E. RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh shook his head with an unbelievable twist.
For at least the fifth time this season the Bengals once-dominant offense let down its once poor stepchild of a defense here Sunday in the 26-14 loss to the Jets.
"The defense is pretty much great," Houshmandzadeh said, "and the offense is just terrible. Bottom line."
Working against coordinator Mike Zimmer's defenses that primarily took away the deep threat and the middle of the field with a lot of deep zones, Brett Favre was forced to take advantage underneath of some shoddy tackling and a dormant third-down pass rush to get his 163rd regular season win as a starter. But he saluted the Bengals defense that generated three turnovers and put head coach Marvin Lewis' team in position.
"We have to be able to overcome turnovers. I've played in games where we've had no turnovers and lost," Favre said. "In fact, we talked about it all week that Marvin's record as a head coach is outstanding when they are plus-one. They had to be plus a couple today and we won the ballgame so that doesn't always hold true. We have to be conscious of that but we also have to play. You can't play scared.
"It wasnt our best performance, but it was a win and we did some good things. I give them a lot of credit. They took Dallas to the wire, they took the Giants to the wire and they took us to the wire. We had one of those games. I don't believe in ugly wins. I believe a win is a win and that one felt as good as any win I've been a part of in recent memory. "
On a day Favre extended his career NFL records to 455 touchdown passes and 258 straight regular-season starts, the young Bengals defense chalked up some career firsts.
Safeties Marvin White and Corey Lynch came up with their first NFL interceptions to extend another Favre record to 294 interceptions, defensive lineman Frostee Rucker added his first career sack and rookie defensive tackle Pat Sims came off the bench to play his first game and helped hold the Jets to 3.2 yards per rush on 27 carries.
Their efforts kept the Bengals in a game in which they had field position littered with land mines. Thanks in large to poor punting and poor coverage, the Jets' average drive start was their own 46 and all five scoring drives started on the Bengals side of the field.
"When you come out and get an early score defensively it gets you going and you think, alright we can get some points up," said quarterback Carson Palmer. "But when you can't put the points up to help your defense out it makes it tough."
"We played well against the run and we did a good job against the pass," Ndukwe said. "We came up with a couple of interceptions and (Favre) didn't make any big plays. But he made enough to win. We came into the game trying to make them one-dimensional and tried to get Brett to put the ball in the air. He did, but we didn't do enough to get the victory."
The problem, besides the fact that Ndukwe's 15-yard run was one yard longer than running back Chris Perry's entire day, was that the Bengals couldn't get off the field on third down.
Cornerback Leon Hall got called for a questionable illegal contact penalty on third-and-19 from the Bengals 19 when he bumped the slot receiver for a second downfield that allowed the Jets to tie the game at 7 just six minutes after Ndukwe's play and New York went on to convert half of their 14 tries.
"Defensively, they're doing some good things, but again, it's the drive," Lewis said. "We've got one drive in the fourth quarter where if you get them off the field, it makes a big difference in the football game. We have to get the guy on the ground and tackle him when the ball is out in the flat and make them convert on fourth down. For the most part our guys did some good things, but again, it's not good enough."
The good things were the plays on the ball in the secondary in big moments during the second half that kept Favre off the board with interceptions inside the Bengals 10-yard line. White, a second-year safety, leaped in front of tight end Bubba Franks down the sideline at the 3 early in the second half of a 17-14 game, and Lynch, a sixth-round pick, corralled Joseph's tip of a pass intended for wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery at the Bengals 8 with 11:48 left in a 20-14 game.
And, maybe another good thing is that White and Joseph got a chance to congratulate Favre after the game. Favre had some upbeat advice for the kids and mentioned in his postgame he chatted with Joseph about his play.
"He had a good play," Favre said. "In hindsight, I would have liked to back-shoulder the throw to Jerricho, but it was good coverage and the ball was tipped up in the air. It's one of those, if it falls incomplete, no big deal. If Jerricho catches it, it's a great play and one thing you don't want to happen is for the ball to be tipped in the air and they make a play on it."
White was down despite the first pick, but he wanted to make sure he caught up with Favre.
White also said, "It comes at good time for me. It's great to get that first one off a Brett Favre, but it just doesn't mean very much because we lost. He kind of did what we expected him to do. He did take one shot deep, but for the most part he nickel and dimed us. We couldn't get the ball back on third down. The coaches stressed that all week, to get him off the field on third down, but we couldn't do it."
White called it a seven-route to the tight end and that took Franks down the left sideline. At the last instant, White thought Favre was throwing it out of bounds, "and I just wanted to make a play on the ball," he said.
Favre, it turns out, was thinking the same thing.
"Bubba's got the corner-route, scramble around and he's going to take it up the boundary," Favre said. "In hindsight I wish I would have just thrown it away, but I threw it and I thought that Bubba had as good a chance to catch it as anyone. In fact, I also thought it was out of bounds. It was one of those things that just happened. I thought that in both (interceptions), neither guy was wide open, but I liked my chances one-on-one with those guys. I give those guys credit for making those plays. I think more times than not, those guys will make that play or it will fall incomplete."
Like Favre said: One of those days. But it was a big one for the kids on defense. They kept their team in the game against the best passer on the planet then and now. And he just might have taught them something.
"That guy throws a lot of picks," White said, "that won't ever get him down."