Updated: 11:25 p.m.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - While the Bengals defense was undermanned, their offense was stunningly outmanned by the top-ranked Jets defense even with quarterback Carson Palmer at the helm before he got pulled with 9:20 left in the third quarter of Sunday night's 37-0 massacre at The Meadowlands.
With the AFC playoffs' third seed available in the wake of New England's loss in Houston earlier Sunday, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis played it pretty straight on offense in the first half except for the deactivation of running back Cedric Benson. But as bad as the defense was in its worst showing of the season, the first-team offense was horrific in its worst performance of the six-season Palmer era. Late in the third quarter the Bengals only had one first down and that was when Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis was called for illegal contact covering Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.
With just 72 total yards the Bengals set a record for fewest yards in a game (83) previously set in Houston on Halloween 1971. And they suffered their first shutout since Lewis' Baltimore defense beat them 16-0 on Dec. 23, 2001, when he had a defensive line coach named Rex Ryan, the coach of these Jets they see all too soon.
A couple of things were clear. The Bengals, at 0-11, never won in the 26-year history of The Meadowlands, since Sunday was the last game here. And they are going to play the Jets again next weekend at Paul Brown Stadium in a Wild Card game that one can only wonder if the Bengals have enough time to get out the gunk of a train wreck in Saturday's 4:30 p.m. matchup.
And you couldn't even say no one got hurt. Defensive tackle Pat Sims was lost for the year with a broken left forearm and Ochocinco (knee) and safety Tom Nelson (knee) were out for the second half. The Ocho bruised his knee when he fell in warmups, but he was merely icing it down and there was no structural damage. He had no catches, ending his club-record streak of at least one catch in 120 straight games. It was the first time since Sept. 29, 2002 he didn't have a catch in a game he played.
Nine times since 1990 have teams met in the first round of the playoffs after playing in the regular-season finale.
There was some question how much Lewis would put into this game with a home playoff berth already secure. He gave more than his players. They almost had half as many penalties (three) as yards (seven) and once trotted out 12 players on an extra point in the first half. They were banged up on defense, where three starters were inactive, and two more were lost in the first half with Sims and Nelson, but the Jets also ran through a parade of missed tackles for 190 rushing yards in the first 30 minutes alone.
It was an absolute stunning number for a proud defense that had allowed just four teams to rush for 100 yards this season and had allowed a high of 146 yards in building the second-best run defense coming into the game. But the showdown with the NFL's top running game disappeared in the vapors of would-be tacklers.
The Bengals came out colder than the weather and after they gave up their longest run of the season by more than double when wide receiver Brad Smith took a direct snap in the Wildcat formation and cut it up the middle for a 57-yard run on third-and-seven, and the Jets proceeded to go up 10-0 on a crushing 21-play drive that had 15 runs.
With 8:45 left in the first half, the Bengals had just minus-two yards of offense and their one first down came via penalty. They had more penalties than anything with an illegal shift and an illegal man downfield in the third series.
The Bengals defensive line, already undermanned with the absences of tackle Domata Peko and left end Robert Geathers, lost Sims for the season on that drive when he left to have his left forearm X-rayed. The Jets bloodied the Bengals defense with a no-nonsense power game that converted their first seven third downs. Their first failure came from the Jets 2 when quarterback Mark Sanchez threw wide of wide receiver Braylon Edwards with coverage by cornerback Leon Hall and Feely kicked a 20-yard field goal with less than two minutes gone in the second quarter.
The Jets just ran right at the Bengals, converting third downs as long as six yards with simple runs. They converted one third-and-five when Smith lined up as the quarterback in The Wildcat formation and they got the first down when he made an option pitch around Nelson to running back Shonn Greene for seven yards. The Bengals did recover a red-zone fumble, but it was negated by tackle Orien Harris' offsides penalty.
The Bengals could only respond with two dreadful three-and-outs, making the time of possession 15:25 to 2:15 at one point. The Bengals' second series ended when Ochocinco got some separation from Revis over the middle, but it went through his hands and The Ocho got popped big by safety Kerry Rhodes.
Smith's big run on the first series, fueled by Nelson's missed tackle, set up running back Jones' one-yard touchdown run that gave the Jets a 7-0 lead just 4:14 into the game. Steelers running back Willie Parker had the longest run against the Bengals coming into the game, a 24-yarder back in the third game on Sept. 27.
The Bengals followed with a three-and-out that started when Rhodes blitzed off the edge and batted away a swing pass intended for Bernard Scott, starting in place of Benson. On third-and-nine, Palmer went deep down the middle as Ochocinco tried to fight off Revis in one-on-one coverage. The ball landed in front of The Ocho at about the Jets 15.
Brad Smith was the main culprit and added a 32-yard run when he lined up again as the quarterback and shook off tackles by SAM linebacker Rashad Jeanty and safety Chinedum Ndukwe. Palmer completed one of 11 passes for nothing in the face of the stifling Jets blitzes and with 20 seconds left in the first-half misery he threw an interception when cornerback Dwight Lowery jumped a route over the middle to wide receiver Andre Caldwell that set up Jay Feely's 39-yard field goal on the last snap of the first half.
O'Sullivan's entry into the game didn't help matters. In a span of less than three minutes the Bengals suffered another one of their monstrous meltdowns. They had a delay of game and an intentional grounding along with an illegal formation and false start on back-to-back snaps. The Jets jacked it to 37-0 on a play set up by a vintage Ryan sack and fumble off a blitz by safety Jim Leonhard. Rhodes picked it up and went 44 yards with the fumble before running back Brian Leonard made a touchdown-saving tackle.
Andre Caldwell got the start at wide receiver in place of Laveranues Coles for the Bengals.
PREGAME NOTES: Even as the players headed to the bus to take them to The Meadowlands for Sunday night's game, they weren't sure how Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was going to play the regular-season finale against the Jets.
"What's going on?" asked one starter and when the answer was a shrug, he shrugged back.
Head coach Marvin Lewis tipped his hand with the inactive list when he sat starting running back Cedric Benson and started rookie Bernard Scott. Also out are three defensive starters, tackle Domata Peko, left end Robert Geathers and safety Chris Crocker, and one offensive starter, tight end J.P. Foschi.
If the Bengals beat the Jets, they secure the third seed and play a Houston team that beat them back on Oct. 18 at Paul Brown Stadium, 28-17, in another PBS matchup next weekend in a Wild Card game. If the Bengals lose, they play the Jets again with the fourth seed, but this time at PBS.
Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco supplied some pregame drama when he slipped running a route and bruised his knee on the turf and limped to a sideline heater. But the training staff reported he was fine and ready to play.
It would appear that Lewis doesn't covet the AFC's third seed as much as he does getting his team healthy and rested for next weekend. But he is starting Carson Palmer at quarterback as well as the other starters that aren't dinged. But Benson has shown no signs of his sore hip flexor that knocked him out of two games in November. And he carried the ball 29 times for 133 yards in the AFC North-clinching win over the Chiefs last week and didn't miss a day of practice in the next three days of work.
More indications that Lewis has the health of his team in mind came with Peko's deactivation. Peko practiced for the first time last week since his Dec. 7 arthroscopic knee surgery but will take a seat, as well as Foschi, who was limited with a neck problem. Geathers hasn't missed a game this season but didn't practice at all last week with a knee ailment.
Also down were fullback Fui Vakapuna and center Jonathan Luigs. Wide receiver Jerome Simpson was active for the second game this season while Frostee Rucker, in place of Geathers, and Rashad Jeanty, in place of injured SAM linebacker Rey Maualuga, got their first starts of the season.
Playing for the first time on Sunday night since 2007, the Bengals braced themselves in 20-degree temperatures and winds that could gust to 39 miles per hour in their white jerseys and black pants.
The Bengals won the toss and deferred.