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At halftime of the Bengals-Jets game on Thanksgiving night, it looked like were destined for another nail-biter that would leave us questioning the fitness of the Jets.
Thanks in no small part to a totally inept Bengals team, it didn't turn out that way. The Jets turned a 7-3 deficit into a 26-10 victory behind Brad Smith, Santonio Holmes and an improved defense. What they didn't do, however, is turn in the complete game that we still want to see before anointing this team as the best in the NFL.
Smith certainly gets first pick of the drumsticks this evening. His 53-yard end around for a touchdown got the team going on the first drive of the third quarter and his 89-yard kickoff return in the fourth iced the contest. The Jets needed those big plays because the offense sputtered behind Mark Sanchez for the first time in recent weeks.
The quarterback couldn't find the touch he had in recent weeks, throwing an interception and getting bailed out on another one thanks to Bengals cornerback Jonathan Wade's buttery fingers. He also nearly took a safety by intentionally grounding a ball in the end zone -- he was bailed out by a quick official whistle -- and seemed much shakier than he's been in the tight victories. Perhaps he needs the pressure to be his best, although Thursday's putrid third-down conversion rate does much to shoot down that notion.
He did throw a touchdown pass, however. It went to Santonio Holmes, shocker of shockers, and continued the receiver's torrid streak. Holmes had four other catches, most of which left you wondering why he's not getting the ball more often in Brian Schottenheimer's playbook. Schotty's choices remain more mysterious than your average episode of "Murder, She Wrote" mostly because they're twice as clever. Simplicity works wonders.
The defense was very strong throughout the contest. They gave the Bengals nothing on the ground and actually found the right combination to put pressure on Carson Palmer as the game progressed. It helped that they grabbed the lead, of course, but three sacks, a safety and two interceptions are a sign of how much they disrupted the Bengals.
They are also a sign of how bad the Bengals are on offense. Palmer was once a good quarterback, it just happened to be about the same time as the Strokes were the world's coolest band. Marvin Lewis was also once considered a good coach, although there were no signs on Thursday that his mind was on anything but stuffing. Lewis didn't challenge a dubious call that a punt went off Andre Caldwell's helmet, leading directly to Holmes's touchdown, and then he chose to punt down 16 with under four minutes to play. His team mirrored his level of willingness to fight.
The blowout could have been bigger if not for some other sloppiness from the Jets. Nick Folk missed another field goal and Jets special teamer Josh Mauga figured out a way to block one of Steve Weatherford's punts. There were also eight penalties, a couple of which demand a short tangent.
Cracking down on illegal hits is all well and good, but the NFL must become more consistent in enforcement to avoid hurting the game they claim they are improving. Drew Coleman got flagged for hitting receiver Jordan Shipley and safety James Ihedigbo got called for roughing Palmer, and neither call was obviously a transgression when it happened. If those are penalties, so be it, but they happen in every game and go uncalled. That leaves the NFL looking either incompetent or corrupt, two things that don't work out well for their image.
Tangent over and reliving the Bengals game over. Now it is time to look forward to next Monday night's date with the Patriots. Home field advantage in the AFC playoffs may well be the prize in that contest, not that you really needed to add a trophy to a game like that. Right now we're giving thanks that the Jets have such a game coming their way, but we're also giving thanks that they can be better when that game comes around.