EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - Green and white confetti floated through the frosty air as Rex Ryan and his New York Jets players high-fived the giddy fans.
It was time to celebrate a playoff berth that looked all but impossible just a few weeks ago.
"Everyone had us counted out," rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez said with a smile. "This is huge."
Ryan's top-ranked defense shut down Cincinnati and Sanchez efficiently led a clock-eating offense as the Jets clinched a spot in the postseason with a 37-0 victory Sunday night. Same old J-E-T-S? Not this time. New York dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for over 41 minutes and outgaining Cincinnati 320-72.
"This wasn't our goal to make the playoffs. Our goals are much higher," said Ryan, heading to the postseason in his first year as a head coach. "We were 4-6 and we had a mission with the team. It went from impossible to improbable, back to impossible and then to inevitable."
Needing a win to keep their season going, the Jets (9-7) set up a rematch against the AFC North champion Bengals (10-6) in the first round Saturday at Cincinnati.
"That's a great team we have to play again," Sanchez said, "so, we have to be ready for a dogfight at their place."
The win - marked by Ryan getting a Gatorade shower on the sideline - was likely the last game at Giants Stadium and capped a series of favorable twists and turns for the Jets. New York appeared to be on the outside of the playoff hunt two weeks ago when it lost to Atlanta, and Ryan even mistakenly said his team's playoff chances were over.
Instead, the Jets defeated previously undefeated Indianapolis last Sunday when Peyton Manning and other Colts stars went to the bench in the second half. Several other teams in playoff contention lost, setting up the Jets' win-and-in game against the Bengals.
"I don't believe we backed into anything," Ryan said, "so we're going to try to prove it."
Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco said his team would be ready.
"We'll be fine," he said. "We'll study a lot of things we can fix, especially offensively. Next week will be a lot more serious."
Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards boldly told the fans earlier in the week that New York wouldn't lose, and his teammates backed him up big-time. It was the Jets' first shutout at home since beating Pittsburgh 6-0 on Dec. 14, 2003.
"Like I told the guys after the game, it's all about the hardware right now," right tackle Damien Woody said.
Sanchez was 8 of 16 for 63 yards with no turnovers before being replaced by Kellen Clemens late in the fourth quarter. Thomas Jones ran for 78 yards and two touchdowns and do-it-all wide receiver Brad Smith had 92 yards rushing, including a 32-yard TD run, as the Jets set a record for rushing yards in a season. The Bengals opened with most of their starters - running back Cedric Benson got the night off - but pulled Carson Palmer early in the third quarter. Palmer was ineffective when he was in, going 1 for 11 for no yards before J.T. O'Sullivan replaced him.
"It was not the outcome we wanted," coach Marvin Lewis said. "The Jets outplayed us in all three phases. We get a chance to regroup and get going again next Saturday afternoon."
Cincinnati fell to 0-11 at Giants Stadium, including 0-8 against the Jets.
"We got flat-out beat up and down the field," Palmer said.
The Jets got things started on their first possession when Smith took a direct snap in the TigerCat formation from New York's 42. He took a few steps to his right and then scooted up the middle before being taken down at the 1. Jones took the ball over the top to make it 7-0. Jay Feely's 20-yard field goal 1:31 into the second quarter made it 10-0, capping a 21-play drive that lasted 11:11, and Smith's touchdown run gave the Jets a 17-0 lead.
Jerricho Cotchery had a 6-yard run for a score that made it 24-0 with 37 seconds to go in the first half. New York got the ball right back when Palmer's pass on the next play from scrimmage was intercepted by Dwight Lowery, who returned it 34 yards before Palmer pushed him out of bounds. Three plays later, Feely kicked a 39-yarder before halftime. Jones added a 2-yard touchdown run - his team-record 14th rushing - to make it 37-0 with 9:55 left in the game.
"It's a tribute to Coach Ryan," Jones said. "He never gave up on us in the ups and downs of the season." N
otes: Ochocinco left with an injured left knee without any catches, and was scheduled to have an MRI exam Monday. ... The Jets finished No. 1 in the NFL in total defense, passing defense, points allowed and rushing offense. ... New York finished with 257 yards rushing on 57 carries. ... Cincinnati was 1 for 11 on third down and finished with just 72 net yards.
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