Jets never get off ground while playoff hopes fly away in 30-20 loss to Panthers

New York Jets' Geno Smith (7) is sacked by Carolina Panthers' Greg Hardy (76) during the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

Mike McCarn/AP

Geno Smith (r.) and the Jets suffer what could be the knockout blow for their playoff hopes in Carolina.

PANTHERS 30, JETS 20

CHARLOTTE — Santonio Holmes will probably think twice about insulting the Panthers secondary again. Three days after Holmes called the Carolina defensive backs their “weakest link,” Captain Munnerlyn had a pick-six on a ball intended for him, the Jets secondary was the one getting gashed, and Gang Green lost to the Panthers on the road, 30-20. The loss all but assures the Jets will miss the playoffs for the third season in a row.

Gang Green would have needed a heroic effort to beat the Panthers (10-4), and they didn’t get it. Cam Newton was able to pass with ease against the Jets defense to the tune of 273 yards and a touchdown while completing two-thirds of his passes.

Geno Smith has had far worse days as a Jet but was uninspiring in the loss, completing 15 passes on 28 attempts for a pedestrian 167 yards, with a touchdown an interception.

Captain Munnerlyn (r.) picks off Geno Smith and returns it 41 yards for a Panthers touchdown.

Bob Leverone/AP

Captain Munnerlyn (r.) picks off Geno Smith and returns it 41 yards for a Panthers touchdown.

The Panthers quickly made it evident which team’s secondary really was the weak link by dicing up the Jets defensive backs with high-efficiency passing from Cam Newton. But while the defense bent, it didn’t break, at least initially. The two sides exchanged two field goals apiece, but with 3:29 left in the first half, the Panthers finally broke through. It came on an unorthodox play: an odd screen pass to DeAngelo Williams, who ran for a 72 yard-touchdown.

There were many culprits on the play, but Dee Milliner was blocked for such a long time by Brandon LaFell, that Milliner was unable to even attempt a tackle on Williams despite essentially standing between the running back and the end zone.

Right before the half, the Panthers were able to muster one last scoring drive, kicking a field goal just before the half to go up 16-6 as the teams headed to the locker room.

Mid-way through the third quarter, the Jets managed to come up with a big stop. The Panthers were threatening in the end zone, but on 4th and 2 on the 14-yard line, Carolina elected to go for it, and Quinton Coples hit Cam Newton as he attempted his pass, which fell to the ground.

It looks like Rex Ryan will go another season without experiencing playoff football.

Bob Leverone/AP

It looks like Rex Ryan will go another season without experiencing playoff football.

Off the fourth-down stop, the Jets’ offense responded as Smith led the team down field on a series that included a 35-yard pass. But the fireworks came at the end, when Sheldon Richardson boosted his defensive rookie of the year candidacy with…a rushing touchdown. Richardson, a defensive tackle, came in as a full back and on back-to-back plays Smith handed him the ball at the one-yard line. On the second attempt with 3:04 left in the third quarter, the 294-pound lineman crossed the plane for a score. Richardson’s touchdown put the Jets behind by just three at 16-13.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Jets handed Carolina a big favor, when LB Jason Williams slipped past long-snapper Tanner Purdum and easily blocked Ryan Quigley’s punt, setting up the Panthers with excellent field position. That ultimately set up a one-yard touchdown by Mike Tolbert, who put the Panthers up 23-13 with 11:05 remaining in the contest.

In the Jets’ attempt to rally, Smith threw a pass to Holmes that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Captain Munnerlyn, putting the Panthers up 30-13 with 8:17 left. Smith’s fifth pick-six off the season all but sealed Gang Green’s fate both as a loser on Sunday and in the standings. The Jets would be officially eliminated with a Ravens win Monday, and would still have an extremely slim chance of making the postseason otherwise.

Gang Green still managed a futile comeback effort, driving downfield on the next series and throwing an eight-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Cumberland with 3:50 left on the clock. Down 10 points, the Jets tried an onside kick but failed.

Twitter.com/SethWalderNYDN


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