- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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CINCINNATI -- From the first whistle to the final tape-recorder click in the postgame interviews, the New York Jets were the New York Bullies. Still smarting from last year's 40-point blowout loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, they went into Paul Brown Stadium Saturday night with an attitude seldom seen in the preseason. They played like hockey goons, offering no apologies for seven personal-foul penalties. They defended their beleaguered secondary with a "How-dare-you-question-us?" chippiness.
Rex Ryan was so prickly in his postgame news conference that it made you think, "Wow, who poured lemonade in his Skyline chili?"
The Jets beat the Bengals, 25-17, but forget about the outcome. Their starting defense -- specifically, the secondary -- was torched by Andy Dalton & Co. That was the most important takeaway from the game -- that, and the way they reacted to the postgame inquisition. Clearly, Ryan used the occasion (the scene of last year's debacle) and the adversity (patchwork secondary) to instill an attitude in his team -- a method to the madness, if you will.
"I won't be answering any questions about the secondary," Ryan said at the top of his presser. "Dalton looked like a $100 million quarterback."
It was a lighthearted comment, but then came the snark. He wondered why anyone wanted his opinion on the secondary because the stories already were written, meaning: The secondary stinks, the Jets are in trouble.
There's certainly cause for concern. With a safety playing cornerback (Antonio Allen), and two backups in the staring lineup (safety Jaiquawn Jarrett and cornerback Ellis Lankster), the Jets made Dalton look like a young Boomer Esiason. He completed all eight of his passes for 144 yards and a touchdown, leading the Bengals to 17 points in three series. Allen allowed a 35-yard pass to A.J. Green, who got away with a push. Kyle Wilson got beat for a 43-yard touchdown by Mohamed Sanu, although Ryan claimed it was a blown coverage and not Wilson's fault. The only bright spot was rookie safety Calvin Pryor, who recovered a fumble and broke up a pass with a big hit.
"Obviously, we've got work to do," Ryan sniffed. "How do you evaluate Calvin Pryor? Do you give him a plus? I don't know, I think he forced two fumbles and knocked some dudes out. I guess we were right about that one. We'll be right on our corners, too. We'll sort it out."
Right now, five cornerbacks are hurt, but the biggest names are Dee Milliner and Dimitri Patterson, the projected starters. Patterson should be back soon, but his injury history suggests he won't make too long before the next ailment. Milliner could be back by opening day. This was an issue before training camp because they failed to adequately address the position in free agency, and now it's glaring.
Ryan was asked if they have to acquire a veteran corner.
"I don't think Willie Brown is out there," Ryan snapped. "Maybe he is, but he's 60 years old."
The Hall of Famer is actually 73 years old. If Ryan's pass defense doesn't improve, he'll feel that old by the second quarter of the season -- the Missiles of October. That's when they face Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in consecutive weeks.
Worried? Not Ryan.
"I rely on what I know, which is 20-something years of experience," he said. "That gives me plenty of confidence."
Linebacker Demario Davis bristled when it was suggested the team doesn't have "elite" corners.
"Who said they're not?" he asked a reporter.
They're not, he was told.
"You can say that after one game?" Davis replied.
Allen played the entire first half with the starters but was tested only once by Dalton -- the long completion to Green. All things considered, it wasn't a bad debut for Allen, but let's not be naive: If it had been a regular-season game, the Bengals would've attacked him. Allen said he wasn't intimidated by having to cover Green, one of the best.
"I was just thinking, it's going to be an all-out fight, me and him, best man wins," Allen said.
Allen's physical attitude spread through the entire team, which crossed the line on several occasions. Most of the personal fouls came from the offensive line, with Brian Winters and Breno Giacomini incurring two apiece. At times, the Jets looked undisciplined. Ironically, the secondary wasn't penalized -- a stunner, considering the current climate in the league. Maybe the corners couldn't get close enough to foul.
Go ahead, laugh. Allen said the secondary is aware of the criticism, and is planning to use it as fuel.
"It motivates us a lot," he said.
No doubt, the Jets came to Cincinnati with something to prove. That they approached a preseason game with such attitude might be foolish, but maybe it's not a bad thing. Ryan is trying to set a tone for the season.
"We're not here to take anyone's stuff," Ryan said, bristiling. "Period."