CINCINNATI — Maybe Rex Ryan was right.
The first-year coach of the New York Jets, who earlier in the week said his team should be the Super Bowl favorite, beat the Cincinnati Bengals 24-14 Saturday in the AFC Wild Card playoffs.
The Jets clinched a wild-card berth six days earlier, blanking the Bengals 37-0 at the Meadowlands.
But the Bengals, AFC North champions, had little incentive, rested several players and kept the playbook simple. A home playoff game would be different.
Not enough, though, as the Bengals' season ended with a fourth loss in five games.
"When you get to this point in the season ... you play better teams and you've got to make plays," said Marvin Lewis, coach of the Bengals. "Our downfall today was our inability, at crucial times, to make the plays that make the difference."
The Bengals fell to 5-9 all-time in post-season play, 5-3 at home. The first home loss took place exactly 27 years earlier, 44-17, to the Jets.
Next step for the the Jets: next weekend's AFC Divisional playoffs, either at Indianapolis or San Diego.
New York won for the sixth time in seven games even though Cedric Benson — who didn't play in the regular-season finale — rushed 21 times for a Bengals playoff-record 169 yards.
"It feels a little weird," Benson said of his good game/bad result day. "I don't think many times this happens for a team when a running back contributes in such a large way and they still take the loss."
Benson's runs included a 47-yard TD, also a team playoff record. (Icky Woods held the old marks of 126 yards and a 30-yard run, both against Seattle, Dec. 31, 1988.)
"I can honestly say that's the first game I've won as a coach where we gave up as a team 170-plus yards to one running back," said Ryan, whose stops as an assistant coach include Eastern Kentucky (1987-88) and Morehead State (1990-93). "Cedric Benson did some pretty amazing things."
The Jets countered with a pair of rookies in Shon Greene and Mark Sanchez.
Greene ran 21 times for 135 yards, including a 39-yard TD.
Sanchez completed 12 of 15 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating of 139.4 dwarfed counterpart and fellow Southern Cal product Carson Palmer's 58.3. Palmer finished 18-for-36, good for 146 yards and a touchdown. Palmer also threw an interception, one of two Bengals turnovers.
Palmer said he "felt a little numb" after the loss.
Palmer, who injured the thumb on his non-throwing (left) hand earlier this season, said he will have surgery within "a couple days."
Trailing 14-7 at halftime was both bad news and good news for the Bengals.
The bad news, in addition to the score, included a broken left fibula suffered by starting linebacker Rashad Jeanty on the opening kickoff, a Laveranues Coles fumble, an interception and a no-catch half for go-to receiver Chad Ochocinco. And Lewis used both of his challenges, unsuccessfully, in the first quarter.
The good news?
Coles redeemed himself with an 11-yard touchdown that opened the scoring.
Benson was gashing the NFL's top-ranked defense and the Jets squandered points when Braylon Edwards simply missed a touchdown pass. Somehow the Bengals were still within one score.
The Jets' scores came on Greene's 39-yard sprint down the Cincinnati sideline and, after Darrelle Revis' seventh interception of the season, on Sanchez's 45-yard pass to tight end Dustin Keller.
Both teams wasted scoring chances to open the third quarter.
Jay Feely, who minutes before the game became the Jets' punter because Steve Weatherford had an irregular heartbeat, booted a 42-yard field goal. The kick was negated by a holding penalty, followed by a false start, so Feely punted.
The Bengals gave the favor right back when Shayne Graham pushed a 35-yard field goal wide left.
The usually-reliable Graham dealt the Bengals a final fatal blow with 3:49 left in the game, missing wide right on a 28-yard attempt.
"There's really nothing you can say about it," Lewis said. "You miss a field goal, you miss a field goal. And it's a shame and it hurt us, killed us. ... Shayne feels worse than anybody."
Thomas Jones' 9-yard run late in the third quarter gave the Jets a 21-7 lead.
After an exchange of punts, Benson gave Bengals fans some hope with his 47-yard touchdown with 11:04 left.
But Feely added a 20-yard field goal, Graham missed his chip shot and that was that.
"Big plays, turnovers and missed opportunities," said Brandon Johnson, who played in Jeanty's place and finished with four tackles and two passes defensed. "Killed us. ... If you turn the ball over three times (two, actually), you deserve to lose. They should have had more than 24 points with three turnovers, to be quite honest."