BENGALS GAMEDAY: Photos, analysis, video highlights, stats, quotes* * *
Updated: 9:30 p.m.
Grimly fighting the demons of this disappointing season and a horrendous first half, the Bengals dug down in the second half to ride the running of Kenny Watson and the acrobatics of little-used wide receiver Glenn Holt to reel off 28 straight points and take a desperate 38-31 victory over the Jets at Paul Brown Stadium.
And cornerback Johnathan Joseph, one of the goats of the first half, saved his first NFL interception for last when he stepped in front of Chad Pennington's sideline pass to wide receiver Laveranues Coles and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown with 37 seconds left.
With 4-3 Baltimore losing and 4-1 Pittsburgh coming to town next week, the 2-4 Bengals needed to get that second victory as badly as any in the Marvin Lewis era.
"It was a good win. This team needed a win obviously," Lewis said. "They were under attack all week. We button down the hatches and keep going."
Lewis, who refuted an ESPN report that the Bengals are/were entertaining benching Chad Johnson and/or entertaining possibly trading him at the end of the year, cautioned his team about being too buoyant about its first win in 41 days.
"I told them to stay tight. Say very little. Nothing to talk about," Lewis said. "Say less when you win. You guys have enough fun making up stuff."
Despite being down, 23-10, nearly four minutes into the second half when the Jets' Mike Nugent hit a 43-yard field goal, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski stuck with a running game the Bengals used 26 times in the second half on the way to a season-high 177 yards.
"Yeah, I was shaking so much because I wanted to pass," Bratkowski joked. "The line did a great job and Kenny was just super. All our guys did a great job in the running game."
Quarterback Carson Palmer (14-of-21 for 226 yards) flipped a shovel pass to Watson behind the offensive line's right side and he didn't get touched until the four-yard line on a nine-yard run. He ended up scoring his third touchdown of the game on a two-yard run with 6:09 left to make it 31-23.
Palmer's presence was huge in the second half even if his numbers weren't. After getting rid of the 18-yard throw to wide receiver Glenn Holt that set up the go-ahead touchdown the instant before Kerry Rhodes crashed into his knee on a safety blitz, he told Rhodes "in different language" never to do that again.
After a season of implosions, the Bengals watched somebody else do it. Safety Abram Elam took a swing at Watson with the Jets trailing by a point, and when he got flagged the Bengals had the ball on the Jets 14 and Watson eventually made it 31-23 on his two-yard score.
"We were patient. We needed to make a couple of adjustments," Palmer said after the 11th fourth quarter of his career in which he has brought the Bengals back from a deficit or tie for a victory. "We never faltered, never got nervous, never freaked out. We just kept plugging."
After a sack of Jets quarterback Chad Pennington by rookie safety Chinedum Ndukwe, Watson checked in with his biggest rush of the game on a third-and-two. As the clock ticked under three minutes, Watson followed left guard Andrew Whitworth and left tackle Levi Jones for a six-yard gain. It marked Cincinnati's seventh third-down conversion in nine tries after two games the Bengals were a combined 1-for-18. They finished 7-for-10.
As badly as the Bengals defense played to open the game, they played as well in the second half. In the final 25 minutes the defense allowed only Pennington's Hail Mary to wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery at the gun for a 32-yard touchdown.
"I think they did a good job of mixing things up and changing coverage in the second half," said Coles of the Bengals taking away the deep pass. "They got the momentum in the second half and carried it throughout the rest of the game. That allowed them to get the win."
Big day for Watson
Watson became the 10th different player to rush for 100 yards in the 24 years Jim Anderson has been the Bengals running backs coach.
On the next snap, Holt beat Revis inside over the middle and took Palmer's 18-yard laser as well as a hellacious shot from Elam and Watson scored on the next play to make it 24-23 with 13:31 left in the game.
Watson carried 10 times for 55 yards in a 14-play drive that consumed 7:34 as the Bengals overcame a holding call and ended with wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh's eighth touchdown catch of the season on a three-yard throw. He didn't get that fourth straight 100-yard game, but he'll take the four balls for 43 yards.
"The way they were playing us there was no way they were going to let Chad and I get the ball, so Glenn stepped up and had a huge game," Houshmandzadeh said.
Wide receiver Chad Johnson went over the 100-yard mark for the third time this season on that drive and finished with three catches for 102 yards. He also had a huge 15-yard run on a double reverse on the first snap of the series after the Bengals took the lead. But for one of the few times after a win he didn't speak to the media.
Bengals sluggish in first half
The Bengals were supposed to get better against the 1-5 Jets, but New York looked like champions in taking a 20-10 lead at halftime that included an inexcusable 36-yard touchdown play by Coles with 49 seconds left.
With 2:08 left in the half, the Bengals looked to get back in the game on Watson's three-yard touchdown run that cut the lead to 13-10.
But the Jets didn't even need a timeout to go 80 yards in 1:19. On a third-and-two, Coles caught a little flip pass and went to the house when Joseph and cornerback Deltha O'Neal dove at his feet instead of tackling him and gave up the worst touchdown in recent memory.
But the worst was yet to come. The Bengals had to use up their two timeouts when Watson and Houshmandzadeh didn't get out of bounds on receptions and the half ended in a flash of confusion at the Jets 42 after the refs upheld Holt's catch with eight seconds left. The last play came with Palmer, trying to get off a quick play for a field goal, being called for intentional grounding while the Bengals were called for a hold on the same play.
Palmer had a productive half on of 9-of-12 passing for 172 yards but the defense had no answers in allowing a 20-poinf half for the second straight week.
The Bengals began to warm up late in the half when they countered the Jets' nine-minute drive with a 7:03, 11-play grind job of their own that ended on Watson's run.
Watson, who finished the half with 44 yards on 10 carries, followed center Eric Ghiaciuc and right tackle Willie Anderson for the Bengals' second rushing touchdown of the season. Anderson had been coming in and out of the game with his foot and knee problem.
The Bengals seemed to solve their problem on third down with 2-for-4 in the half. Houshmandzadeh, who had both third-down conversions, caught a 19-yarder down the middle and finished with 40 yards on three catches while Johnson had 85 yards on just two.
The beleaguered Pennington, supposedly on a short leash for a benching, instead got a new lease on life by the Bengals defense that allowed him to complete six of his first six passes for 104 yards as he finished the half 10-of-16 for 170 and two touchdowns.
Working against one of the NFL's worst offenses, the Bengals gave up a 15-play drive that ended in Nugent's 24-yard field goal when Pennington threw his first incompletion on purpose out of the end zone.
The Bengals had a plethora of missed tackles on the drive, including rookie cornerback Leon Hll's whiff at the line of scrimmage at the beginning of running back Thomas Jones' 10-yard run. Jones found some room with 37 yards in the half on 11 carries and finished with 67 on 19 carries.
The Bengals offense, which turned to running back DeDe Dorsey for first his seven NFL carries, had struggles of its own in the half. Palmer unleashed his ninth interception of the season when cornerback Hank Poteat wrenched the ball from Houshmandzadeh while he was lying on the ground at the Bengals 25.
But the Bengals defense foreshadowed what was coming and came up with a nice stand as Hall knocked away a high lob for Coles and Nugent knocked in a 35-yarder for the 13-3 lead.
But it didn't take long for the Jets to uncork their longest play of the year, a 57-yard bomb to Coles as New York bolted to a 7-0 lead just 3:30 in the game.
Coles was absolutely wide open against Cincinnati's eight-man front as O'Neal appeared to be waiting for help inside and let Coles run right by him on his way to a 133-yard day after being bottled up all season on a 9.9-yard average per catch in the first six games.
The Bengals answered with a 56-yard pass to Chad Johnson racing past cornerback David Barrett on the next snap, but they came up empty a third-and-one from the Jets 2 when Palmer overthrew Johnson on a fade route in which he had Barrett beaten and the Bengals had to settle for Shayne Graham's 20-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3 with less than six minutes left in the first quarter.
The Bengals offensive line got off to a shaky start. On the first drive of the game, left tackle Jones, off a benching in Kansas City last week, had a false start on the Bengals' first third-down opportunity, a third-and-five from the Jets 36.
Houshmandzadeh stood up for Jones, saying the Jets defensive line was simulating the snap count.
Then Jets linebacker Bryan Thomas got his first full sack of the season when he worked a stunt from the right end of the Bengals line and went up the middle.
On the next series, facing a third-and-two from the Jets 16, Jones had another false start, but Palmer hooked up with Houshmandzadeh on a 10-yard grab over the middle to convert just the third second down in the last 20 tries.
PREGAME NOTES: Kenny Watson drew his third straight start at running back in Sunday's game against the Jets when Rudi Johnson was deactivated with his hamstring injury.
Also making his third straight start was Anthony Schlegel, lining up against the team that drafted him last year with Ahmad Brooks (groin) and Caleb Miller (back) inactive again. Robert Geathers got his second straight start at stong-side linebacker and Bryan Robinson moved into his spot at left end.
With Jets quarterback Chad Pennington supposedly on a short leash at Paul Brown Stadium, it may be time to review the six backup quarterbacks that have beaten the Bengals in the past five years:
Baltimore's Anthony Wright in 2003, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Tennessee's Billy Volek in 2004, Tampa Bay's Bruce Gradkowski and Denver's Jay Cutler in 2006, and Cleveland's Derek Anderson in 2007.
Jets backup Kellen Clemens, a second-rounder from Oregon in 2007 who automatically makes the Jets more vertical, threw for 260 yards (19-of-37) in a Sept. 16 loss in Baltimore. The Ravens fended off Clemens, 20-13, as he hit 10 of 19 passes for 176 yards and his lone touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The Jets Sunday benched third cornerback Andre Dyson. They'll probably keep rookie Darrelle Revis in the slot and put journeyman Hank Poteat on the outside.
Wide receiver Courtney Roby, with the club since Tuesday, was active wearing No. 12 and should see plenty of action on special teams.
Rounding out the inactive list for the Bengals were cornerback David Jones, linebacker Corey Mays, wide receiver Antonio Chatman, and center Dan Santucci.
The Bengals went back to the uniform combo that brought them their only victory this season with black jerseys and white pants, in which they are 6-10 overall.
Joining Carson Palmer and John Thornton as captains were cornerback Deltha O'Neal for the defense, fullback Jeremi Johnson for the offense, and linebacker Dhani Jones for the special teams. The Bengals won the toss and took the ball.