Their faces said it all.
The win was there for the taking, but instead of seizing the moment, the Jets could only lament their missed opportunities.
For all of their talent and high-priced acquisitions, they came up small Sunday. They began 2016 the same way they ended last season: frustrated and angry.
A blocked field goal. A missed extra point. Red-zone regression. Sloppy secondary play. All of it culminated in a 23-22 loss to the Bengals and a deflating start.
This was supposed to be a statement game against a perennial playoff team. But with a difficult schedule ahead, Thursday night’s matchup with AFC East rival Buffalo just became even more critical.
The Jets hadn’t lost a season opener since 2010, the last year they made it to the playoffs, when Rex Ryan was their coach. Now they’ll have to defeat the Bills’ defensive mastermind and speedster Sammy Watkins on the road to keep from falling to 0-2. Ryan beat them twice last year.
“We can’t sulk too long,” safety Marcus Gilchrist said. “We’ll let it marinate for the rest of the night. I’ll give myself till midnight. When midnight hits, I’m on to Buffalo.”
The game started as well as he and the Jets could have hoped, with both the offense and defense clicking. But the fast start soon fizzled.
Before long, the miscues began to mount. A.J. Green (12 catches, 180 yards) schooled Todd Bowles’ secondary and quarterback Andy Dalton found a way to keep the score close. Not even seven sacks — including five in the first half — were enough to keep Dalton and the Bengals off balance for long. And in the end, former Jet Mike Nugent’s 47-yard field goal with 54 seconds left gave the Bengals the edge.
“That was the poorest execution I’ve seen . . . in the red zone since I’ve been here,” said Brandon Marshall, who had only 32 receiving yards.
“I left opportunities out there,” said Nick Folk, whose blocked field-goal attempt and missed extra point in the first half kept the Bengals in the game. “I feel pretty bad about it.”
“It probably wasn’t one of my better games,” said cornerback Darrelle Revis, who was beaten on Green’s 54-yard touchdown.
The defensive line’s standout performance and Matt Forte’s strong debut (155 all-purpose yards) did little to soften the blow for the Jets.
The offense, which was No. 1 in red-zone efficiency last year, scored only two touchdowns on five trips into the red zone. “That’s what hurts the most,” said Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was 19-for-35 for 189 yards, two touchdowns and an interception with 40 seconds remaining.
But perhaps more alarming than the Jets’ sputtering offense was their porous secondary. According to ESPN, Green’s 180 yards were the third-most by a receiver against a Revis secondary (Wes Welker, 192 in 2009; Randy Moss, 183 in 2007).
Green had no trouble finding a comfortable spot on “Revis Island,” but miscommunication on the part of the secondary complicated matters. Bowles and Revis acknowledged that a busted coverage led to Green’s big score, but both refused to delve any deeper.
“We’ll have to watch the film and see the overall coverages and see what happened,” Bowles said when asked to give an assessment of Revis’ play against Green.
Gilchrist appeared to be yelling in the vicinity of cornerback Marcus Williams on the Green touchdown. “That’s what happens when everybody’s not on the same page,’’ Gilchrist said. “You give up big plays when everybody’s not on the same page. It’s hard enough playing an opponent. When you start beating yourself, making mistakes, that stuff will kill you.”
Monday’s video review will show what was obvious Sunday: The Jets are very much a work in progress and have plenty of issues to address. By Thursday night.
But linebacker David Harris provided a sliver of optimism.
“We’re not that far away from where we want to be,” he said. “Unfortunately, we gave up too many [big plays] today, and all we can do is go out there and try not to do it [against Buffalo].”