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In the fire

Posted Nov 26, 2010


Jets receiver Brad Smith loses his shoe during his 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Jonathan Wade’s one-year-old son likes to watch football on TV because of the people that move. That’s what they were doing lying in bed when the Bengals called Wade just after their game against Buffalo on Sunday and asked him to come to a workout on Monday.

Four days later, Wade was pretty sure his son was watching him on NFL Network in the Thanksgiving night game he ended up starting at left cornerback in the depleted Bengals secondary. The Jets smoked the Bengals in the second half, 23-3, of a 26-10 victory, but it wasn’t because of Wade and the undermanned Bengals defense in another you-didn’t-expect-it-to-happen-this-way scenario loss in this 2-9 season.

The Jets scored off a kick return and a miscue on a punt that put the ball on the Bengals 14, and they got a field goal off quarterback Carson Palmer s first of two interceptions. Working against a secondary with Wade, just one starter in right corner Leon Hall, and the rest backups, the Jets had to grind it out in a running game that accounted for 170 yards, 53 of them on wide receiver Brad Smith’s end-around for a touchdown. The Bengals kept Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in check on 16-of-28 passing for 166 yards and he never got his dangerous long ball going against Wade and his new friends. His longest pass was 23 yards.

Wade, a third-round pick of the Rams in 2007, is on his third team and just got cut by the Lions two weeks ago. But the Bengals began thinking they had something in Monday’s walkthrough when he was making checks as if he’d been there all year. And everyone knows Wade can run because he was a five-time All-American sprinter in college at Tennessee.

“A couple of times I felt lost,” Wade said. “But I ended up doing the right things.”

The right things? Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer ran the scheme like Wade had been there all along. He left him one-on-one with dangerous big-play receivers Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards and, for the most part, got good results. Wade ended the first Jets series on third-and-nine when he dropped Holmes for a one-yard loss on a slant. With 3:12 left in the first half and the Jets leading, 3-0, Sanchez gunned one from his own 17 down the right sideline to his favorite long-ball target, Edwards. But Wade ran step for step with him on the incompletion.

“Wouldn’t you?” asked Wade when asked if he felt the Jets were picking on him. “I was at home a couple of days ago. I would have picked on me, too.”

The Jets picked on him two snaps after the botched punt when Holmes cut inside him and he stumbled on a 13-yard touchdown play that put the Jets up, 17-7, late in the third quarter.

“He did a good job in the short week,” Hall said. “We didn’t simplify it or anything like that. We actually played our defense and he knew the stuff.”

All Wade had for equipment when he came in was a pair of cleats he had knocking around in his car. “I’ll worry about the rest later,” he said before immersing himself in meetings with secondary coach Kevin Coyle. On Tuesday, he came over early from the hotel for a 6:30 a.m. meeting.

“It was like class with a tutor,” Wade said. “There was a lot of studying; simplifying everything so there wouldn’t be such a dropoff on Sunday. Replacing a guy like Johnathan Joseph (ankle), tough shoes to fill, I was just trying to simplify it and pick it up as much as I could. Like in the secondary, just play. When the ball is in the air, you’ve got to go get it and try to minimize the big plays.”

The only time the defense faltered was on a big play, but it was on the ground. Smith’s 53-yard bolt off his left edge on the end-around after he took the second handoff gave the Jets a 10-7 led on the second play of the second half. Hall couldn’t fight off a block at the point of attack by lineman (“I had a good bead on it,” he said) and Smith was able to cut it back inside with the help of the scheme. Safety Reggie Nelson, one of the backup safeties starting Thursday, had a shot but couldn’t get him outside.

SAM linebacker Rey Maualuga found himself dealing with the tight end coming across the middle.

“A flash,” he called it. “I had to get outside of that and he came inside me and that was that. … I’m supposed to be outside (of the tight end) and unfortunately (Smith) cut it inside.”

But Maualuga responded quickly with his first NFL interception in his 26th NFL game, a huge play that put the Bengals on the Jets 37 just moments later. Aaron Pettrey ended up missing a 27-yard field goal but Maualuga was able to give Sanchez, his USC teammate, some grief after the game. With the help of right end Michael Johnson's harassment of Sanchez, Maualuga was able to read Sanchez trying to check it down to running back Shonn Greene and he undercut the safety valve.  

“I was excited. It was my first pick. What a way to get it against my old teammate,” Maualuga said. “We got really good pressure and I was able to make the play because he had to get rid of it.”

The Bengals actually got some good pressure much of the night. Rookie left end Carlos Dunlap had both sacks of Sanchez, the first time this season a defensive lineman had two sacks in a game.

But, same old story. The defense played well, which must mean the offense or special teams betrayed them. Earlier in the year, it was the defense struggling when the offense scored. The special teams are bearing the brunt of the secondary problems. For instance, two of the special teams core players were Nelson and safety Chinedum Ndukwe before they had to start. On Thursday, rookie Jeromy Miles made his NFL debut off the practice squad on special teams. And safety Tom Nelson had to do double duty, covering kicks as well as playing the slot corner.

The beat goes on. Next Sunday, in nine days, wait the Super Bowl champion Saints off their Thanksgiving win in Dallas.

“Very frustrating,“ Maualuga said of the Bengals finding a different way to lose another one. “Keep fighting. That’s all we can do. Watch the film. See what we did wrong and come back next Sunday."  

 

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