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Jets' Keller makes brilliant playoff debut

Tight end Dustin Keller #81 of the New

Tight end Dustin Keller #81 of the New York Jets runs with the ball after a catch against the Cincinnati Bengals. (January 9, 2010) Credit: Getty Images

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Dustin Keller once was lost but now has been found.

After making 12 catches for 171 yards in the first four games, the Jets' second-year tight end rarely had a major impact as a receiver. But that all changed Saturday in Cincinnati.

Keller caught three passes for 99 yards and a touchdown and also made a critical block on Shonn Greene's 39-yard touchdown run in the Jets' 24-14 AFC wild-card victory over the Bengals.

"I've always felt good all season long," the 25-year-old Purdue product said. "I think we're starting to hit our peak right now and it's just the right time. We're getting into the playoffs, having our first playoff win on the road, you can't ask for a better situation to start playing your best football."

Said Ryan: "Dustin never had a great game statistically in our first game against Cincinnati. But we even said going into the [second] game, 'This could be it. He still could have a huge game.' [It was] just the way it played out. We all know he's a great athlete. Like I say, one day I hope he can be like a Dallas Clark and a [Antonio] Gates, considered in that group of receivers."

But before Keller can be compared to some of the best tight ends in the game, he must get through his toughest challenge of the season: San Diego.

With his height and size (6-2, 248 pounds), he can be a game-changer Sunday. Keller has another opportunity to be the major play-action weapon the Jets anticipated after drafting him 30th overall in 2008.

Dropped passes have hurt him as well as wide receiver Braylon Edwards. And the Jets' run-first, pass-later mentality also hasn't helped Keller's numbers.

"I think more than anything, it's what our game plan was for certain games," Keller said, referring to the use of tackle Wayne Hunter and tight end Ben Hartsock as extra blockers in certain formations.

"And the running game's just been awesome to this point. And if they can't stop the run - even if they have nine guys in the box - why stop doing it?"

But Keller's performance against the Bengals reminded the Jets organization and its fans why he was brought to New York in the first place. And as long as the Jets' game plan works, Keller will be happy.

"The only time it would be frustrating is if the offense wasn't playing well," he said. "But when we're running the offense well and putting big points on the board, you can't be upset with that."

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