CINCINNATI - Problems in the Jets' secondary? Where would you like to begin? Injuries? Blown assignments? Miscommunication? Poor technique?
The Jets are taking an all-of-the-above approach, as their revamped secondary -- already a question mark coming into the season -- has taken growing pains to the next level.
With injuries to starting cornerbacks Dee Milliner (ankle) and Dmitri Patterson (ankle, calf and quadriceps), the Jets' fill-ins made Andy Dalton look like a quarterback who has won multiple Super Bowls, not the guy who's still waiting for his first playoff victory.
"Dalton looked like a $100- million quarterback today," Jets coach Rex Ryan quipped after Dalton, who recently signed a $115-million contract extension, went 8-for-8 for 144 yards and a touchdown before calling it a night.
But a defiant Ryan then expressed confidence in his secondary, pointing out one player in particular who had an unquestionably positive effect in the Jets' 25-17 win: rookie Calvin Pryor.
"I don't know how you'd evaluate Calvin Pryor. You give him a plus?" Ryan asked rhetorically. "He forced two fumbles, knocked some dudes out. Guess we were right on that one."
Ryan has been known to puff his chest about most of his players, but his hyperbole about Pryor might be closer to reality. The Jets saw enough upside in the Louisville safety to make him their first-round pick in May, and the kid certainly looked both comfortable and impactful Saturday night in his first live action in the NFL.
It's still way too early to make any definitive judgments about Pryor, the hard-hitting safety who sat out last week's preseason opener with a concussion. But you had to be impressed with the way he fit right in when he joined the starters midway through the second quarter and went the rest of the way.
Pryor didn't need long to make his presence felt. On his third play in the game, he broke up a pass intended for Bengals receiver Cobi Hamilton down the left sideline.
"I think it should have been a forced fumble when I looked at it," Pryor said. "I had made a great break on the ball. I had a long way to go because we were in Cover 2. The quarterback threw the ball and I tried to make a play on it."
Pryor later knocked running back Rex Burkhead out of the game on a low hit. He also recovered a fumble, had two passes defensed and made a team-leading six tackles.
So yes, there are major problems in the secondary, particularly at cornerback, where converted safety Antonio Allen was forced to start on one side and journeyman Ellis Lankster on the other. Nickel corner Kyle Wilson, the former first-round pick, was torched on a 43-yard touchdown by Mohamed Sanu, although Wilson was supposed to get deep help from the safety.
Ryan said the Jets might consider bringing in another cornerback if they think they can find an upgrade on the free- agent or trade market. But at least he can take solace in the fact that he has a terrific young talent in Pryor, a guy who promises to make his presence felt.
"I feel like some things I could have done better, but for the most part, the older guys, when I was there, they lined me up, got me in the right position to make plays and just told me to go out, have fun and ball out, and that's what I tried to do," Pryor said. "A lot of people questioned me because I had a concussion and they felt like I wasn't going to be as aggressive when I came back. But that's the way I play football. I'm an aggressive player. I try to play lights out and I try to put fear in my opponents."
Someone reminded Pryor of his knockout hit on Burkhead, who left with a knee injury. Pryor smiled and said, "Yeah." He then offered an almost diabolical-sounding "ha . . . ha . . . ha . . . I mean, that's football."
One more thing to like about Pryor: The guy can blitz. Ryan had him rush the passer several times, to the point that Pryor was spent after the game.
"I ran plenty of blitzes," Pryor said. "Rex was calling my number. He was trying to let me loose and go play football."
There's more of that to come, Pryor said.
"Tonight," he said, "that was only step one."