Jets Roll Bengals, and Just Might Again
Yes, these two teams meet again Saturday afternoon (in the Bengals' building this time) in the first NFL playoff game of 2010. And while it's possible that the Bengals, who wrapped up their playoff spot last week, got waxed Sunday night because they had nothing to play for, it's also possible that they're out of gas, and that the Jets could go to Cincinnati and do this again.
"Now, the tide swings," Jets linebacker Bart Scott said. "We're going up to their place. They're going to have their crowd on their side. They're going to be fired up. And it's going to be up to the veterans on this team to calm guys down, make sure we weather the storm and not let them get off to a fast start."
See, the Jets beat the Bengals at their own game Sunday night. The Bengals came into the game with the second-best run defense in the NFL, and the Jets ran up 190 rushing yards in the first half. The Bengals came into the game with the sixth-best rushing offense in the NFL, and the Jets held them to seven rushing yards in the first half. By the end of a first half that went exactly as scripted in the most fantastic of Rex Ryan's Saturday night dreams, the Jets had a 27-0 lead and a headlock on their first playoff appearance in three years.
"I don't think I've ever seen an offense really control the ball the way ours did in the first quarter," Ryan said. "And it's easy to play defense when you run the ball like that."
With 257 rushing yards on offense and just 72 total yards allowed on defense, the Jets emphatically finished the season as the No. 1 rushing offense and the No. 1 overall defense in the entire NFL. They were 4-6 after 10 games, but once they got used to the zone-blocking schemes the coaching staff installed during training camp and recovered from the early-season loss of Leon Washington to injury, they became a dominant running team. And once they recovered from the midseason loss of nose tackle Kris Jenkins to injury, they became a dominant defense. They are playing as well right now as they have been at any point since their fairytale 3-0 start, and they're going into the playoffs hot.
The Bengals ... not so much. They were 7-2 after beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Nov. 15, and since then the only teams they've beaten are the Browns, Lions and Chiefs. Their passing game has been nonexistent since they drubbed the Bears in Week 7. They played Sunday night's game without three defensive starters, and that doesn't include pass-rushing defensive end Antwan Odom, linebacker Rey Maualuga and safety Roy Williams, who are on injured reserve. A defense that Bengals coach Marvin Lewis described last week as "leaking oil" lost another defensive lineman, Pat Sims, to a broken arm in the first half of this game, and you have to wonder if they'll have enough defensive players to make an honest showing once the playoffs start Saturday.
"Injuries, that's just a part of this game," Lewis said Sunday night. "We just have to move forward and go from there."
Now, you can make the case that the Jets won't see this same Bengals team on Saturday. Star running back Cedric Benson was inactive for this game and is likely to play next week, as are defensive linemen Domata Peko and Robert Geathers and safety Chris Crocker. The Bengals will show up stronger, personnel-wise, next week than they have been in a while.
But they won't be as strong as they were in the first half of the season, because too many of the guys that drove that 7-2 start aren't coming back. Their best hope right now is that the additions they'll make over the course of this week, combined with the facts that it'll be a home game and they've seen the best the Jets have to offer, will be enough for them to make good on the rematch.
"There isn't much more they can do," Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco said. "There is no trickery they can add to their game plan. We know their offensive and defensive scheme. It just comes down to executing the plays."
But that sounds like hollow hope. What could Ocho have possibly seen Sunday night that would have led him to believe his team has a chance against the Jets on Saturday? There was no evidence at all that the Bengals even belonged on the same field as their first-round playoff opponent.
And as for that opponent, they're riding as high as they can get. Ryan, their loquacious and happy-go-lucky coach, spent the week drilling into the players' heads that it didn't matter who played or who didn't play for the Bengals. "It doesn't matter if Kenny Anderson is playing quarterback," he said on Monday. "It doesn't matter if they're lining up Anthony Munoz," Ryan said Wednesday. A week earlier, Ryan had said of the Colts, "It doesn't matter if Tom Matte is the running back."
The point he's trying to make is that the Jets, when they play as well as they can, can beat any opponent, whether it's a full-strength one or not. And the players are buying in.
"I'm not really sure if tonight will have an effect on (the Bengals), and to be honest we don't care," Jets running back Thomas Jones said. "If we focus on us and what we can do well, we'll be okay."
What the Jets can do well is two things every team would kill to be able to do well at this time of year. Two things that make them believe they're weather-proof, road-game-proof and rookie-quarterback-proof.
"You've got to be able to run the football this time of year and you've got to play defense," Ryan said. "And we do both better than any team in the league."