CINCINNATI - Before a single question could be asked, a defiant Rex Ryan took his place behind the lectern. The Jets' coach began his news conference after Saturday night's 25-17 preseason victory over the Bengals by saying he wouldn't be answering any questions about his secondary. And soon it became clear that he wouldn't tolerate criticism of the unit, either.
Asked to evaluate the play of his starting secondary -- which has been decimated by injuries to cornerbacks Dee Milliner, draft pick Dexter McDougle and Dimitri Patterson -- Ryan answered sarcastically: "I don't know. It doesn't matter [how] I evaluate them. I know you guys are going to write about it all you want . . .
"I don't know how you'd evaluate Calvin Pryor. You'd give him a plus? He forced two fumbles, knocked some dudes out. Guess we were right on that one. And we'll be right on our corners, too. We'll sort it out."
The Jets' secondary was under a microscope before training camp began, and now there are even more questions about this patchwork group, which featured third-year safety Antonio Allen playing opposite Bengals star A.J. Green on Saturday night.
Quarterback Andy Dalton completed 8 of 8 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown against Ryan's first-team defense. Still, Ryan -- who joked that Dalton looked like "a million-dollar quarterback" -- immediately went on the defensive.
"I'm fired up because I know we're a lot better than what we're given credit for," he said. "This is a victory, we'll take it. That's a good football team. Hey, I recognize we've got some work to do. There's no question. But I'm fired up."
Coincidentally, his players also were fired up.
On a night when quarterback Geno Smith flashed some nice footwork and backup Michael Vick gave the Jets a late-game lead, the most eye-popping line on the stat sheet was the Jets' 12 penalties for 133 yards. There were several culprits, but the most egregious were offensive linemen Brian Winters (three), Breno Giacomini (two) and Willie Colon, and wide receiver Stephen Hill. Colon, Giacomini and Hill were involved in fights and flagged for personal fouls.
The fiery tempers between both clubs came as no surprise, however. The Jets and Bengals had discussed holding joint scrimmages this past week but, according to a team source, a few Jets players told Ryan it would be a bad idea. Why? Because they knew there would be more fighting than playing on the practice field.
"The last time we stepped into this stadium, we got our butts kicked. So we wanted to come out and make a statement running the ball and being effective," said Colon, who was flagged after coming to the aid of Giacomini, who also was flagged for trying to make a tackle after Smith threw a first-quarter interception. "Obviously, you can't have the penalties," said Colon, who added that neither he nor Giacomini heard the whistle after the pick. "But any time I see my brothers out there and they're getting jumped, I'm going to be the first one running."
Ryan, however, didn't seem concerned. "We're going to be physical. We're not here to take anybody's stuff. Period," he said.
Cornerback Kyle Wilson was beaten by Mohamed Sanu for the first Bengals touchdown, a 43-yard pass from Dalton.
Ryan, however, said there should have been double coverage on the play.
"I know you guys love Kyle. You'll be all over him, but we blew a coverage. It should have been doubled, it wasn't. So obviously, we've got to fix that," the coach said.
Despite the slow start by the Jets' defense, there were several highlights: Pryor, their first-round pick, recorded six tackles and had two passes defensed. Allen fared fairly well in his first start at cornerback (aside from a 35-yard catch by Green) and backup Darrin Walls picked off Bengals backup Matt Scott late in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
But Ryan's defensive backs know all eyes will be on them, and each has a chip on his shoulder.
"It does motivate us a lot," Allen said. "Last year they were saying the secondary is the downfall of the team. But as long as we stick together, play as a family, play as a team, I think we're going to be all right."
With the Jets down 17-3, linebacker Demario Davis set up their first TD with a strip-sack of Scott, recovered by Pryor at the Bengals' 19. Bilal Powell scored on a 2-yard run a few plays later.
Smith ended the next drive with a 1-yard TD run to pull the Jets within 17-16. Vick threw the go-ahead 17-yard TD pass to Clyde Gates in the fourth.