Bengals can keep Jets out of playoffs with win

By Chris Altruda
STATS Editor

For all the twists and turns and ups and downs the New York Jets have

had with first-year coach Rex Ryan and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez,

the scenario for them clinching a playoff berth is surprisingly simple.

Win and they’re in, lose and they’re out.

The Jets play the final regular-season game at Giants Stadium on Sunday

night against the Cincinnati Bengals, who may rest some key players

after already clinching the AFC North and could meet New York again in

the wild-card round.

After a discouraging

10-7 home loss to Atlanta on Dec. 20, the candid Ryan said the Jets

(8-7) were “obviously out of the playoffs” before correcting himself

the following day after learning the possible scenarios that could get

his team into the postseason.

All those

scenarios were realized, and the Jets gained control of their playoff

destiny last Sunday with a 29-15 victory over previously unbeaten

Indianapolis. New York scored 19 unanswered points after the Colts –

assured of the AFC’s No. 1 seed heading into the game – pulled their

starters late in the third quarter.

“They

don’t have to apologize about anything, and neither do we,” Ryan said.

“Every team wants to be in the situation where you control your own

destiny. But to have the opportunity to actually play the last game of

the season, the last regular-season game, with everything riding on it

in front of your fans, I think most teams would take that, sign up for

that opportunity.

“If we win the game, we’re the fifth seed. If we don’t, we’re out. That’s the math that I can figure out.”

Assuming the Jets don’t get to host the AFC championship game, this

will be the final NFL contest at Giants Stadium. They’ve played 26

years there but will move into a new stadium next season.

New York’s chances of winning the likely pro football finale at the

Meadowlands might hinge on how well Sanchez manages the game. The fifth

overall pick has shown flashes of brilliance and endured stretches of

inconsistent play, totaling 2,381 yards with 12 touchdowns and 20

interceptions.

The Jets are 4-2 when

Sanchez does not throw an interception, and since he is backed by the

league’s best rushing offense at 166.6 yards per game, offensive

coordinator Brian Schottenheimer likely will devise a gameplan similar

to the one employed last Sunday. Running backs Thomas Jones and Shonn

Greene gashed the Colts for 200 yards on the ground.

New York’s defense, which leads the NFL in scoring defense at 15.7

points per game, has conceded just 47 in winning four of five.

Cincinnati (10-5) wrapped up its first division title since 2005 after

struggling past Kansas City 17-10 last Sunday, capping what was an

emotionally draining week following the Dec. 17 death of wide receiver

Chris Henry. Five days after flying to New Orleans to attend their

teammate’s funeral, the Bengals put away the Chiefs with a 98-yard

drive that was capped by Carson Palmer’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Chad

Ochocinco.

“I’m not jumping for joy or

glee, just thinking about 15 once that clock hits zero,” said

Ochocinco, referencing Henry’s jersey number. “That was everybody’s

mindset, to go out and win this one for him.”

The Bengals need a victory and have New England to lose to Houston to

claim the No. 3 seed, but a loss to the Jets would create a rematch

between the teams in Cincinnati next week. Despite that possibility,

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis doesn’t feel his team can go anything less

than full speed in order to enter the playoffs in the right frame of

mind.

“This team can’t turn it on and

off,” he told the Bengals’ official Web site. “It’s not old enough,

it’s not mature enough. We started the season as the second-youngest

team in the NFL. I don’t think we’ve gotten older over the season. Some

of our older players are no longer playing.”

That youth, though, isn’t responsible for the offense failing to score

points in bunches. Cincinnati has totaled 305 points – the fewest among

the seven teams to clinch division titles. The Bengals have failed to

score more than 24 in any of their last eight games, though Palmer has

thrown a touchdown pass to Ochocinco in four straight.

Ochocinco, who has team highs of 72 receptions, 1,047 yards and nine

touchdowns, was bypassed for the Pro Bowl along with running back

Cedric Benson – enjoying a career year with 1,251 yards in 13 games.

The Bengals became just the sixth playoff-bound team and first since

the 2002 Chicago Bears to not have a Pro Bowler.

Cincinnati has never beaten the Jets at Giants Stadium, going 0-7, and

its last road win against them came in 1981 at Shea Stadium. Jones had

two rushing touchdowns and one receiving in New York’s 26-14 victory

last year as the Bengals – playing without an injured Palmer – were

limited to 171 total yards.

Received 12/30/09 02:13 pm ET