The “Sanchise” Mark Sanchez was mistake free. RB Shonne Greene also played a major role for the NY Jets on Saturday, as they upset the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals in the “Jungle” 24-14. The two rookies helped lead the Jets into the second round for a date with the 13-3 San Diego Chargers. Sanchez, (12-15 1TD), who had 20 interceptions on the year and looked shaky at times during 2009, was flawless in his decision making. Greene lived up to coach Rex Ryan’s pregame prediction of the 3rd pick having a big day by rushing for 135 yards and a big 39 yard score. The Jets came back from an early 7-0 deficit to slowly wear down the Bengals on both sides of the ball. Gang Green showed why it came into the contest both as the league’s number one rushing club and Defense. The win leaves the Jets now with the Chargers, winners of eleven straight. They are high octane air power. The Jets philosophy is Ground and Pound, but growing. A contrast in styles .The winner will be 60 minutes away from the Super Bowl.
There are still those who think the NY Jets don’t belong with the elite that the NFL has to offer despite their Wildcard road win. Now the Jets will have their chance to prove those who felt the Jets were given a free pass into the playoffs. Coach Rex Ryan, who has stated on more than one occassion that he doesn’t care how his team got in, gave his players an itinerary whose culmination would take place at a ticker tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes. The rookie head coach was simply presenting the complete vision for a team that showed by their focused play in Cincy, that just making the playoffs is not the goal.
The Jets got down early on Saturday thanks to a big kick return by the Bengals Bernard Scott to start the game. The play left the Bengals on the Jet 35 where after a change of possesion that again gave them the ball to start inside the Jet 50. Former Jet Laverneus Coles later caught an 11 yard pass from Palmer to give the Bengals the early 7-0 lead.
The Jets would answer back thanks to a nifty play call by offensive coordintor Brian Schottenheimer. Schotty called for a conuter toss, a fake handoff right to FB Tony Richardson. The play instead was a pitch left to the big play Greene who found daylight behind 6 foot 7 310 pound 3rd year D’BRickshaw Ferguson.Ferguson sealed the edge as Greeene busted through to the second level of defenders. There were no defenders there however. Many of them bit on the run action to Richardson. Greene raced, then waltzed in for the tying score 7-7.
As the half wore on, it became clear that the Jet secondary was in complete control. Laverneus Coles, the former Jet, was the primary target for veteran QB Carson Palmer. With Chad Ochocinco being smothered on Revis Island, the Bengal pass attack was from the onset, containable. The former pass happy Bengal offense was now a run first offense. The club that lost Chris Henry to injury then to tragedy, had gone into the year having lost TJ Houshmanzadeh to free agency. Then Cincy’s two top tight ends were lost for the season due to injury way back in the fall. Palmer’s accuracy was off all day. Throws were high, wobbly.Benson had 169 yards on the day, thanks to kicking some busted inside traps to the outside. As the gam ewore on could not do it alone.
This allowed the Jets to settle in after a shaky start made shakier due to Ryan finding out minutes before the coin flip that Punter Steve Weatherford would not be avaliable because of an irregular heartbeat. K Jay Feely took over and did a trmendous job filling in.
Sanchez then gave the Jets the lead, a lead they’d never relinquish. The TD came on a roll right. TE Dustin Keller (3-99yds 1 TD) dragged to the right afterlining up on the left side before the sanp. As Sanchez rolled, the QB’s first target underneath the linebackers was covered. Then Keller raised his hand, on the run, behind the linebackers, and away from a secondary that hadn’t seen him sneak free. Sanchez found Keller who caught the throw and raced towards the pilon. The second year TE fought off some would be Bengal defenders desperate to push him out of bounds, for the score and 14-7 Jet lead. Sanchez was sharp with his limited chances all day. “He had the eye of the tiger today and he was ready to get out there and throw it around,” coach Rex Ryan said. “I see him getting better and better each day on the practice field. What a job he’s done. I think he’s tired of hearing he’s the weak link on this football team.”
The Jets had a chance in third to “break it open” with a twn point lead but two Jay Feely field goals were called back in a row, due to false starts. This forced the Jets out of field goal range as the furious Feely motioned to the sidelines for a punt. The Jets got it back though and then went on an eight play 75 yard drive. The drive was capped off by a homas Jones (15-35 1TD) TD run from the 7 yard line to give the Jets a commanding 21-7 lead, late in the third quarter.
The Bengals would not exit without a fight. When Benson broke free for a long TD, it made the score 21-14 with over 11:00 remaining. Cedric Benson rushed for 169 yards on the day. He sat out the 37-0 Jet win the week before. Early on, Benson’s success had to have many wondering whether the strong start was proof that the Bengals would be a different team in round two. Now however, with the Jets up seven, it was time to show the ability to close out a playoff game out on the road. As Ryan said during the week, one of his many brash quotes, this team was built for the playoffs. Well the Jets proved him right as the team marched down the field to tack on a huge Feely FG to make it 24-14. With 7:00 left the Jets got it back but played it safe. Real safe. Three runs and a short punt gave the Bengals the ball close to the 50 with time to get a quick score and hope for the best.
Cincy drove into FG range but Shayne Graham, the dependable kicker that the Bengals even slapped a franchise tag on heading into 2009, missed his second chip shot of the day. Marivn Lewis later said that the missed FGs, especially the second, were crushing. The second, a 28 yarder, would have made it a one score game with 3:49 left. The Bengals had the two minute warning and all three timeouts still remaining. Instead the Jets again got it back and again chose to play it safe. Run, kill more clock, and punt. The Bengals got it back once more but by then it was hopeless. When Palmer was finally sacked on fourth down by 10 year Jet veteran Sean Ellis, who has lived through his share of “Same Old Jets” disappointments, the celebration was on. The Jets, a team that few, including their coach, thought would even be here were moving on.
It was only a month ago that a horrifying 10-7 loss to Atlanta had seemingly closed the door on 2009. A loss that dropped the streaking Jets to 7-7 and left the dumbfounded Ryan to mistakenly proclaim at the time “we’re out of the playoffs.” Well now the storyline has changed. Winners of six out of seven, the Jets are a red hot club whose confidence is growing behind the leadership of the outspoken Ryan, who continues to put positive world championship thoughts into the minds of his players. “This was a great team effort,” said Ryan, “We’re a good football team. If people don’t believe that, they soon will.”
Yes Network’s Mike Francesa had spoken earlier on Sunday about how fitting a rematch between the Jets and Colts would be in the following round. After all, it was the Colts who many feel rolled out the red carpet for the Jets to enter through into January. In week 16, the then undefeated Colts took out future hall of famer Peyton Manning and other key starters up just 15-10 late in the third quarter. The move was ordered by Colts brass to insure the safety of its stars for the postseason rather than chase the first perfect season since Miami did it in 1972. The move left many Colts fans and fans of other clubs in the AFC playoff hunt, disgusted afterwards. When Calvin Pace stripped backup QB Curtis Painter of the ball shortly after Manning exited, the road to the playoffs became a wide open possibility for the Jets. Miles away from the start of that day which had Jets playoff hopes sitting at a mathematical improbablility.
After the Baltimore Ravens layed it on the Pats on Sunday, in the second AFC Wildcard battle of the weekend (perhaps putting an end to New England’s decade long AFC East reign,) the Jets knew a date with the Colts and Peyton Manning would have to be put on ice, for now. The number two seeded Chargers and Phillip Rivers await the Jets instead. The AFC West champs can seemingly score at will, and now stand between the Jets and a date with the AFC Championship.
What a wild ride it’s been for the NY Jets in 2009. From 3-0 to 4-6 to 7-6 to needing to have prayers answered. Now the ride may be heating up even more. This thanks to the Jets add more pieces to the puzzle on offense during this latest surge. Two weeks ago it was Brad Smith and the Wildcat in the big blowout win that sent the Jets into the playoffs.. This week it was Sanchez’s calm demeanor, coupled with Greene and Keller both busting out. Ryan boasted that the Jets will be a tough out for anyone right now. If the rookie QB out of USC can continue to grow his confidence and play mistake free while players like Greene become a bigger part of the equation, the Jets may truly be the tough out Rex was talking about.
WFAN”s Joe Beningo, a diehard Jet fan, says the Jets are now playing with “house money.” Even a loss couldn’t erase the fact that this year has been a successful step forward for a team led by many rookies including the coach. Beningo may be right but the Jets know that these chances don’t come often. In January it’s about seizing the moment. As hot as San Diego has been, and they’ve ebeen on fire, the Jets now find themselves hot as well. With the stakes higher than they’ve been for the Jets since 2005 when the Herm Edwards Jets beat the Chargers in OT in the Wildcard round ( only to fall dramatically to the Steelers in OT the following week). Once again, few will give the Jets a chance. Others want more proof than just beating a sliding Bengals club, that the Jets truly belong in a class with the top teams in the league. One of those who believes the Jets CAN get it done now is Palmer. “They might have a chance to make a move, Their defense is that good.”
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A LOOK BACK ON THE THREE KEYS TO THE BENGALS:
EMOTIONS: The Jets had them. The Bengals were flat in the passing game so that had to take some wind out of their sails. Gang Green was not just happy to be there. They are thinking big and playing mistake free with fire. Like they have places to go, things to see.
STEP NOW ROOKIE , IT’S YOUR TIME TO SHINE: We said last week : “the Jets may in fact move it on the ground yet also need Sanchez to deliver some key third down throws…Here’s to hoping that Sanchez plays with that confidence he exuded most notably Monday night in Miami, leading the Jets back twice in the second half. ” Mission accomplished. Sanchez porved to the Jet rport that he is a big game guy who can lead the Jets into the future. Limited throws yes, but playing cool, being in control, being a leader, count more than numbers. Nice job rookie.
X FACTORS: We guessed wrong about Brad Smith and Kerry Rhodes. instead the X factors were the young trio of Sanchez, Greene and Keller. How about Feely stepping in and punting in a playoff game? A game ball goes to the kicker.