EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — With one terrific touchdown catch and a few bows to the crowd, Plaxico Burress's NFL comeback was complete.
The wide receiver caught three passes for 66 yards, including an over-the-shoulder 26-yarder for a touchdown, in his first game in nearly three years to help the New York Jets beat the Cincinnati Bengals 27-7 in a pre-season game Sunday night.
Burress, signed last month after serving 20 months in prison on a gun charge, made his debut with the Jets (1-1) a memorable one. He caught a 20-yard pass from Mark Sanchez on the Jets' first offensive play and another 20-yard grab in the second quarter, but the highlight came on New York's last offensive play of the first half.
Burress took off down the left sideline, drew separation from defensive back Fred Bennett and hauled in a pass from Sanchez and fell into the end zone to put New York up 17-7. The receiver got up and bowed a few times to the crowd, which cheered wildly. The play was reviewed by officials and upheld.
"I felt like I was moving in slow motion a bit," Burress said. "I was looking up and at the end of the play, I was right there where I was supposed to be."
Burress recently turned 34 and has acknowledged that many people doubt he can return to the elite level he was playing at before he accidentally shot himself in the leg at a Manhattan nightclub in 2008. But the former Super Bowl star with the Giants has insisted all throughout training camp — even while he was hobbled by a sprained left ankle — that he expects to be a game-changing receiver again.
After missing the pre-season opener at Houston because of the ankle injury, Burress backed up his bold words against the Bengals (0-2).
Sanchez finished 12-for-20 for 173 yards and two TDs, the first to Santonio Holmes, as the Jets' starting offense played the entire first half.
Cincinnati's offense struggled badly early as rookie Andy Dalton, the first-round pick out of TCU, threw two interceptions that resulted in scores by New York. Dalton was 4-for-11 for 29 yards after one quarter, and finished 8-for-19 for 86 yards.
On the Bengals' second possession, Eric Smith intercepted Dalton's pass intended for A.J. Green, who tipped the ball into the safety's hands. After a few steps, Smith lateraled the ball to Darrelle Revis, who brought the ball to the Bengals 16.
One play later, Sanchez connected with Holmes — who was re-signed in the off-season as the Jets' top priority — to give the Jets a 7-0 lead.
Dalton made another mistake a few minutes later when he overthrew Andre Caldwell on third-and-15 from the 22 and the ball landed in the hands of a waiting Jim Leonhard, who returned it 35 yards to Cincinnati's 10.
"He continues to work through the rough spots of playing this game as a rookie," Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis said about Dalton. "He experienced some different conditions, playing with a wet ball. It was just another good step as he moves forward."