- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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WHAT IT MEANS: Rebounding from a so-so performance last week, the New York Jets improved in all phases and defeated the helpless Cincinnati Bengals on a rainy Sunday night at New Meadowlands Stadium. Plaxico Burress was the star, but this was more than a one-man show. Midway through the preseason, the Jets (1-1) have to feel good about themselves. And there appeared to be no major injuries.
LIKE OLD TIMES: Burress made his Jets debut and gave the rain-soaked fans what they wanted -- a moment to talk about. The moment came with 51 seconds left in the second quarter, when he made an over-the-shoulder, 26-yard touchdown catch. With his back to Mark Sanchez, Burress threw his 6-foot-5 body into a dive, securing the high, arching pass as he skidded across the wet turf.
With that one play, Burress announced his return to football. After nearly two years in prison, he was back, demonstrating the kind of athleticism you wouldn’t expect from a 34-year-old receiver that spent that much time in the big house. It came against a backup cornerback named Fred Bennett, but that didn’t matter. It was all about body control, hand-eye coordination and sticky hands.
Burress played 30 of 32 plays in the first half, finishing with three catches for 66 yards. Translation: A smashing debut.
SANCHEZ ROCKS: After an efficient but largely non-descript performance last week, Sanchez (12-for-20, 173 yards, two TDs) delivered some big plays in the passing game. The protection was better this week, thanks to the return of All-Pro center Nick Mangold. He led the offense to two touchdowns (drives of 16 and 99 yards) and a field goal in seven possessions, wrapping up the night with a 10-play, 99-yard touchdown drive.
Until then, the Sanchez-led offense was like the weather -- blah. In fact, the Jets started 0-for-6 on third down. The turning point was a 43-yard pass to a wide-open Dustin Keller, providing good field position after being backed up at their 1. From there, Sanchez hit Keller on a third-down catch, setting up the Burress highlight-film catch.
WIDE-OPEN OFFENSE: For the second straight week, the Jets relied heavily on a three-receiver attack. In fact, they used their “11” personnel package (3 WRs, 1 TE, 1RB) on 19 of 32 plays in the first half. With Derrick Mason (knee) sitting out, they used Burress, Santonio Holmes (16-yard TD) and rookie Jeremy Kerley in three-wide packages.
NO GROUND AND POUND: By placing an emphasis on the passing attack -- a necessity, given the new parts -- the running game was out of sync. LaDainian Tomlinson got the start with Shonn Greene (foot) out of the lineup, and the 32-year-old looked a bit sluggish. He rushed for 16 yards on nine carries. Tomlinson got a lot of work, appearing in 31 of 32 plays in the first half. Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell didn’t see significant time until the second half.
OPPORTUNISTIC D: The Jets roughed up the offensively challenged Bengals, intercepting three passes -- Eric Smith, Jim Leonhard and Brashton Satele. The three turnovers set up 17 points for the Jets, and that was pretty much the story of the game. Keep in mind, the Bengals no longer have Carson (I Wanna Retire) Palmer at quarterback. They started rookie Andy Dalton and replaced him with journeyman Bruce Gradkowski.
WELCOME MAYBIN: Bills castoff Aaron Maybin, the 11th overall pick in the 2009 draft, made his presence felt in his Jets debut. After only three days of practice with the team, Maybin recorded a strip sack on Bengals third-string QB Jordan Palmer. Hey, that might have been enough to grab a spot on the 53-man roster.