Jets exorcise demons, come up big against Bengals to clinch playoff spot.
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – Taking the snap from behind center, Brad Smith faked a dish and squared his shoulders with a sudden, violent flex. He proceeded downfield, slicing through a wide-open seam punctured into an overmatched opposing defensive front. Breaking a tackle with relative ease, the multitalented specialist, physically imposing and agile, reached the end zone with a dramatic dive. The 32 yard scramble blew open a contest that the Jets had been thoroughly dominating, setting the stage for a night of unabated celebration. The score was now 17-0, and would end up 37-0.
The New York Jets were twenty steps ahead of the Bengals in every phase of the game, mauling their opponent at the point of attack and befuddling them with a series of savvy play calls that utilized the electric, heretofore largely untapped talent of breakout star Brad Smith. “I just try to take advantage of the opportunities given to me. I try to help this team,” said Smith after the game. “It’s all about team. You can ask any guy in this locker room and they’ll sacrifice anything to help this team win.”
Smith also made a massive impact operating out of the wildcat on the Jets’ first possession of the night, setting the proper tone for a raucous rout. The former Missouri standout took a direct snap from New York’s 42 and dashed behind right tackle for a 57 yards, stirring a sold out Meadowlands crowd. Smith nearly scored, but was dropped from behind by dynamic Bengals corners Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph. Neither was to be a factor however, this scintillating Smith jaunt an explosive harbinger for a night tinted green and white.
The room available for Smith to burst through the line of scrimmage was indicative of the bullying the Bengals’ first level endured for four quarters. When the carnage was complete and the statistics could be counted, running back Thomas Jones concluded with seventy-eight yards and two touchdowns, while Shonn Greene notched a 4.8 average on thirteen attempts. But these numbers, though note-worthy, do not properly convey the Jets’ ground dominance. It seemed they could run at will, against a quick defense that had been stout all season. Surely the absences of Rey Maualuga and Domata Peko contributed to the Bengals’ woeful performance. Robert Geathers and Chris Crocker were also held out of the lineup. That said, Cincinnati must be concerned about being overpowered by their competition in next week’s Wild Card round.
Brad Smith provided the excitement, but the Jets defense brutalized the Bengals with the same vicious efficiency as the offensive line. Carson Palmer, under constant harassment from unpredictable blitz packages and interior pressure, played pitifully. He completed only one pass.
Meanwhile, eccentric receiver extraordinaire Chad Ochocinco did not record a catch after engaging Jets Corner Darrelle Revis in friendly a war of words in the days leading toward their showdown. Ochocinco’s day got off to an awful start when he slipped and fell in pregame warm-ups, banging up his knee. “There were frozen spots on the field. I was running a route in pre-game, I slipped and banged my knee really hard,” said the receiver.
Not only was Ochocinco shut down by Revis, he caught licks from a nasty New York secondary. Revis employed a far more physical strategy than usual against his braggadocios foil. “It’s just me doing my job,” said Revis, humble as usual. “We talked back and forth during the week on Twitter a bit, but I cut it off by Wednesday so I can focus on my job and my preparation.’”
Ochocinco was also clocked early in the affair, Safety Kerry Rhodes delivering a knock while the player formerly known as Johnson dived for a low Palmer pass. The pop caused an incompletion. Ochocinco later dropped an easy grab over the middle, perhaps hearing footsteps. Despite a lackluster performance, Ochocinco does not seem willing to change his name. “Child please,” he replied when asked about the possibility.
The Bengals’ running game, a staple of their success in a surprisingly bountiful campaign, was completely nullified by a ravenous Jets defense. The final tallies may not read like a crime scene, but Cincy’s rushing attack had no bearing the outcome of a game that pretty quickly spun out of control. “That’s not the outcome we wanted today,” said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. “The Jets outplayed us in all three phases and they got the victory. Now, we get a chance to regroup and keep going again next Saturday afternoon, and that’s about the size of it.”
The spectacular play of his teammates set up heavily scrutinized rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez for a commendable regular season finale. Sanchez finished the night eight of sixteen, with sixty-three yards passing. His numbers could have been far prettier, if not for a drop deep by Braylon Edwards, and a touchdown pass to Cotchery later deemed a lateral.
Sanchez guided an offense that was machinelike. They scored on their first drive, propelled by Smith. A near touchdown to Edwards early in the second, scuttled by an imprecise throw, led to a Jay Feely field goal. This settle would not haunt New York in the least. For in this quarter, the competitive portion of NBC’s showcase would conclude. Smith’s sprint to the paint made it 17-0. The Bengals’ offense had no answer. They didn’t even have a question. A tidy ten play drive just about ending the first half was punctuated by the six-yard lateral to Cotchery. It was one of the team’s finest drives of the season, a clinic. They faced one third down, only needing a single yard to convert. Suddenly, it was 24-0 New York, and the second half was window dressing. A Dwight Lowery interception, paving the way for another Feely field goal as the first half expired, provided a fitting climax. The kick was up and good, the crowd was going crazy, and the Jets’ dreams were alive and well.
Not content to scale back their efforts in the second half, the Jets’ defense preserved an emphatic shutout, while the offense tacked on ten more points. Thomas Jones broke the franchise rushing touchdown record he set last season with a two-yard tuck into pay dirt. Jones’ fourteen touchdowns provide ample evidence for his tremendous value in the red zone. Jones was thrilled with winning the final game at the Meadowlands. “It feels great. I played here a lot. I played here when I was in Arizona and Chicago. There is a lot of history in this stadium and for us to go out the way we did, especially at the end doing a victory lap [with] tall the fans there. This is why you do it,’ concluded the halfback.
J.T. O’Sullivan, appearing in relief of Carson Palmer, threw for thirty-one yards.
For the Jets’ fans and franchise, it was a gratifying victory. Criticized in some quarters for controlling their own destiny entirely through the providence of Jim Caldwell, their first string defense obliterated a Bengals offense playing a full hand, save for Cedric Benson. And while the Bengals’ defensive unit was not at full strength, the Jets should not be negatively critiqued for taking full advantage of favorable circumstances. Everything seemed to go right, aside from an ankle injury to key linebacker David Harris, the severity of which is not immediately known. The Jets closed the Meadowlands with style. Marty Lyons gave a halftime speech rivaling Howard Dean in over-the-top earnestness. Old fan favorites like Victor Green barreled out of the tunnel one last time. The team took an emotional lap around the premises, thanking their supporters with very real sincerity. “It was great,” said Head Coach Rex Ryan, regarding the gesture. “They [the fans] were such a huge part all season. There were ties where it was probably hard to be a Jet fan, but they stuck with us. There was no doubt.
The playoffs were a reality, and anything suddenly appeared possible.
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