The scheduling doyens at NFL headquarters did not do the New York Jets any early-season favors. Five of their first six opponents this season advanced to the playoffs last season, a hazy maze of danger that began Sunday afternoon when the Cincinnati Bengals visited MetLife Stadium.
Sure enough, the first game of the season ended in disappointment for the Jets, whose defensive backfield had more seams than a three-piece business suit. The Bengals held on for a 23-22 win as Mike Nugent kicked a 45-yard field goal with 54 seconds left.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton completed 23 of 30 passes for 366 yards, and wide receiver A.J. Green had 12 receptions for 180 yards — no catch more important than his 11-yard reception late in the fourth quarter that put Nugent in better position for his field-goal try.
Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 19 of 35 passes for 189 yards, and running back Matt Forte, in his first game with the Jets, rushed for 96 yards. The Jets’ pass rush was stellar, finishing the game with seven sacks.
But the Bengals gained an edge in the third quarter when Dalton engineered a 92-yard scoring drive. Dalton found holes in the secondary, and cornerback Marcus Williams was a favored defender. Bengals wide receiver Brandon LaFell shed Williams for a 49-yard reception, and running back Jeremy Hill punctuated the drive by leveling Marcus Gilchrist, a 5-foot-10, 198-pound free safety, on a 12-yard touchdown run, giving the Bengals a 20-16 lead.
Fitzpatrick responded by leading the Jets on a methodical drive to the Bengals’ three-yard line, where problems surfaced once more. After a two-yard scramble by Fitzpatrick, a loss of a yard on a run by Forte and then an errant pass by Fitzpatrick, a field goal left the Jets trailing by 1.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Jets went on the march — a drive extended on a third-and-five when Fitzpatrick threw a 22-yard rope to Eric Decker. The Jets could not find the end zone, though, and Nick Folk kicked a 23-yard field goal for a 22-20 lead — too brittle to last against a tandem as fearsome as Dalton and Green.
The Jets won 10 games last season, but a season-ending loss to the Bills kept them out of the playoffs for a fifth straight year. Still, Fitzpatrick compiled one of the best statistical seasons by a quarterback in franchise history, and Forte signed in the offseason as a free agent. The Jets expressed cautious optimism throughout training camp.
Chan Gailey, the Jets’ offensive coordinator, had months to script the team’s opening possession, and it seemed to show. The Jets were crisp and efficient, and they also revealed a willingness to change from last season. Consider their first play from scrimmage: a short pass to wide receiver Quincy Enunwa that went for nine yards.
Fitzpatrick continued to put the ball in the air, connecting with Brandon Marshall for an 18-yard gain before handing off to Forte for 14 yards up the middle. The Jets scored their first touchdown of the season on a three-yard pass from Fitzpatrick to Enunwa, a second-year player who bookended the drive in fine fashion. The stadium was flush with hope.
The rest of the first half, however, was a mix of missed opportunities and blown assignments. Folk, normally a sure-footed kicker, misfired on an extra-point attempt and had a 22-yard field-goal attempt blocked.
And while the Jets’ defensive line was stout — Steve McLendon had two sacks and two tackles for a loss in the first half alone — their secondary had issues. Williams whiffed on a potential interception at midfield, allowing the Bengals’ C.J. Uzomah to run unimpeded deep into Jets territory, setting up a field goal.
The Bengals scored their first touchdown when Dalton found Green for a 54-yard reception over the top of cornerback Darrelle Revis, who appeared to be expecting help from one of his safeties. None was forthcoming, and Revis could only watch as Green slipped into the end zone.
The Jets went back ahead when Fitzpatrick threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Decker — a scoring play set up by a 65-yard kickoff return by Jalin Marshall, a first-year player out of Ohio State. After the teams traded field goals, the Jets went into halftime with a 16-13 lead.
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