By Kerry Byrne
January 09, 2010

Grading the performances from the Jets' 24-14 victory over the Bengals in Cincinnati, the first of four wild-card weekend games.

Quarterback: Jets rookie Mark Sanchez did absolutely everything he needed to do to carve out a victory against one of the league's toughest defenses: he was accurate, especially on sideline routes and on slants into the heart of the Bengals defense, he was calm in the pocket and he avoided mistakes on a cold and cruelly efficient day that would have made Bart Starr beam with pride (12 of 15, 182 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 139.4 passer rating). Grade: A

Running Backs: Jersey boy Shonn Greene took a pitch and raced 39 yards around left end for New York's first score to forge a 7-7 tie. Thomas Jones punched in a third-quarter score to lift the Jets to a 17-7 lead. The rookie Greene was the most prolific offensive weapon for the J-Men, with 135 yards on 21 attempts (6.4 YPA). Grade: B

Receivers: Drop-meister Braylon Edwards looked more like a basketball hoop than a pro football receiver when he failed to haul in a sure touchdown late in the first quarter. But Jerricho Cotchery and tight end Dustin Keller more than made up for it, with a series of toe-tapping sideline catches while turning short tosses from Sanchez into long gains. The tandem ended the day with a combined nine catches for 168 yards. Keller raced 45 yards for one score and gained 43 yards on a short bootleg pass that killed momentum for Cincy. Grade: B+

Offensive Line: A simple rule of 21st-century pro football: Where Alan Faneca goes, great things follow. The Jets averaged a league-best 172.2 YPG in the regular season and gained 171 against the Bengals. They did not allow a single sack. Grade: A-

Defensive Line: The Jets were gashed early and often by Cincy's ground game. The Bengals averaged just 4.07 YPA on the ground in the regular season, but averaged 7.77 YPA against the Jets. The Gang Green got little pressure on Palmer out of their defensive front until garbage time, though Shaun Ellis did record an early fumble recovery hustling back on pass defense. Grade: C-

Linebackers:Bryan Thomas led the defense with seven tackles and a forced fumble, but there were few headline-making plays out of the LB corps, while Bart Scott went out with an injury. Bengals ball carrier Cedric Benson produced a career day (169 yards) against the league's top defense -- and that's always a reflection on the linebacking corps. But so, too, is holding an opponent to 14 points on the road in the playoffs. Grade: B

Defensive Backs: The Jets entered the game with the league's top pass defense (153.7 YPG, 58.8 Defensive Passer Rating) and proved why Saturday. Darrelle Revis made an athletic play on a Carson Palmer pass to Chad Ochocinco for the game's only INT. Blitizing Jim Leonhard sacked Palmer and forced a second-quarter fumble that killed another Cincy drive. James Ihedigbo also blitzed from his safety position and broke up a Palmer pass, ending a Bengals fourth-quarter drive. That's three drives ended directly by DBs, while Palmer completed just half his passes (18 of 36) for 146 yards. Only the gift of Palmer's inaccuracy keeps this from a perfect A++ day. Grade: A

Special Teams: Kicker Jay Feely was pressed into double duty as punter for the first time in his career when Steve Weatherford was seen jogging off the field in sweats very early in the first quarter, a curious game-day scratch due to illness. Feely performed admirably, but special teams as a whole were rough. The Jets gave up two long returns on a first-quarter kick return then a punt return: the second of which led to Cincy's first touchdown. A false start and a holding penalty, meanwhile, negated successful Feely field goal attempts in the third quarter and forced the Jets to punt while leading 14-7. Grade: C-

Coaching:Rex Ryan knows who he is and knows what he has for a team. He showed no deviation from his conservative strategy of consistent runs punctuated by the occasional downfield play (such as Dustin Keller's 45-yard touchdown reception), while relying on his shutdown defense to make the offensive strategy hold. He also mixed in Brad Smith from time to time at QB in the "wildcat" formation and even won a first-quarter challenge on a ruled-reception by Bengals receiver Andre Caldwell. Grade: A-

Quarterback: Palmer never got into rhythm, missing a lot of passes early and missing big passes late: he misfired badly on a pass to Ochocinco with 4:23 in the fourth when the Bengals still had a fighting chance. Watching Palmer overthrow several receivers early, broadcaster and former Super Bowl champ QB Joe Theismann commented that it's a sign of a passer not setting his feet. Palmer's line says it all: 18 of 36 for 146 yards (4.1 YPA), 1 TD, 1 INT, and a 58.3 passer rating. It's about what you expect against the Jets. They posted a league-best 58.8 Defensive Passer Rating this year; but it was far short of what the Bengals needed for their first postseason win since 1991. Grade: D

Running Back: Benson came to play and was easily the team's No. 1 star. He turned 21 attempts into 169 yards (8.0 YPA) and one touchdown, while consistently breaking tackles and bowling over defenders. Nobody else on the team carried the football, save for a 2-yard Palmer plunge. Grade: A

Receivers: Cincy's most famous receiver should change his name to Chad Cero Cero. He had zero catches and zero yards for the first 48 minutes. The crew could get little to nothing going all day. The receiving corps combined for 13 catches for 127 yards, led by Laveranues Coles (6 catches, 48 yards). There was not one catch by a tight end, and just three by ball carriers out of the back field for an anemic 19 yards. Grade: D

Offensive Line: The Bengals hogs chiseled big running lanes out of the otherwise rock-solid front of the league's top-ranked defense, none better than the chasm carved on Benson's 47-yard TD run in the fourth quarter to pull the Bengals to within three (17-14). He was untouched on the play. Benson was the only Bengals running back to carry the ball and he produced one of the biggest days of his career (169 yards were the third-best of his career). Palmer was rarely pressured until desperation time. Grade: B+

Defensive Line: No sacks. No pressure. No forced fumbles. No turnovers. And they allowed Greene to have a monster day (135 yards). Only the no-show performance of the receiving corps overshadows the no-show performance of the DL. Grade: D

Linebackers:Brandon Johnson played fairly well when thrust into the center of the defense after Rashad Jeanty went down with a broken leg on the opening kickoff. Johnson knocked down a pass to Dustin Keller to end one New York drive, but was later whistled for a personal foul. Dhani Jones paced the LB corps with seven total tackles. But the unit was largely ineffective. Grade: C

Defensive Backs: A tough day against a well-executed game plan by the Jets. Lured in to defend the run, the Bengals secondary was repeatedly gashed for big plays, particularly by Keller. They allowed Sanchez to complete 80 percent of his passes (12 of 15) for 182 yards -- a deadly 12.1 YPA. The entire unit looked asleep at the wheel as Keller broke free for a 45-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, giving the Jets a 14-7 lead. Grade: C-

Special Teams: Ripped off two early long kick returns (one kick return, one punt return), but had little impact. Curiously, the Bengals intentionally shorted the opening kick of the second half, giving the Jets the ball at their own 42. Kicker Shayne Graham missed a 35-yarder wide left in the third quarter and a 28-yarder wide right late in the fourth that effectively ended Cincy's hopes and elicited a well-earned chorus of jeers from the hometown faithless. Grade: F

Coaching:Marvin Lewis and his staff seemed to have few ways to counter the league's top pass defense, though Palmer's inaccuracy certainly didn't help. In general, the Bengals seemed out of sync and a double-digit home loss to a Wild Card team is a bad way to end a once-promising season that fizzled at the end. Lewis also lost a first-half challenge on a catch by Cotchery when replays showed that the Jets receiver clearly dragged both feet in bounds. Grade: D

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