Undermanned defense can't save another one

Posted: 7:45 a.m.

For the fourth time in a Marvin Lewis playoff run or a run to the playoffs, the Bengals faltered down the stretch.

This time it was four losses in the last five games. In 2006 it was three straight to end the season when they needed just one victory. In 2005 they never won again after clinching the AFC North with three straight losses. In Lewis' first season, it was three losses out of the last four to knock them out of the playoffs the last week.

The Bengals have praised Lewis for keeping them fresh this season, but the fold seemed to mirror the struggles of the defense, the team's best in a generation with a No. 4 ranking. After a season the defense made the AFC North title possible by continually bailing out the offense, it would seem that the injuries and snaps finally caught up.

The Bengals lost defensive end Antwan Odom and safety Roy Williams to season-ending injuries in October. They lost SAM linebacker Rey Maualuga with a broken leg two weeks ago. Defensive tackle Domata Peko and safety Chris Crocker returned Saturday after missing five and three games, respectively. Defensive linemen Robert Geathers and Tank Johnson played all year despite injuries.

They even lost their second starting SAM backer, Rashad Jeanty, with a broken leg on Saturday's opening kickoff.    

But when it was suggested that the defense simply ran out of gas, linebacker Brandon Johnson jumped all over a reporter.

"Same thing. Ran out of gas. Quit. That's the same thing," Johnson fumed with the intensity that made this defense so good. "There's never a sense of quit on this team. Dhani Jones has played every snap. Practiced every practice since Week 1. You can't tell me that guy's got quit in him. I watched Tank Johnson get a needle stuck in his pinky toe before the game. That's one of the most painful things I've ever seen. He played. Domata is out there on a wobbly knee. He had a great game."

Last week, the Bengals run defense that has been so good gave up their two longest runs of the season of 57 and 32 yards by wide receiver Brad Smith. On Saturday, they gave up a 39-yard touchdown run to running back Shonn Greene that tied the game at seven on an option pitch to the short side of the field.

In four of those last five games the Bengals allowed 100 yards rushing after a franchise-best eight straight games of not allowing teams to rush for 100. Greene's 135 yards were the most they gave up to a back all year.

"Offenses evolve and defenses have to evolve," said Jones, the stalwart at middle backer who again played every game and led the team in tackling. "There were missed assignments and you can't have them in critical situations in big games. We were a lot better against the run. They had three or four different plays on which they got most of the yards."

The back-breakers were quarterback Mark Sanchez's two throws out of a bootleg scramble after a run fake. The first one was a 45-yard touchdown to tight end Dustin Keller against safety Chinedum Ndukwe that put the Jets ahead for good in the second quarter. The second one was another one to a wide-open Keller, this one for 43 and came seconds after the Bengals had cut the lead to 21-14 with 11:04 left in the game.

"I'm not sure exactly what happed on that," Ndukwe said. "We stopped the runs that they were running on us (Sunday). Then they went to some other things we've seen before."

The Jets managed Sanchez perfectly as he hit 12 of 15 passes for 182 yards by limiting him to three-step drops and rollouts.

"We were trying to get him into situations where he had to make decisions," Ndukwe said. "Tip your hat to him."

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