CINCINNATI - The Jets had fooled the football world, convincing onlookers that they should be taken seriously.
Rex Ryan's players have spoken often about being a playoff-caliber team, harping on their desire to prove the doubters wrong. But if anything, the Jets proved, yet again, that they cannot be trusted. At least not yet.
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They came up painfully small in every conceivable way Sunday in a 49-9 rout by the Bengals.
Rookie Geno Smith threw two pick-6s -- bringing his interception total to 13 in eight games -- and Ryan's much-hyped defense gave Andy Dalton all the time in the world to carve up his sloppy secondary for 325 yards and five touchdown passes.
It was the worst loss of the season for the Jets, who also allowed 49 points -- the most under Ryan -- to the Patriots in last year's "Butt Fumble'' game.
"That was ugly, to say the least,'' Ryan said. "We're fortunate that it only counts for one loss because you get your butt kicked like that. Obviously, we have to play a lot better. We are a much better football team than showed up today.''
The blowout popped the feel-good bubble surrounding the Jets (4-4) after last week's stunning overtime win over New England. They arrived at Paul Brown Stadium hoping to win back-to-back games for the first time since last December. Instead, they left at .500.
The Jets insisted they weren't overly confident after last week's statement win. The explanation for their mind-boggling beatdown was simple, according to David Harris. "They made plays and we didn't,'' the linebacker said of the 6-2 Bengals, who sit atop the AFC North.
Willie Colon called it "a good old-fashioned [butt]-whupping.''
On Thursday, Ryan complained of too many drops and a lack of execution in practice. But he said their lapse in focus didn't carry over to yesterday.
Colon, however, hinted that something wasn't quite right this past week. Asked if there was anything amiss in their preparation that could have led to this outcome, the guard had a curious answer: "I'm going to keep that in-house. I'm not going to talk about that.''
The evolution of Smith has, as expected, been a slow process, and it was particularly painful Sunday. Dalton carved up the Jets' defense and Smith never looked settled.
"I think as a group, we were able to sustain some drives, but we just couldn't get seven on the board,'' said Smith, who completed 20 of 30 for 159 yards and was picked off twice for scores in the third and fourth quarters. "We kept getting three and kind of got behind the eight-ball today.''
Three of Smith's 13 interceptions have been returned for touchdowns, and one of his seven fumbles handed a score to the opposition (his "behind-the-butt'' fumble against the Titans).
With 12 minutes left, Ryan waved the white flag, inserting Matt Simms (3-for-7, 17 yards) for the first time.
The Jets couldn't muster anything. "We just came out flat,'' said receiver Jeremy Kerley (three catches, 27 yards). "We didn't come out firing like we usually do.''
Nick Folk provided the only points for the Jets, nailing field goals of 45, 47 and 50 yards, making him 20-for-20 this season.
The Bengals had little trouble finding the end zone. By halftime, the Jets trailed 28-6 and their No. 1 draft pick, cornerback Dee Milliner, had been benched. Cincinnati scored four touchdowns in the first half, three by wide receiver Marvin Jones, who set a franchise record for TDs in a game with his fourth, a 6-yarder in the third quarter against Darrin Walls, Milliner's replacement.
"I didn't see this coming,'' Bengals wideout A.J. Green (three catches, 115 yards) said of their offensive explosion.
Sadly, neither did Jets fans.
By the time the first quarter mercifully came to a close for the Jets, they trailed 14-0 after accumulating 1 yard of total offense to Cincinnati's 172. Milliner was beaten twice on the Bengals' opening drive -- first by Rutgers product Mohamed Sanu, who also dropped an easy deep ball, and later on Jones' first touchdown.
On the Bengals' next drive, Green beat Antonio Cromartie on a 53-yard pass.
"Every man's got to look at themselves and figure out what they need to do,'' Cromartie said.
For the second straight week, heartfelt words were delivered in the Jets' locker room at halftime. On Sunday, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson delivered the message. But this time, there was no fight in these Jets. "It's shocking to me,'' Wilkerson said. "I thought we were way better than this.''