J-E-T-S: Just extend the season

January 8, 2010

Rex Ryan thinks the Jets should be favorites to win the whole thing

The Jets for the fifth time this decade qualified for the playoffs and will face Chad Johnson, Carson Palmer and the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday. 

Coach Marvin Lewis said he simplified their game plan against the New York Jets in the regular-season finale. Even a complex scheme, though, might falter if his team gets pushed around again.

For the second straight week, the Bengals will face cold conditions, a mauling offensive line and the top defense in the league as they host the Jets in a wild-card matchup Saturday afternoon.

Running back Cedric Benson was rested last week, but Cincinnati played the rest of its starters on offense until the game was out of reach. It finished with a franchise-worst 72 yards — none passing — against New York, which leads the NFL in scoring defense (14.8 points per game) and total defense (252.3 yards per game).

Defensively, the Bengals were just as bad, surrendering 257 yards rushing. The Jets, with center Nick Mangold and left guard Alan Faneca going to the Pro Bowl, are averaging an NFL-best 172.2 yards on the ground.

Cincinnati, outmatched physically in frigid conditions at the Meadowlands, must quickly find a way to bounce back as it returns home with temperatures expected to be in the low 20s.

On a slick field last weekend, Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson hurt his left knee after slipping during pregame warmups. Lewis, though, expects Johnson to play.

Shadowed by Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, Johnson failed to catch a pass for the first time since 2003, a span of 120 games.

“Ochocinco had his ego bruised when he fell down before the game,” Lewis said. “I think he’s healthy, as he’s Twittered all over America. That’s what happens. The only way to come back from that is to put up now. Now is the time for all of us to put up.”

Benson, who has rushed for a career-high 1,251 yards, will be back in the lineup for Cincinnati, ranked ninth in the NFL in rushing with 128.5 yards a game.

“It starts with No. 32 and that’s how it will go on Saturday,” Ochocinco said.

Benson’s return should help, but the Bengals’ last performance wasn’t completely out of character. Cincinnati has scored the fewest points of any team in the playoffs, finishing the regular season ranked 24th in the league in total offense (309.1).

“There have been ups and downs for this team,” Ochocinco said. “Our offense has struggled all season long, but we’ve found ways to win.”

The passing game has been the biggest concern. Ochocinco, who has 72 receptions for 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns, is the only consistent receiver.

Laveranues Coles, signed this offseason after playing seven of his first nine seasons with New York, has struggled to fit in. He has 43 catches for 514 yards.

Coles led the Bengals with three catches for 19 yards versus the Jets. Carson Palmer went 1 for 11 for zero yards with an interception before leaving in the third quarter.

Palmer and New York’s Mark Sanchez are both former Southern California stars. A year ago, Sanchez had just led USC to a Rose Bowl victory, and now he’s the only rookie quarterback in these playoffs.

Sanchez has had an inconsistent season, getting intercepted 20 times while throwing 12 TD passes, but he’s done a better job of protecting the ball in recent weeks.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Sanchez said. “I think things are going to get a lot easier. Things will slow down. But, at this point in time, I kind of found that with the way we are running the ball, being accurate, being smart has been our ticket these last couple of games.”

Sanchez was turnover-free in wins at Indianapolis and against Cincinnati to help get the Jets into the postseason after their chances appeared bleak.

Jets coach Rex Ryan saw Joe Flacco lead Baltimore to the AFC championship as a rookie last season, when Ryan’s stout defense and the Ravens’ running game led the way.

That’s the same formula Pittsburgh used when Ben Roethlisberger won a Super Bowl title despite pedestrian numbers in his second season, and it’s a strategy Ryan hopes will lead New York on a similar run.

“We’re trying to win the thing,” Ryan said. “That’s our goal. To get to this point and not have that as your ultimate goal, then I don’t think you’re going to be successful. I think you have to visualize yourself being successful and then try to go out and make it happen.”

Though the Jets lost Leon Washington early in the season with a fractured fibula, they’ve stuck to a run-first philosophy. Thomas Jones finished fourth in the league with a career-high 1,402 yards rushing, and rookie Shonn Greene is averaging 5.0 yards on 108 carries.

New York, meanwhile, hopes to have leading tackler David Harris as it tries to stop Benson. The linebacker’s status is uncertain after spraining his right ankle last weekend.

The Jets have won seven of their last eight matchups with the Bengals, and won the teams’ only playoff meeting 44-17 in the first round Jan. 9, 1983.

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