Kendall a difference maker

After battling first-round pick Jonathan Vilma for his starting job all summer, middle linebacker Sam Cowart was a constant force in the Jets 31-24 victory over the Bengals Sunday.

Starting with the second play from scrimmage, in which he stuffed powerful tailback Rudi Johnson for no gain, Cowart maintained a strong presence in the middle and provided some sure-handed tackling that the Jets have lacked the past few years.

He quickly made his mark in the second half as well, stuffing Johnson for a loss of one, which caused the fumble that cornerback Donnie Abraham returned for the Jets' third touchdown.

He finished the game with 12 solo tackles and 14 total . . .

While running back Curtis Martin's extended practice time and preseason reps probably helped prepare him for his 196-yard effort, the biggest boon to his production might have been the recent addition of left guard Pete Kendall. Throughout the first half, Martin took advantage of some huge holes in the left side of the line between Kendall and Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae . . .

Defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson, the fourth overall pick in last year's draft, was considered a bust by some last year for his inability to get into opposing teams' backfields. An uneventful 2004 preseason did not do much to silence the doubters.

But Robertson put in a strong performance Sunday, as he stuffed Johnson for a few losses and helped limit the Bengals to a second quarter field goal by collapsing the pocket on a third and goal, which forced Carson Palmer to rush his throw . . .

The Jets' secondary entered the game with a focus on avoiding the deep ball to Cincinnati's speedy receivers.

As a result, they played mostly in "off" coverage, which yielded a lot of moderate gains. This worked for most of the game, until Palmer connected with Chad Johnson on the 53-yard touchdown pass over safety Erik Coleman and cornerback Terrell Buckley, with 6:28 remaining in the game.

The strategy allowed Palmer to be efficient with his passes, completing 18 of 27 for 248 yards, but the Jets were able to get away with it, because they held Rudi Johnson to a 2.9 average on his 24 carries. Along with Cowart and Robertson, second-year linebacker Victor Hobson also made his share of tackles against the run.

The team's tackling was a little sloppy in the secondary, especially from safeties Reggie Tongue and Coleman, but the front seven did not let too many opponents slip through their fingers . . .

Buckley, who just joined the team on Wednesday when Ray Mickens was placed on injured reserve, saw extensive playing time in the second half, as he gave each starting cornerback, Abraham and David Barrett, a few series off.

With Palmer frequently testing them deep, the corners were beginning to grow tired, and the rotation served to keep them fresh . . .

While the Jets try to lock up defensive end Shaun Ellis to a long-term deal, their other starting end, John Abraham, whose contract also expires after this year, is busy making plays—something he always has done when he has been healthy in his three-plus years as a Jet.

When training camp started, Abraham looked out of place in his new "willbacker" role that sometimes has him dropping back into coverage as a linebacker, but he looked at ease there Sunday. He temporarily saved a touchdown when he took down receiver Peter Warrick from behind, limiting him to a six-yard gain.

He also looked good at end, with one sack and a quarterback pressure . . .

Quarterback Chad Pennington moved the ball at will early, as he picked on rookie cornerback Madieu Williams, who played safety at the University of Maryland.

Williams must have made some adjustments at halftime, because he played a solid second half and helped slow down the Jets' passing game . . .

Pennington hooked up early and often with new weapon, receiver Justin McCareins.

McCareins, who finished with five catches for 66 yards—both team highs—looked like the big, tough receiver the Jets brought him in to be. He caught multiple balls with defenders draped all over him, and that toughness is something they severely missed last year after the departure of Laveranues Coles. . . .

The Jets seem to have found their kickoff guy, as punter Toby Gowin did his best impression of a rookie John Hall, pinning the Bengals for one touchback and keeping his other kicks within the six-yard line.

His punting also was solid. If he can keep that up, he will be giving the Jets something they have not had in years . . .

Jonathan Carter made two major errors—one physical, one mental—on kick returns.

He fumbled the opening kick without being touched, and, in the second quarter, he picked up a bouncing kick at the 11-yard line as it was about to go out of bounds. He only was able to advance it to the 18. If he had let it go out of bounds, the Jets would have started with the ball at the 40 . . .

With cornerback Rod Bryant inactive, safety Derek Pagel was the dime back . . .

After starting the week as doubtful, then progressing to probable and then regressing to questionable, free safety Jon McGraw (groin) was inactive for the game. Defensive end Bryan Thomas (hamstring) was another surprise. He had been listed as probable all week but did not dress . . .

A trainer was rubbing linebacker Eric Barton's hamstring on the sideline after one defensive series and another seemed to be inspecting fullback B.J. Askew's foot.

Barton has not been on the injury report lately, but he did miss about a week at the beginning of training camp with a hamstring injury. B.J. Askew popped up on Friday's injury report with a sore ankle . . .

Also inactive were running back Johnathan Reese, linebacker Mark Brown and offensive tackle Marko Cavka.


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