E. RUTHERFORD, N.J. — After a horrific start, Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and his offense settled down to score their first touchdown of the season Sunday night when his third-and-six completion set up running back Brian Leonard's one-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter.
But it was the only points the first group could manage in another performance marred by turnovers and penalties and like it did last week in Detroit the game got out of hand with the backups in the second half. The Jets outscored the Bengals 10-0 in the second half on their way to a 27-7 victory.
Dalton finished just 8-of-19 for 86 yards after missing six of his first seven passes that included two interceptions.
"All I want to say about it is that it's about time," Dalton said of the TD at the half. "We've got to keep getting better, and we all know it."
In a driving rainstorm during the first half at the New Meadowlands, the Bengals defense and special teams put on a solid display until the final 51 seconds of the first half when the second team defense gave up the final 26 yards of a 99-yard drive on quarterback Mark Sanchez's touchdown pass to the reborn Plaxico Burress bumping and running past cornerback Fred Bennett to give the Jets a 17-7 halftime lead.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer went blitz-for-blitz with Jets head coach Rex Ryan and with three minutes left in the half the Bengals had the Jets pinned on their own 1 on second-and-10. The Jets' 10 points had come off the two Dalton interceptions.
"On defense, overall, it was a pretty good night for our starting group," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "We had too many sudden changes and they had to play defense on a short field several times, but they did a great job on third down and helped keep us in the game. You never like to see a drive like the one the Jets had at the end of the half, but a lot of our starting guys weren't on the field then."
Sanchez took advantage of a blown coverage from his own 1 and tight end Dustin Keller was wide open behind the secondary for a 43-yard play. Moments later, with blitzing safety Rico Murray a step away from hitting him, Sanchez unleashed the floater to Burress.
Yet the Bengals defense hit the bruising Jets running game back in the mouth, holding it to 16 yards on 11 carries with the defensive line and safety Reggie Nelson taking major bows, and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga making a key stop in short yardage. The first sack of the season came from SAM linebacker Manny Lawson, but was courtesy of a stunt by Maualuga and WILL backer Thomas Howard.
But the Bengals were down 10-0 with a familiar script.
As bad as the Bengals looked early in last week's preseason opener, they matched it in the first quarter that included a Dalton pick that was catchable ball off the hands of A.J. Green, a 19-yard loss on Cedric Benson's fumble, and three pre-snap penalties on top of linebacker Dan Skuta's hold on the opening kickoff.
Green's gaffe on Dalton's first interception wasn't the only time the quarterback was victimized. One TV count had the Bengals for five dropped passes while Dalton worked the first half.
It was a high throw that Green could have hauled down, but he deflected it in the air and after safety Eric Smith caught it, he tossed it to cornerback Darrelle Revis for 22 more yards that put the ball on the Bengals 16. It took Sanchez just one play to make it hurt, a play-action touchdown to Santonio Holmes in front of the safeties that made it 7-0 just 3:23 into the game.
It got worse. The obligatory pre-snap move (this one on tight end Bo Scaife), put Dalton in a first-and-15 midway through the first quarter. His short throw on first down to rookie tight end Colin Cochart was behind him and knocked down by Smith. On second down, the Bengals picked up a blitz but his quick throw to wide receiver Jordan Shipley to his right was behind him. On third-and-15, Dalton's bomb down the middle to wide receiver Andre Caldwell was way overthrown and sailed into the arms of safety Jim Leonhard for another pick.
He returned it 35 yards to the Bengals 10, where the defense made another stand. Hall's tight coverage on Burress netted an incompletion on first down, Nelson and tackle Domata Peko dropped running back LaDainian Tomlinson for a two-yard loss on second down, and Sanchez couldn't find anything over the middle on third down and the Jets were forced to kick Nick Novak's 30-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead.
But after another three-and-out (wide receiver Jerome Simpson couldn't get his second foot inbounds on a third-down pass), Dalton settled down late in the first quarter with the big play coming on third-and-10 when he avoided linebacker Jamal Westerman coming from his left side and he floated a 12-yarder to Scaife on the run.
Dalton held up against Ryan's vaunted blitz pretty well. On the next play the Bengals had the perfect call against a blitz and Leonard clicked for the longest play of the season on a 33-yard screen down the right side to put the ball on the Jets 14.
But Green had a quick hook go through his hands on first down and Shipley could only get three yards on a quick throw to the perimeter on second down. Then on third-and-seven with Ryan bringing the heat, Dalton rifled a shot to Shipley over the middle to the 1-yard line that set up Leonard's TD plunge that cut the lead to 10-7 with just 1:58 into the second quarter.
"He continues to work through the rough spots of playing this game as a rookie," Lewis said of Dalton. "He experienced some different conditions, playing with a wet ball. It was just another good step as he moves forward."
Dalton got the ball one more time and he took the Bengals from the 20 to the Jets 49, where the drive died when Green couldn't hold on to a slant as he hit the ground. Green only caught one ball for eight yards even though Dalton went to him five times. Simpson, the other starter, had no catches and while Dalton had a terrific 11-yard throw to Caldwell between cornerback Antonio Cromartie and safety Dwight Lowery, there was again no downfield threat.
And the Bengals didn't run the ball nearly as well as they did last week, getting clogged for 29 yards on 15 carries in the first half. Benson could manage just 14 yards on seven carries and Leonard had the longest run of the half, an 11-yarder on a left-side sweep.
The offense really broke down in the second half. Backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski was just 3-of-7 for 50 yards and set up a Jets touchdown when he didn't seem to see linebacker Brashton Satele on an interception that turned into a 32-yard return to the Bengals 4.
Dan LeFevour didn't fare much better in the fourth quarter with the Bengals deciding to give him the entire quarter and not letting Jordan Palmer play. That will probably be reversed in Thursday night's game against Carolina at Paul Brown Stadium. But the team's best friend was Kevin Huber. He punted nine times, one for 77 yards and once that put the ball on the 1.
Rookie linebacker DeQuin Evans continues to impress and came up with a sack in the second half.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» As the Bengals stalk their first touchdown of the season Sunday night at the New Meadowlands, the Bengals didn't face three Jets defensive starters in linebackers Bart Scott and Calvin Pace and tackle Sione Pouha.
» The Bengals are planning to get a look at rookie guard Clint Boling as early as the second drive to evaluate him against a Rex Ryan defense that has tortured them in their three meetings since 2009, a stretch the Bengals have scored just three touchdowns in 12 quarters.
» Another Bengals-killer, running back Shonn Greene, is out, along with one of his big-time blockers, right guard Brandon Moore. The Jets have averaged 200 yards per game on the ground in those three games, but the Bengals are also wary of a trio of wide receivers including Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason.
Mason and Burress have just arrived and are trying to get in sync with quarterback Mark Sanchez and Lewis said his backup corners were going to get the Boling treatment and play early against the starters for evaluation purposes. With cornerback Adam Jones (neck) looking like he might miss the first month of the regular season, the Bengals are trying to get a grip on where Morgan Trent (the third corner), Jonathan Wade and Fred Bennett fit. Rico Murray, David Pender and seventh-rounder Korey Lindsey are grinding to get into that mix.
Jets backup quarterback Mark Brunell was a scratch, so rookie Greg McElroy was first off the bench.
PREGAME SET: The Bengals were down only two wide receivers when they announced their active players Sunday night before their preseason game with the Jets at the New Meadowlands after finishing their preseason opener with one healthy one. A total of 15 players were ruled inactive after 20 didn't play in the preseason opener against the Lions.
Rookies Ryan Whalen and Landon Cox, believed to be fighting muscle pulls, were out, but tight end Jermaine Gresham was active after practicing only once this week. Cornerback Brandon Ghee (hamstring) and safety Gibril Wilson (knee) were out for the second straight week. The club is going to try to bring Wilson back for the last two preseason games. Sunday marked the 366th day since his ACL injury. Left end Carlos Dunlap (knee), who didn't practice all week and also missed the opener, was out again. The Bengals won't have another end in Jon Fanene, since he didn't report to practice until last week he was out.
Out after getting injured in the opener were running back Jay Finley (foot) and SAM linebacker Dontay Moch (broken foot). But Moch and guard Otis Hudson (knee) are expected back early in the regular season. Other players who have been out after injuries in training camp: CB LeRoy Vann (finger), linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy (Achilles) and defensive tackle Lolomanana Mikaele (bicep). Vann got hurt right away in practice after he signed.
Also out were the players that have been inactive all camp in cornerback Adam Jones (neck), linebacker Keith Rivers (wrist), and defensive tackle Pat Sims (knee), but Sims is expected back to practice Tuesday.