By Dennis Waszak Jr., AP Sports Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — With one terrific touchdown catch and a few bows to the crowd, Plaxico Burress' 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 preseason 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 rain-drenched 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 preseason opener at Houston because of the ankle injury, Burress backed up his bold words against the Bengals (0-2).
''He played great,'' Jets coach Rex Ryan said. ''If we get the coverage a certain way, good luck to you. He is a big target and when he is covered, he is open.''
Sanchez finished 12 of 20 for 173 yards and two touchdowns, the first to Santonio Holmes, as the Jets' starting offense played the entire first half. The running game, without starter Shonn Greene, stalled during the first two quarters, gaining just 17 yards, as a driving rain fell at the New Meadowlands Stadium. LaDainian Tomlinson had just 16 yards on nine carries.
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 of 11 for 29 yards after one quarter, and finished 8 of 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 offseason 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. The Jets' offense stalled and settled for Nick Novak's 30-yard field goal that made it 10-0.
''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.''
Dalton did engineer a terrific 70-yard scoring drive - his first of the preseason - early in the second quarter that was capped by Brian Leonard's 1-yard rush.
But this night belonged to Burress, whose last game was Nov. 23, 2008, at Arizona while with the Giants. Sure it was only a preseason game, but it was huge for Burress, who just a few months ago was cleaning toilets, mopping floors and serving meals in prison.
He was cheered as he ran out of the tunnel with the offense in pregame introductions, and got a nice hand when he zipped across the field and Sanchez immediately got him involved with a 20-yard completion.
They were cheers Burress could only dream about for nearly three years. He worked out often while in prison and then practiced in Florida with several NFL players during the lockout after he was released. After a slow start with the Jets because of not being able to practice fully with the sore ankle, Burress got in a few days of full practices this week and felt good.
Now, he needs to build a rapport with Sanchez, who threw Burress' way seven times.
''It is a work in progress,'' Burress said. ''You see we missed on a couple. It's going to come. This is what the preseason is for. I can see us really elevating our play.''
Nick Folk kicked a 50-yard field goal in the third quarter for the Jets, and Brashton Satele's interception helped set up Greg McElroy's 3-yard touchdown pass to Joe McKnight in the fourth quarter that made it 27-7.
Both teams had several players sit this one out, including Derrick Mason, Bart Scott, Brandon Moore, Sione Pouha, Calvin Pace, Shonn Greene and Mark Brunell for the Jets, and Keith Rivers, Jonathan Fanene, Adam Jones and Gibril Wilson for the Bengals.
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