Posted: 5 a.m.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Last week Carson Palmer celebrated his 30th birthday with a fourth-quarter drive that lifted the Bengals to the AFC North title. This Saturday wide receiver Chad Ochocinco hopes to celebrate his 32nd birthday with the Bengals' first playoff victory under head coach Marvin Lewis when the Jets come to Paul Brown Stadium for a 4:30 p.m. AFC Wild Card game.
But Team Angst is going to have to celebrate adversity once again six days after suffering a loss of historical proportions to those same Jets. On Sunday night in the The Meadowlands' freezer the Jets won a playoff spot by handing the Bengals a loss that matched the two worst whippings in Cincinnati history, 37-0, the same score that a Ravens defensive coordinator named Marvin Lewis handed the Bengals in 2000 and the same spread the Bears put on the Bengals in a 1986 game, 44-7.
Nothing is easy for these guys, is it? They swept the division with six wins by a total of 34 points. The division-winning drive spanned 98 yards and a funeral. And now they head into the playoffs after their worst offensive performance in history, a 72-yard effort that netted the team more penalties (seven) than first downs (five).
"A lot more serious next week; a lot more serious," said wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, who tweeted up a storm this weekend before he tweaked his knee in pregame warmups and got iced in the second half. "I'm going to get this knee right and I'm looking forward to Saturday."
The Ocho, blanked for the first time in 120 games since Akili Smith's last NFL start on Sept. 29, 2002, doesn't know if he's going to practice when the Bengals return to work Tuesday. He says he's going to get an MRI Monday. Head coach Marvin Lewis said, "He'll be fine," as the Bengals pieced it together with the same themes they have used during their improbable run: Resiliency. Toughness. Leadership.
"This team loves to compete. There's no better way to rectify a loss than to beat that team the next week," said quarterback Carson Palmer. "We've got our work cut out for us. We've got an uphill battle. It's not easy to watch film of yourself getting beat all week."
It took a Wildcat named Brad Smith to subdue the Cardiac Cats. Smith, the Missouri quarterback now a wide receiver, strafed the Bengals out of the shotgun formation with the two longest runs against Cincinnati this season, a 57-yarder he cut inside on the sixth play of the game, and a 32-yard touchdown run off a fake option as the top-ranked Jets running game bruised a proud Bengals defense that had risen to fourth behind a stingy rush unit that was No. 2 in the league on 257 yards.
"We were," corrected middle linebacker Dhani Jones, who called it "embarrassing." Rookie safety Tom Nelson, who left with a knee injury of his own, said the Jets ran Smith a little bit more on the perimeter than they had seen on film but "we should have been all over it."
The Bengals were without three defensive starters that they'll have back for Saturday in defensive tackle Domata Peko, left end Robert Geathers, and safety Chris Crocker as they try to turn around a defense that has allowed three 100-yard rushing games in the last four weeks after allowing just two before that.
"We're a good team that just ghot punched in the mouth," Peko said. "They beat us fair and square and we'll bounce back. We'll be fine. We've just got to go out and stop the the run. That's all they did. Brad Smith is the guy we have to stop. A couple of missed fits, that's what is going to happen. We'll watch film and we'll get it fixed."
Both The Ocho and left tackle Andrew Whitworth though the Bengals were already thinking about the playoffs.
"I think there's concern that we just played so poorly," Whitworth said. "I think this team will be ready. I don't think who we played was our concern. I just think we wanted to get into the playoffs, we're there. We let this one skip past us because we weren't as focused as we should have been."