Jets’ pratfalls help Bengals pull away to slump-bustin 38-31 win

Associated Press

CINCINNATI (AP) _ Trailing at halftime again, the Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive linemen had a heart-to-heart in their corner of the locker room before heading out for the second half.

Were they really going to lose their fifth in a row? To the New York Jets, no less?

“The linemen were talking about how we’d lost four straight and hadn’t won since week one,” tackle Domata Peko said.

They busted the slump by taking advantage of a team that’s even more miserable.

Kenny Watson ran for a career-high 130 yards and scored two of his three touchdowns in the second half Sunday, helping the Bengals rally to a 38-31 victory that saved one season – temporarily, anyway – and essentially ended another.

The Bengals (2-4) emerged from their longest losing streak in coach Marvin Lewis’ five seasons and gave themselves hope that this one could be salvaged. They’re still last in the AFC North, but could get back into contention with a victory Sunday at home against first-place Pittsburgh (4-2).

“We have a big game next week,” Lewis said.

The Jets (1-6) have a lot of big decisions this week, starting at quarterback.

Chad Pennington showed he’s still capable of making a big play. He had one on the Jets’ third snap of the game, a 57-yard touchdown pass to Laveranues Coles. Up to that point, Pennington didn’t have a completion of more than 29 yards.

Tired of his dink-and-dunk approach and his six interceptions in the previous three games, Jets fans were clamoring for strong-armed Kellen Clemens to replace Pennington, who was the league’s comeback player last year.

Coach Eric Mangini has supported Pennington through the Jets’ worst start since 1999, when they started 1-6 under Bill Parcells. Mangini was asked twice after Sunday’s loss whether Pennington would remain the quarterback. Twice, he avoided a direct answer.

“I am going to look at the film,” Mangini said. “I am going to assess every situation with coaches and players. Our current result is not good enough. The coaching is not good enough, and neither is the production from the players.”

Pennington wasn’t surprised that his coach declined to commit.

“The nature of this business, the quarterback is generally the fall guy,” said Pennington, who was 20-of-31 for 272 yards with three touchdowns and a game-sealing interception. “When a team struggles, the first person people look at is the quarterback. But I don’t blink, one way or the other.”

There was plenty of blame in this one. After building a 23-10 lead on Mike Nugent’s 43-yard field goal to open the second half, the Jets imploded:

– First-round draft pick Darrelle Revis drew a pair of pass interference penalties that extended Bengals touchdown drives.

– Ben Graham shanked a 20-yard punt, setting up the Bengals’ drive to a 24-23 lead in the fourth quarter.

– Pennington was signaling a play in the shotgun formation when center Nick Mangold snapped the ball, resulting in a fumble that gave the Bengals the ball at the 50.

– Safety Abram Elam then threw a left-handed punch at Watson on the ground during the end of a run, drawing a penalty that moved Cincinnati closer. Watson’s 2-yard touchdown run made it 31-23.

– Pennington made another mistake in the clutch, throwing an interception that Johnathan Joseph returned 42 yards for a touchdown.

The Bengals took advantage of the mistakes by grinding it out behind Watson, who was starting for the injured Rudi Johnson. The seventh-year running back got his first 100-yard game since 2002 with Washington.

“It was big for us to come out and dominate the line of scrimmage like we did,” Watson said. “We’re always trying to come up with a balanced offense. That hasn’t worked out for us the last few weeks.”

The Jets haven’t figured out what can work for them.

“It’s tough for everybody from top to bottom,” said Coles, who had eight catches for a season-high 133 yards and two touchdowns. “For us to come this far and continue to lose is disheartening.

“You can’t point fingers at Chad. You can’t blame one guy. All of us stink, not just one guy.”<

Notes:@ Coles passed Curtis Martin into sixth place on the Jets’ career receiving list. He also moved ahead of George Sauer into ninth for career touchdowns. … Coles has six of the Jets’ 10 touchdown catches. … Joseph’s interception was the first of his career. Joseph, a first-round pick last season, sat out a loss to Kansas City last week for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. … Carson Palmer was 14-of-21 for 226 yards, including a 56-yard pass to Chad Johnson.