NFL: Jets give grieving owner the game ball
By J.P. Pelzman
The Record (Hackensack N.J.)
CINCINNATI — Rex Ryan was emotional Friday night. He was emotional Saturday night.
And in between, his team was very, very physical, feeding off Ryan’s rip-roaring speech the night before the game.
Put it all together and it’s easy to see why the Jets put it all together Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium in the first round of the AFC playoffs. The Jets rallied from an early seven-point deficit and stopped Cincinnati, 24-14, for their sixth victory in their last seven games.
The fifth-seeded Jets (10-7) advanced to the divisional round of the AFC playoffs next weekend. They will visit top-seeded Indianapolis on Saturday or No. 2 San Diego on Sunday.
If New England beats Baltimore on Sunday, the Jets will play Indianapolis. If the Ravens win, the Jets will face San Diego.
Ryan began his postgame news conference by saying, “First off, this one was for Woody.”
He was referring to owner Woody Johnson, whose 30-year-old daughter, Casey, was found dead in Los Angeles on Monday. The cause of death hasn’t been determined, but she suffered from Type 1 diabetes.
“We definitely were playing for Woody,” said tight end Dustin Keller, whose 45-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter put the Jets ahead to stay. “You couldn’t ask for a better owner.”
Johnson, who attended the game with his wife, mother and several other family members, was given a game ball.
“Woody thanked everyone for playing well,” Keller said. “He congratulated us. We congratulated him. He didn’t say too much.”
When stopped by reporters, Johnson said he was “proud” of the team for staying “focused.” When asked, “Does this help?” Johnson replied, “No, nothing helps.”
While the mood was somewhat somber after the game, it was anything but the night before, when Ryan gave one of his patented speeches, reminding the players how nobody respected them because they had reached the playoffs by beating Indianapolis and Cincinnati teams that had nothing to play for.
“He gets us amped,” Keller said, smiling.
Still, the Jets trailed, 7-0, after Carson Palmer’s 11-yard touchdown pass to former Jet Laveranues Coles in the first quarter. But the momentum turned in the second quarter as Shonn Greene took a pitchout left and ran 39 yards untouched for the tying score. Then Darrelle Revis’ interception and 20-yard return to the Jets’ 43 again gave the Jets field position.
On third-and-12 from the 41, Mark Sanchez (12-for-15, 182 yards) connected with Jerricho Cotchery over the middle for a 14-yard gain to the Bengals’ 45. On the next play, Sanchez rolled right on a naked bootleg and threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Keller, who bulled his way into the end zone for the score.
That gave the Jets their first lead, 14-7, with 6:19 left in the first half.
Sanchez was turnover-free for the third straight game, but that was his first scoring pass during that span.
“It’s got nothing to do with me,” he said, deflecting the credit. “Maybe I lucked out today. ... I just felt real comfortable with the game plan.”
“He was on fire,” Ryan said of Sanchez. “He had the eye of the tiger.”
As did the rest of the team not wearing Bengal stripes, except when the Jets tried to tackle Cedric Benson, who had 169 yards on 21 carries, and had a 47-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 21-14 in the fourth quarter. But Sanchez hit Keller on a 43-yard catch-and-run to the Cincinnati 23 to set up Jay Feely’s clinching 20-yard field goal with 5:47 left.
No, it wasn’t the 37-0 pounding the Jets put on Cincinnati seven days ago. But it might have been more impressive, considering the circumstances.
The Bengals “didn’t have anything to play for last week,” Greene admitted. “That was fine. We knew what we were capable of and knew we were going to have to execute.”
“I think we showed that we’re not one-dimensional,” said Ryan, who said last week that he thought the Jets were the favorites to win the Super Bowl. “I think this is just the first step in what we all feel is going to be a great journey.”