CINCINNATI -- The Jets still are a work in progress. That much is clear.
Their ground-and-pound game never produced much of anything. Pieces of their "one step faster" defense were exposed by the Bengals' shifty running backs. And the porous protection of the offensive line (which allowed five sacks) continues to be an area of concern.
But for all the Jets' miscues in their 17-6 loss to the Bengals in their preseason opener Friday night, there were glimpses of good things to come.
Defensive end Quinton Coples showed flashes of the burst Jets fans have been waiting to see. He totaled five tackles, one sack and a forced fumble.
Running back Joe McKnight churned out 32 yards on seven carries and caught three passes for 34 yards (including a 21-yarder).
And then, of course, there was Tim Tebow.
Frustrated Bengals repeatedly shouted "Get him!" in vain as the Jets' backup quarterback did what he does best: run.
Tebow injected some life into the team's stagnant offense, juking his way past too-slow defenders. He played almost the entire second and third quarters, finished 4-for-8 passing for 27 yards and rushed for 34 yards on four carries.
There were no nerves, Tebow said. Just excitement.
Though the coaching staff didn't game-plan, Tebow said he felt comfortable in the pocket and with offensive coordinator Tony Sparano's play-calling. He was in his element on those big scrambles, eluding as many as three defenders on his longest run, a 14-yarder on third-and-8 from Cincinnati's 46.
"You just try to break through and make a player miss and make a play," Tebow said, flashing a smile. "Just out there playing football, having fun."
The Bengals found their way into the end zone twice -- first on Dan Skuta's blocked punt that Cedric Peerman recovered in the end zone and later on a 1-yard touchdown run by Peerman that made the score 17-3 -- but the Jets never came close to punching it in.
Mark Sanchez (4-for-6 passing for 21 yards with a 4-yard rush for a first down and two sacks) took the team's weak offensive showing in stride.
"The big plays will come to us," the Jets' starting quarterback said. "The running game will get going. And things will open up in the passing game . . . Is it our best? No. But we're not going to just crawl into a hole right now. We've got to learn from it, move on and get better."
When Sanchez had time, his passes were crisp and on target, but he spent most of the first half scrambling for his safety. "They got after us pretty good," he said, adding that he and the offensive line need to "clean some things up."
Despite what the Jets had said would be a vanilla offensive attack, coach Rex Ryan said he wouldn't have minded seeing his quarterbacks air it out downfield a few times.
"You'd always love to see us be able to throw the ball down the field," he said. "But that starts with protection first. We were going to try to get the running game established, try to run the ball quite a bit. I thought we did that at times . . . If you would've asked me, we weren't going to score 30 points tonight."
Like Sanchez, Tebow stressed that it's still the preseason and far too early to panic.
"You want to get points, you want to score touchdowns," Tebow said. "I feel like that'll just keep coming as this offense gets along; continuing to build better connections, we'll find those big plays down the field."
Notes & quotes: S Eric Smith suffered a left knee and hip injury. X-rays were negative but results of an MRI are pending . . . WR Santonio Holmes (rib), WR Jeremy Kerley (hamstring), NT Sione Pouha, RT Wayne Hunter, LB Brett Roy and T Dennis Landolt did not play.