Defense turns tide

Posted: 5:55 a.m.

Cornerback Johnathan Joseph was the face of this defense Sunday with his first NFL interception that turned into a clinching 42-yard touchdown return with 37 seconds left.

Deltha O'Neal, the other starting cornerback, politely declined to show his face to the media but defensive tackle John Thornton did the talking for him.

"Deltha O'Neal had a great second half," said Thornton, the defensive captain who was pretty good himself with one of Cincinnati's two sacks in the fourth quarter. "Yeah, I got on him at halftime. And I told him I'm going to keep getting on him if he keeps playing like that. He turned the game around."

The defense will continue to get battered after giving the NFL's third-worst offense 342 yards and 31 points. But the defense that allowed the Jets to score on their first five possessions turned the game around by forcing two punts and two turnovers on the next four series.

Before that, Joseph and O'Neal combined on one of the most crushing tackling whiffs in recent history at the end of the first half. Their missed tackle allowed wide receiver Laveranues Coles to run 36 yards with a pass for a touchdown with 49 seconds left and blow open a 13-10 game to 20-10 at the half.

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Joseph

"I had the guy wrapped up," Joseph said. "He squirted out. That's a thing you just can't let happen in this league. You get a guy like that going to the house and give him seven points."

The play capped a brutal half in the secondary in which O'Neal and Joseph appeared to have a miscommunication on a 57-yard touchdown to Coles five minutes into the game for the Jets longest play of the season.

But after quarterback Chad Pennington's 22-yard pass to wide open tight end Sean Ryan on the first snap of the second half, the Bengals didn't allow a pass longer than six yards until 1:19 left in the game. Coles with 106 yards at the half got only 27 the rest of the way.

Yet underscoring their inconsistency, the secondary failed to knock down a Hail Mary pass to Jerricho Cotchery on the final play of the game for a 32-yard touchdown pass.

"We've got to get guys playing better more consistently," said secondary coach Kevin Coyle. "I know they can and I've seen them do it. It was just like last week. Up until the last drive, I think we only gave them about 60, 70 yards in the second half. We have to put a complete game together, but Johnathan made a big play. He was there when he had to be."

Joseph stepped in front of Coles on the sideline for his first pick.

"The D-line got pressure in his face and he was just trying to get it out as quick as he could," Joseph said. "I had a chance to jump right in front of it."

He, of course, took a lot of grief. After a team-leading 19 passes defensed as a rookie last year and two this year, he finally got that interception and some gags.

"We didn't know he could catch," Thornton said.

"Surprised me," said rookie cornerback Leon Hall, who still leads the team with two.

With the Bengals adjusting to take away the pass on a deep zone, they relied on their front seven to stop the run in the second half and they responded by holding Thomas Jones to 30 yards on eight carries.

Defensive end Justin Smith led the team with eight tackles and middle linebacker Anthony Schlegel showed up against his old mates with four tackles and dumped Cotchery for a one-yard loss on a reverse in the fourth quarter.

In the back, free safety Madieu Williams flew around with six tackles and two passes defensed.

"I think we just settled down and got into a rhythm," said Schlegel, playing the team that cut him last month after taking him in the third round the year before. "We stopped making mistakes and started doing our job and you could see it coming together."

"No, nothing special," said Schlegel of his reunion. "Guys were happy for me and said to give them a call. It was good being out there."

Schlegel saw his friend and former Ohio State teammate Nick Mangold have a hand in one of the turnovers when Pennington couldn't handle a shotgun snap from center he didn't expect, and defensive tackle Domata Peko jumped on the fumble at the 50.

"I think that was a communication thing with the crowd," Schlegel said.

The Bengals must have received enough from their five linebackers (Rashad Jeanty returned for the first time this year but played mostly special teams) because they used three safeties pretty much only on passing downs.

On one of those plays, blitzing rookie safety Chinedum Ndukwe got his second sack in as many weeks, a big drop of Pennington that forced a punt with 4:31 left and the Bengals up eight.

"It's funny; we can all play this game," Ndukwe said. "A guy like (O'Neal) showed great character hanging in there and playing like he did in the second half. All of us as a unit just have to be better more of the time."

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