Mark Sanchez and Thomas Jones celebrate Jones' touchdown run to...

Mark Sanchez and Thomas Jones celebrate Jones' touchdown run to give the Jets a 7-0 lead in the first quarter against Cincinnati. (January 3, 2010) Credit: AP

There was no letdown this time, no unbelievably flat performance like the one by the other tenant of Giants Stadium seven days earlier.

All week, the Jets talked about how they had to take advantage of their latest opportunity, one that fell right into their laps and gave them control of their own playoff destiny. They just knew they couldn’t let this one slip through their fingers, or it would’ve been an extremely long offseason.

But the Jets came out and played one of their best games of the season last night in the national TV spotlight. They rode their league-best ground game and top-ranked defense and smothered the Bengals, 37-0, in what probably was the final game at the stadium.

>> PHOTOS: Jets clinch playoffs with win over Bengals

“We’re excited,’’ Rex Ryan said. “We’re happy with the win and getting in the playoffs. But we’re definitely not satisfied. We weren’t going to be denied. I don’t believe we backed into anything, so we’re going to try to prove it."

The Jets ended a two-year playoff drought and set up a rematch in the AFC wild-card round. The Jets (9-7) earned the fifth seed and will meet No. 4 Cincinnati (10-6) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium.

The statistics were stunningly lopsided. The Jets ran for 257 yards and held the Bengals to five first downs and 72 yards, including no net yards passing. The Bengals were 4-for-19 passes for 31 yards, but three sacks negated the yardage.

"It was such a pleasure to really close this stadium out the way they deserve," linebacker Bart Scott said. "Jets fans have lived in misery for a couple of years, and we’re just trying to change the mentality and let them know that we are trying to bring in a new era."

This one was won in the first half, which ended with the Jets ahead 27-0. They were in total control from the outset, holding the ball for a whopping 24:50 and stockpiling 250 yards on 42 plays. They gobbled up 190 yards on 33 carries in the half against the Bengals’ second-ranked run defense.

The Jets’ defense was stout, holding the Bengals to 7 yards on 15 plays. Cincinnati mustered only one first down — on Darrelle Revis’ illegal-contact penalty early in the second quarter — and Carson Palmer completed 1 of 11 passes for zero yards.

The Jets stepped on the Bengals’ throats early. They marched down the field on the game’s opening possession, showing they weren’t about to tempt fate. They pounded the ball right at the Bengals and used a big-time run by Brad Smith on third-and-7 from their own 42 to get into prime scoring position.

Smith, whose role on offense has increased in the last month, took a direct snap in the "Tiger" formation, ran right, made a nifty cut, darted through the Bengals’ front and blew through the secondary before being tackled at the 1 after a 57-yard gain.

Thomas Jones scored on a 1-yard run to cap the 72-yard drive, making it 7-0 with 10:46 left in the first. His 2-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter gave him 14 TDs, breaking his career high and the franchise mark he established last season.

Jay Feely’s 20-yard field goal ended a marathon 21-play, 74-yard, 11:11 drive for a 10-0 lead.

The Jets put together another scoring drive two series later. Smith took a direct snap on second-and-11 and deked into the secondary after crashing through two tackle attempts. He zoomed 32 yards for a 17-0 edge.

The Jets kept their foot on the accelerator on their next drive, mostly riding the ground game until they got inside the 10. Mark Sanchez hit Jerricho Cotchery on a quick hitch behind the line of scrimmage on second-and-5 from the 6. Cotchery got a good block from Braylon Edwards and dived into the end zone for what later was ruled a rushing touchdown, making it 24-0.

Said Jones, "A lot of people wrote us off early. We keep fighting, kept fighting, kept sticking together, and these are the kind of things that happen when you stick together and play hard for 16 games."

Another thing that happens: You get the right to play a 17th

>> PHOTOS: Jets clinch playoffs with win over Bengals

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