EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Ryan Fitzpatrick and the New York Jets kept getting close to the end zone.
Most of the time, though, Cincinnati kept them out — and it was the difference in the Bengals’ 23-22 victory in the season opener Sunday.
“We’ve got to score touchdowns,” Fitzpatrick said. “We got down there plenty. Credit the Bengals. They’ve got a good red-zone defense.”
The Jets, who were the third-best team in the red zone last season, made five trips inside the Bengals 20 and they got off to a good start with Fitzpatrick connecting with Quincy Enunwa for a 3-yard touchdown on their opening drive.
“We didn’t make adjustments, but we kept fighting,” Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “We knew that at some point, we would have an opportunity to shift the game and make a great play.”
After getting down to the 4 on its next drive, New York stalled with two incompletions to Brandon Marshall and a catch for no yards by Bilal Powell. That set up a 22-yard chip shot for Nick Folk, whose low kick was blocked by Margus Hunt.
“We were just sloppy down there,” Marshall said of the Jets’ red-zone struggles. “Poor execution. It’s something we pride ourselves on. Didn’t get it done. … That was the poorest execution I’ve ever seen on our side in the red zone since I’ve been here.”
New York rebounded in the second quarter with a 15-yard touchdown from Fitzpatrick to Eric Decker, which gave the Jets a 13-10 lead. Folk, however, missed the first extra point of his career.
“I take it on my shoulders,” Folk said. “I feel like I let the team down. If we make the extra point and the field goal, they need a touchdown at the end.”
The fourth quarter, however, was where the game really turned.
Trailing 20-16, New York went to the ground game in a big way, running the ball nine times in 10 plays to get down to the 2. But on third-and-goal, Fitzpatrick misfired to Decker — and the Jets had to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Folk.
On Cincinnati’s next possession, Mike Nugent was wide right on a 52-yard attempt that kept the game a one-point affair. It also gave the Jets terrific field position with just over 9 minutes left, putting the ball at their 42.
A 17-yard catch by Enunwa and a 22-yard grab by Decker three plays later put the Jets at the Bengals 15. Matt Forte gained 3 yards on a run and Marshall had a 4-yard catch, but Bilal Powell gained just 2 yards on third-and-3 from the 8.
Again, the Jets had to kick a field goal, this time a 23-yarder by Folk that put the Jets ahead 22-20 with 3:23 left.
“We made a big stop there,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.
That also left plenty of time for Andy Dalton and the Bengals to put together the winning drive, capped by Nugent’s 47-yarder with 54 seconds left.
“Anytime you can get a win on the road, you’ve got to take these games,” said Dalton, who was sacked a career-high seven times. “This one was big. At the end, we needed to make a play. It was a great team effort by everybody.”
The Jets still had an opportunity to drive for a winning score after Nugent’s kick, but things got off to a bad start when Marshall dropped a deep pass over the middle.
Next came an incompletion to Decker, and then Josh Shaw picked off Fitzpatrick’s next throw to Decker — the Jets’ only turnover of the game — to seal it for the Bengals.
“I’m just happy,” Lewis said. “We kept pounding today and that’s what we’ve got to do. That’s the thing all season: Just pound together and break through, and today, the breakthrough came late in the game and the defense had a big stop there at the end.”