Just under five minutes remained in the first half when the New York Jets took the field at their own one-yard line. Kevin Huber's 48-yard punt, downed by Artrell Hawkins' little brother Andrew, sweetly rolled close to the endzone that forced New York to go 99 yards if they wanted to score a touchdown. Yet the advantage of having a defense with 99 yards to their backs quickly dissolved, especially on second-and-ten from the one-yard line with 4:02 left in the half.
New York lined up with a jumbo package, two tight ends, two backs in the backfield and Santonio Holmes motioning from right to left. The Bengals lined up in a basic 4-3 formation, though tighter along the line of scrimmage. Dan Skuta, Vincent Rey and Brandon Johnson stood as the linebackers with Johnson outside of Frostee Rucker at left defensive end. Fred Bennett followed Holmes while Morgan Trent closed in with the linebackers. Safeties Robert Sands and Rico Murray were within eight yards of the line of scrimmage. Everyone anticipated a run. Made sense, really. A rain storm saturating the field and football made for a hazardous situation, especially considering the location of the play. Whereas the young Bengals offense would play it safe, New York's more experienced personnel didn't.
Sanchez fakes the handoff right, looks downfield with eight defensive players biting on the run. Considerably worse is that the safety combination of Murray and Sands leaned forward anticipating run whereas Jets tight end Dustin Keller fired out of a dead sprint from his right tight end position. By the time Sanchez completed his drop, Keller was past the entire Bengals secondary, closest to Robert Sands. Even with five pass rushers, Sanchez was able to set his feet and throw the football towards the right sidelines on a fade to Keller, who was over five yards separated from Sands with Murray trying to track him down. Keller caught the pass at the Jets 23-yard line and ran another 21 yards before Murray tracked him down to complete the 43-yard pass. Within that instant the Jets turned the field over and the 99 yards the defense had against their backs was significantly reduced to 57.
That being said the Bengals defense kept working it. On the next play with 3:17 left in the half, Rico Murray showed blitz outside of Michael Johnson on the right. Not only did Murray take on the block of John Conner, he submarined the fullback and wrapped LaDainian Tomlinson in one fluid motion. Impressive.
Though whereas the strength against the run was highlighted by the Bengals defense, the weakness against the pass was more and more exposed.
On the following play, second-and-nine from the Jets 45-yard line, New York lined up in standard I-formation against the Bengals base 4-3. Sanchez takes the snap, looks downfield momentarily and dumps the pass off to Tomlinson. Vincent Rey and Brandon Johnson stayed roughly five yards off the line of scrimmage in their respective zones whereas Dan Skuta drifted further back to defend tight end Dustin Keller's vertical route. The gap in the zone opened for Tomlinson, who caught Sanchez's pass and turned upfield for another five yards and the first down.
The Jets would go on to run another five plays, eventually setting up a third down at the Bengals 26-yard line with :58 remaining in the half. Shotgun formation, with two receivers on the right and Plaxico Burress on the left. Bengals have nickel on the field, with Fred Bennett covering Burress. Cincinnati's defense brings eight on the play, leaving three defenders to cover all three Jets receivers. Sanchez recognizing the intense blitz coming, takes three steps back and targets Burress' vertical down the field.
The football was thrown towards the front left pylon, with enough air under it for Burress to make a play on the ball. Bennett, trailing at least two yards behind Burress, had no shot on the football. The receiver lunged into the endzone, as if tripping over the goalline, hauling in the touchdown reception. It was a good pass. Good throw. Bennett had no shot, though one could argue he really wasn't a factor during the entire route.
Jets take a 17-7 lead with just under a minute remaining in the first half.