CINCINNATI - This time there was no gift. No resting of starters, no using bland game plans in a meaningless game. It was for real. And the Jets proved that they are, too.
The Jets took it to the tiger stripes for the second time in less than a week, using a determined ground game and a pair of big offensive plays for a 24-14 win over the Bengals in yesterday's AFC wild-card playoff game. They had spanked the quasi-Bengals, 37-0, in the final game at the Meadowlands last Sunday to earn a playoff spot.
While rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez did well in his first playoff game - and his third straight without a turnover - he had nothing on fellow rookie Shonn Greene, who ran for 135 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.
It was the Jets' first postseason win in five years; they beat the Chargers, 20-17, in overtime on Jan. 8, 2005.
The Jets will play in the AFC divisional round next weekend, with their opponent determined by today's wild-card game. If the Ravens beat the Patriots, the Jets will be in San Diego next Sunday. If the Patriots beat the Ravens, the Jets will be in Indianapolis on Saturday.
It wouldn't be the Jets if there hadn't been a moment when it all seemed poised to fall apart, and in this game, that happened with 11:04 remaining. Cedric Benson (169 yards, 21 carries) took a handoff on the right side on second-and-2 and ran untouched for 47 yards and a touchdown to cut the Jets' lead to 21-14.
But the Jets responded to that flicker of doubt, using a 43-yard pass-and-run by Dustin Keller to set up a 20-yard field goal by Jay Feely that made the score 24-14 with 5:47 remaining. That buffer was enough to allow Jets Nation to exhale and enjoy the win, especially after Shayne Graham missed his second short-field goal attempt of the second half with 3:49 left to keep it a two-score buffer.
Two running plays later, the Jets converted a third-and-12 when Sanchez hit Jerricho Cotchery on a slant for a gain of 14. On the next play, Sanchez faked a handoff to Thomas Jones and rolled to his right. He looked at the underneath receiver but held on to the ball long enough for the deeper receiver, Keller, to get open. Sanchez lofted a pass to Keller, who caught it and turned upfield, tip-toeing his way into the end zone for a 45-yard scoring play and a 14-7 lead.
Replays showed that Keller might have stepped out of bounds just before reaching the end zone, but the Bengals already had used their two challenges unsuccessfully and could not red-flag the play.
The Jets moved the ball well on their next possession but were unable to score. They did, however, allow kicker-turned-punter Jay Feely to drop a punt out of bounds at the 6. After the Jets' defense turned in a three-and-out, the Jets got the ball back near midfield to set up their first touchdown.
That was a 39-yard run by Greene on a toss left in which he turned inside a kick-out block by Keller on Leon Hall and sprinted down the left sideline into the end zone.
The Jets led 14-7 at halftime and seemed to be ahead 17-10 when Feely put a 42-yard field goal through the uprights with 10:16 remaining in the third quarter. A holding call against Robert Turner on the attempt took the three points off the board. The Jets tried again, this time from 52, but a false start pushed them even further back and Feely had to punt.
The Bengals showed their first spark since the first quarter when they drove deep into Jets territory, helped by some broken tackles on a run by Benson and a 26-yard pass-interference penalty against Revis on a deep pass for Ochocinco. That penalty gave the Bengals the ball at the 22, and Bengals points seemed certain. But Graham pushed a 35-yard field-goal attempt wide left.
The Jets drove 75 yards, capped by a 9-yard run by Jones, to take a 21-7 lead with 2:18 left in the third quarter.