Fortunately, for the New York Jets, football isn’t like gymnastics, diving, ice skating, or ballroom dancing.
There are no style points.
Just the points on the scoreboard relative to your opponents’ and it’s all about wins, which the Jets (9-2) continue to rack up, no matter how they look.
After very nearly giving away all of five previous wins against losing teams (Minnesota, Denver, Detroit, Cleveland, and Houston), the Jets again looked mostly unimpressive in sending Cincinnati (2-9) to its eighth consecutive loss, while earning their fourth straight victory on Thursday night at the New Meadowlands stadium.
This time, there were no late heroics needed, as in the Jets’ five previous wins, and as suggested by the final score of 26-10, but it certainly wasn’t that easy. Once again.
Nevertheless, New York is off to its second-best start ever (eclipsed by only the 1986 Jets, who began 10-1) after overcoming a 7-3 halftime deficit in the Jets’ first ever chance at hosting a Thanksgiving Day game.
Along theme of the holiday, the Jets mostly have seldom-used, yet all-around occasional threat, Brad Smith, and a key questionable call, to thank profusely for finding another way to win ugly.
After each team punted twice during opening quarter, the Jets drove 9 plays in 69 yards, but settled for a 3-0 second-quarter lead on a 27-yard field goal by Nick Folk. New York however, would then punt and end the half on a 44-yard missed field goal attempt by Folk.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer (17-38, 135 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 3 sacks) was intercepted twice on each of the Bengals’ next two possessions. The first pick, by safety Jim Leonhard, was New York’s first in seven games, ending the Jets’ longest drought in 31 years.
But, Palmer bounced back on Cincinnati’s next possession, completing 5 of 8 passes on a 10-play, 63-yard drive which he capped with a 5-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jordan Shipley (team-high 5 catches for 38 yards, 1 TD), to give the Bengals their only lead, 7-3, with 43 seconds left before halftime.
It didn’t take long after that for Smith, who entered the game with only 27 plays from scrimmage (three receiving, 24 rushing) all season, to put his stamp on the game.
Two plays into the third quarter, Smith, after a fake handoff up the middle, moved right to left, to take an end-around handoff and score on a 53-yard touchdown run, to put New York ahead to stay, 10-7, just 47 seconds into the third quarter.
After the Bengals punted, Jets’ quarterback Mark Sanchez (16-28, 166 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 2 sack) was intercepted by linebacker Rey Maulaga at the Jets’ 37 yard-line.
Cincinnati moved to the New York 9 yard-line, but came away with nothing as kicker Aaron Pettrey missed a chip-shot 27-yard field goal that would have tied the game with 6:32 left in the third quarter.
The Jets then appeared to go three-and-out, but a 39-yard punt by punter Steve Weatherford to the Bengals’ 36-yard line, was ruled to have inadvertently hit the leg of kick returner Andre Caldwell, who was blocking on the play, with his back to the ball.
Television replays showed that might not have been the case, but referees allowed the Jets to recover the bouncing ball and take over at the Cincinnati 14-yard line. That set up a 13-yard touchdown pass from Sanchez to Santonio Holmes (team-high 5 catches for 44 yards, 1 TD), two plays later, to extend the Jets’ lead to 17-7.
The teams then traded punts, before Pettrey redeemed himself with a 28-yard field goal to trim the Jets’ lead to 17-10, with 12:33 left in the game.
But, Smith (3 rushes, 55 yards, 1 rushing TD) struck again and put himself into the record books. He returned the ensuing kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown, going more than half of that distance on a single shoe, as he became only the fourth NFL player and first Jet to score on kick return and rushing touchdowns, each of at least 50 yards, in the same game.
The score gave the Jets a 24-10 lead, which was never threatened by the Bengals thereafter.
In fact, Cincinnati moved backwards, finishing with drives of -4, -6, -6, and 0 yards on their final four possessions. The third of those resulted in a safety when Brooklyn-born defensive end Trevor Pryce sacked Palmer in the end zone.
While Jets let the Bengals hang around a lot longer than they should have, two areas where they dominated, were in the rushing game, and defensively (particularly after halftime).
Led by running back Shonn Greene’s 70 yards on 18 carries, New York obliterated Cincinnati on the ground, 170-46, and held the Bengals to only 163 total yards, including a ridiculously low 39 yards on 30 second-half plays.
Holding the lead in the race for top spot in the AFC through their first eleven games, yet struggling to put away so many bad teams this season, the Jets are all but a sure bet to reach the playoffs while remaining an enigma as to what they might accomplish should they get there.
That question could very well be answered one way or the other, next week, with a highly anticipated AFC East showdown, between two well-rested teams, which will each be playing for the first time in eleven days, on Monday Night Football, when New York visits New England (9-2) on December 6th.
The Patriots enter that game after scoring the final 28 points to erase a 24-17 deficit and win 45-24, in Detroit, on Thanksgiving afternoon. That win gave New England sole possession of first place for just a few hours, until the Jets regained the AFC East lead by beating Cincinnati.
In addition to writing for New York Sports Day, Jon Wagner contributes at Pro Football NYC (www.profootballnyc.com) and Giants Football Blog (www.giantsfootballblog.com)