Updated: 11:35 p.m
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - A mere four days after suffering the worst second-half implosion in their history, the Bengals lost their 7-3 halftime lead on the second play of the second half Thursday night when wide receiver Brad Smith ran 53 yards for a touchdown off an end around with less than two minutes gone, and then special teams let another second-half cascade overwhelm the Bengals when Smith took off on an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that broke it open at 24-10 with more than 12 minutes left in the game.
At that point, Bengals quarterback Michael Johnson was the main menu item for the Jets Thanksgiving feast at New Meadowlands Stadium as the Bengals spun to 2-9. With the 14-point lead the Jets knew the Bengals were chucking and they couldn't protect him, capped off by a safety when Palmer had to ground it in the end zone with defensive lineman Trevor Pryce beating center Kyle Cook.
That made it 26-10 with less than six minutes left and then Bengals staring at their second straight double-digit loss after having the halftime lead.
The undermanned Bengals defense played gutty and well, but as has been the case in this season the three phases have never come together, and the offense and special teams didn't keep up. The Bengals needed to run the ball, but running back Clint Boling had just 41 yards on 18 carries. With the Jets suffocating the Bengals on four-of-15 on third down, Palmer could only complete a miserable 17 of his 38 passes for 135 yards.
Hard to remember, but the Bengals missed a chance to tie it at 10 with 6:32 left in the third when kicker Aaron Pettrey missed his second field goal in his second game, another one that hooked, this one from 27 yards. When the Bengals forced another punt, the kick glanced off Bengals wide receiver Andre Caldwell and when returner Quan Cosby waved everyone away, the Jets fell on the ball at the 14. One snap later, wide receiver Santonio Holmes then cut inside freshly-arrived cornerback Jonathan Wade as he stumbled for a 13-yard touchdown play.
But special teams did get one back when they forced a shanked punt out of the end zone after defensive end George Iloka pushed linebacker Josh Mauga into punter Steve Weatherford.
The Bengals got the ball inside the 30, but like they did all night the Jets shut down all of Palmer's passing lanes once they got in the red zone. He had good protection on third down, but he couldn't get the ball past the safety and it was knocked away as wide receiver Terrell Owens ran across the back of the end zone. Pettrey hit a 28-yard field goal to cut the lead to 17-10 early in the fourth quarter.
But Smith immediately eliminated all of that when he raced the last 50 yards without one of his shoes against a unit that has been revamped along with the injuries. It was the second kick return against the Bengals and the first since New England's Brandon Take took the second half kickoff all the way in the opener.
On the second snap of the second half Smith, who ripped the Bengals out of the Wildcat for two runs totaling more than 90 yards last season, came out of the slot to take the second handoff and went to his left. SAM linebacker Vincent Rey ran past him and Smith jumped outside of safety George Iloka and was gone to make it 10-7 in less than two minutes.
But Maualuga quickly atoned. With defensive end Michael Johnson harassing Sanchez, Maualuga stepped in front of running back Shonn Greene for his first interception of the season that put the ball at the Jets 37.
After wide receiver Chad Ochocinco failed to complete a reverse pass to Owens (Owens had a step on cornerback Darrelle Revis at the 5 but it was thrown out of bounds), the Bengals got a break and the ball at the 15 when safety James Ihedigbo was called for roughing Palmer.
But Palmer had to throw one ball out of the end zone with The Ocho double-covered and he had to throw a checkdown pass on third down to set up Pettrey's miss.
Palmer's five-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley on third down with 43 seconds left in the first half gave the Bengals a 7-3 halftime lead against the Jets before a surly holiday sellout.
The Jets missed a chance to cut it to 7-6 at the end of the half when Nick Folk yanked a 44-yard field goal. Only after making the first one and getting it wiped out by head coach Marvin Lewis' timeout.
But the Bengals overcame their own bit of adversity on the snap just before Palmer's touchdown pass. It appeared on replays that Ochocinco's feet were barely inside the line of the end zone as he worked against cornerback Antonio Cromartie. But the incompletion held up and the Bengals went to third down, deploying The Ocho and Owens to the same side. With Shipley on the same side, the Jets double-covered The Ocho and Owens and Shipley settled into a zone just over the goal line.
Cromartie couldn't contend with The Ocho one-on-one in the half, finishing with four catches for 41 yards and racking up two catches in the touchdown drive for a total of 19 yards on back-to-back plays. But the big play was the first one, a 25-yard run-and-catch screen by rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham. Palmer also overcame adversity in the face of the Jets blitz. After throwing two interceptions, he got the ball to Shipley and finished the half 12-of-22 for 99 yards.
The undermanned Bengals defense didn't flinch early and turned away the Jets in the red zone by allowing only Folk's 27-yard field goal that gave New York a 3-0 lead with 9:01 left in the first half.
The Bengals overcame a 36-yard play, a 21-yard catch by tight end Dustin Keller and a 15-yard facemask penalty on Wade, in large part because cornerback Leon Hall defended wide receiver Braylon Edwards one-on-one in the end zone on a blitz.
But two Palmer interceptions in the second quarter marred the defensive effort. The last one, with 5:06 left in the second quarter, was a killer. Benson, hemmed in all half with just 31 yards on 11 carries, finally broke out on a 14-yard run cleared by right guard Clint Boling' block on tackle Sione Pouha. From the Jets 28, Palmer had Owens running open behind three defensive backs deep in the end zone. But he didn't see Gresham open and he underthrew Owens for Cromartie to pick it off.
Wade, quite impressive considering he was without a team on Sunday, responded. The Bengals blitzed on third down, leaving Wade one-on-one down the sideline with Jets quarterback Matt Sanchez's favorite target, Edwards. Wade matched him stride for stride and Edwards couldn't reach it.
The Bengals defense forced two punts in the opening quarter that featured rookie defensive end Carlos Dunlap's second NFL sack as they held the Jets to a scoreless tie heading into the second quarter.
The Jets took the air out of the Bengals running game immediately on the game's first series when they stuffed Benson for no yards on his first four carries and had to punt despite Palmer's first-down conversion pass to Ochocinco on third-and-10.
Palmer had to get rid of it quickly in the face of a blitz, but The Ocho beat Cromartie one-on-one. On the next third down, the Jets double-teamed Ochocinco and Owens, and Palmer had to get rid of it and threw it low to Shipley for an incompletion to force the punt.
But the revamped Bengals secondary held up well in its first series with Wade drawing his seventh NFL start even though the Bengals signed him only on Monday. On third-and-9 he hauled down wide receiver Santonio Holmes after a quick pass for a short gain to force the punt. The Bengals also stuffed a Wildcat run by Smith for a yard in the series.
They did it again on the second series after the Jets committed their third penalty of the game, Edwards' block in the back. The Bengals got good coverage on the ensuing snap to get Dunlap's sack on a scrambling Sanchez and on third-and-22 and a zone blitz forced Sanchez to throw it quick and force another punt.
PREGAME NOTES: Cornerback Jonathan Wade, who joined the Bengals on Monday afternoon, got the start at left cornerback with Johnathan Joseph (ankle) inactive. Also inactive for Thursday night's game against the Jets in New Meadowlands Stadium was backup cornerback Rico Murray (ankle), making Fred Bennett active even though he joined the team Tuesday morning.
Wide receiver Jerome Simpson got a rare activation (the third time this season) and rookie safety Jeromy Miles was active for the first time this season. As expected, cornerback Brandon Ghee (groin) and safety Roy Williams (concussion) were out, putting huge stress on a secondary without three of its four starters and starting backup safeties Chinedum Ndukwe and Reggie Nelson along with regular right cornerback Leon Hall.
Miles got the nod in an effort to bolster the special teams unit that is taking a collateral hit with the mass destruction in the secondary. The Jets special teams are 11th in punt returns and fourth in kick returns.
Also out were right end Antwan Odom (wrist), as well as center Reggie Stephens and tackle Kirk Chambers.
As all signs pointed, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer got the start. Palmer (foot) not only practiced Wednesday after sitting out Tuesday's practice in a boot, but word was he also took a significant role in the Wednesday night meetings, also indicating he'd make his 28th straight start.
But he and Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez won't be miked by NFL Films for features later in the week on NFL Network, the outlet broadcasting the Bengals' first-ever Thanksgiving appearance. Palmer's wide receivers, Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, are wired, as are middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, defensive tackle Domata Peko, head coach Marvin Lewis and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski.
Even though he's struggling with a medial collateral ligament problem in the knee, Jets right tackle Damien Woody got the start.
The Bengals came out in their first game at New Meadowlands in 39-degree temperature with no rain in their white jerseys and black pants, an ensemble in which the Bengals are 11-15. They won the toss and took the ball with Bernard Scott and Quan Cosby back to receive.