi Stuckey interference penalty, respectively.
There was no laundry on the field after Favre's 2-yard toss out to TJ. Cincinnati sold out on the run and had no answer when Jones simply trotted out all by his lonesome into the right flat.
"They were expecting us to run the ball," Jones said. "The defensive back — I don't think he thought I was coming out to the flat. He was covering the deep part of the field and I just happened to be wide open and Brett made a good throw."
Jones' 7-yard scoring run culminated a short three-play, 24-yard drive after Hank Poteat stripped Fitzpatrick of the ball and Calvin Pace recovered for New York's AFC representative. It was the eighth time (including playoffs) that Jones had scored twice in his career and the first time he had amassed a run TD and a receiving TD.
"We had a double-edge blitz," Poteat said of the takeaway. "He [Fitzpatrick] was able to get out of the pocket, Shaun Ellis was able to keep him from getting the first down, and then he started to look downfield. I just continued running after him and was able to make a play."
Mangini had talked about playing complementary football and his team did just that early this afternoon. Jay Feely's first three-pointer followed a Jets drive start at Cinci's 34 as the defense pinned the visitors deep and Washington picked up 12 on a punt return. And Feely's 34-yard strike in the third followed the same pattern — the Jets pinned the Bengals deep after Favre's second interception and Washington exploded for a 22-yard punt return to the Cincinnati 25.
"We came on the field and we just wanted to keep them down there," said cornerback Darrelle Revis. "We wanted to give the offense the ball back and then when they punted, Leon's returns were spectacular."
The Bengals couldn't have dreamed of a better start. Starting the inexperienced Fitzgerald at QB, they kicked off and scored defensively on the game's third play from scrimmage. Defensive end Antwan Odom took advantage of a missed blocking assignment and registered a strip-sack of Favre. The loose scraps were picked up by safety Chinedum Ndukwe and he glided 15 yards into the end zone as the Bengals took a 7-0 advantage just 84 seconds into the game.
They would never be in front again. The Jets, who now have won two of their past three outings, moved over. 500 for the first time since opening week.
"It wasn't our best performance, but it was a win and we did some good things. I give them a lot of credit," Favre said. "They took Dallas to the wire, they took the Giants to the wire, and they took us to the wire. We had one of those games. I don't believe in ugly wins. I believe a win is a win and that one felt as good as any win I've been a part of in recent memory."
Abe's Backfield Arrival
Safety Abram Elam, who made his first career start a year ago against the Bengals, made his first start this season as he took Eric Smith's place in the lineup. The NFL suspended Smith for a helmet-to-helmet collision with Cards wideout Anquan Boldin.
Running back Jesse Chatman, who served a four-game league suspension for violating its substance abuse policy, returned to action. He had one carry for no yards and a reception for 2.
And Reggie Hodges made his first two NFL punts since 2005. He grossed 37.0 and netted 32.0, but one Cinci drive started at its 4 after an Antonio Chatman fair catch and the other started at the Bengals 34.
The Jets are In the midst of a home stretch in which they will have played three out of four at home — a 56-35 win over the Cardinals on Sept. 28, today's win over the Bengals, and their next home game vs. the Chiefs on Oct. 26.
But on Friday, New York's AFC representative will fly out to Northern California, get acclimated to the time change and make final preparations for their upcoming contest with 'Da Raiders.
Remember the Titans
The Jets wore their Titans uniforms for the second time this season and fourth time overall. They've won their last three, at Miami last year and vs. Arizona and Cincinnati this season, during which they averaged 40.7 points.