EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - One shoe or two, Brad Smith was too much for the Bengals.
Smith, the Jets' Mr. Everything, scored on an 89-yard kickoff return during which he lost his left shoe and also had a 53-yard touchdown run in New York's 26-10 victory over Cincinnati on Thursday night.
Hours after New England beat Detroit to improve to 9-2, New York matched the Patriots and the Jets are off to the second-best start in team history - eclipsed only by the 1986 squad that won 10 of its first 11. And the Jets did it by overcoming a sluggish first half and sending the struggling Bengals (2-9) to their eighth straight loss.
The Jets and Patriots meet for the AFC East lead in their next game, a meaty Monday night matchup Dec. 6 at New England.
New York has beaten Cincinnati three times in less than a year, including the regular-season finale that got the Jets into the playoffs, then in the wild-card game the following week.
Santonio Holmes scored his fourth touchdown in three games on a 13-yard reception from Mark Sanchez after Cincinnati's Andre Caldwell had a punt deflect off him while he was blocking. Sanchez was 16 for 28 for 166 yards with the TD and an interception.
Smith had three carries for 55 yards, a catch for 23 yards and the long kickoff return.
It looked as though New York was headed for yet another frenzied finish after consecutive road overtime victories were followed by getting the winning touchdown Sunday with 10 seconds left against Houston.
But it took New York only two plays to go ahead after halftime. Sanchez hit Holmes for 16 yards, then utilityman Smith used superb blocks by Dustin Keller and D'Brickashaw Ferguson to speed down the left sideline untouched for a 53-yard TD run.
The Jets' defense followed with a three-and-out, but Sanchez gave it back with a terrible pass to linebacker Rey Maualuga. His 11-yard return to the Jets 37 set up the Bengals in good shape, and they were aided by a 15-yard roughing-the-passer call against James Ihedigbo on fourth down.
Faced with another fourth down, Cincinnati sent Aaron Pettrey out for a tying 27-yard field goal, but he was wide left.
Ihedigbo made up for his penalty on the next drive when Steve Weatherford punted and officials ruled it hit Caldwell and Ihedigbo recovered at the 14. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis surprisingly did not challenge the play.
After a 1-yard run by Shonn Greene, Sanchez found Holmes - his favorite target lately - zipping across the middle of the end zone for a touchdown and a 17-7 lead.
Pettrey kicked a 28-yard field goal to make it a three-point game with 12:33 remaining.
But Smith, a wide receiver and converted college quarterback, took the ensuing kickoff, got a few nice blocks and had a nice cutback before losing his shoe around the 50 and zipping down the right sideline for a touchdown.
Trevor Pryce sacked Carson Palmer in the end zone for a safety, making it 26-10 with 6:52 left.
It was another disappointing loss for the Bengals, who lost to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in game they led 31-14 but were outscored 35-0 in second half.
The anticipated matchups between Cincinnati's dynamic receiving duo of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens and New York's shutdown cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie finished decidedly in the Jets' favor.
Ochocinco had four catches for 41 yards, while Owens finished with three receptions for 17 yards.
The Jets took advantage of Jim Leonhard's interception, New York's first in seven games - their longest drought since 1979 - early in the second quarter.
Keller had a 21-yard catch on first down from the Jets 34 and Bengals cornerback Jonathan Wade, signed earlier in the week, was called for a major face-mask penalty, adding 15 yards and putting the ball at Cincinnati's 30. After three runs by LaDainian Tomlinson put the Jets at the 13, the drive stalled and New York settled for a 27-yard field goal with 9:01 left in the first half.
Cincinnati had another promising drive short-circuited when Palmer threw into triple coverage to Owens in the end zone and Cromartie picked it off.