Jets’ playoff hopes fade in loss to Panthers

CHARLOTTE, NC – The Jets fell flat in all three phases against Carolina on Sunday, losing 30-20 to the Panthers and all but putting to bed any remaining playoff hopes.

The Jets remained competitive until the fourth quarter, but had major breakdowns on offense (Geno Smith pick-six), defense (Cam Newton-DeAngelo Williams 72-yard screen pass touchdown) and special teams (blocked punt), which inevitably couldn’t be overcome.

Santonio Holmes was forced to eat his "weakest link" comment as the Panthers held him to two catches for 14 yards in another ugly Jets loss.

“It snowballed on us and the game got out of hand at the end,” said head coach Rex Ryan, who will now go three straight seasons without a winning record and without making the playoffs.

Heading into the fourth quarter, the Jets were still very much alive, down 16-13, but a blocked punt led to great field position and an easy one-yard touchdown run by Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert.

Three minutes later, Smith was picked off, trying to force a pass to Santonio Holmes in double coverage and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn returned it 41 yards for the touchdown.

“Before the blocked punt happened I thought it was only a matter of time [until we would take the lead],” said Ryan.

Smith did rebound after throwing his 20th interception of the season, leading a 12-play, 72-yard drive that resulted in an eight-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeff Cumberland. But, with just under four minutes remaining, it was just too little, too late.

Smith finished his day going 15-for-28 with 167 yards passing and a 68.6 passer rating. He now trails only Eli Manning (25) for most interceptions in the NFL.

Chris Ivory had another solid day on the ground against a top-flight Carolina run defense, tallying 66 yards on 11 carries, including a long 35 yarder that set up one of Nick Folk’s three field goals. Smith and running back Bilal Powell added 81 more rushing yards for a total of 157 at 5.6 yards per carry.

The pass catchers were no where to be found, however, as Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley combined for three catches and 39 yards.

Holmes, who earlier in the week called the Carolina secondary the Panther’s “weak link” on defense, was jawed at all game and dropped half as many balls as he caught despite being targeted eight times.

“I’m an eight-year veteran,” Holmes said after the game. “I wouldn’t regret anything.”

Despite clearly motivating the Panthers, Ryan stood behind his star wide receiver saying, “I think the weakness is the secondary, I’ll say it. I’m not saying they’re a bad secondary, but [their weakness] is not they’re front.”

Cumberland led all receivers with 50 yards and one touchdown while wide receiver David Nelson added 44 yards on three catches.

Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, a defensive rookie of the year candidate no less, had the only other Jets touchdown, taking two carries to punch it in at the goal line with three minutes left in the third quarter.

“We’ve been practicing it,” said Ryan about giving the 294-pound Richardson goal line touches. “[We were] thinking they shouldn’t be able to deny that guy down there.”

On the whole, the defense played well enough to win, save for loads of missed tackles and a 72-yard touchdown screen pass which DeAnglo Williams took for a touchdown.

After Miami’s unexpected win over the Patriots earlier today, the Jets, at 6-8, sit two games back of the final wildcard slot in the AFC. That means they would need a prayer and a miracle just to have the possibility of sneaking in.

But despite hanging tough against a playoff bound Carolina team, and despite being projected as one of the worst teams in the league heading into the season, Ryan was not in the mood for moral victories.

“No, no, no. Absolutely not,” said Ryan, half laughing, half shaking his head. “We came here to win, we thought we’d win.”

“Hell, obviously that’s not our intent going into a season or any other time. We want to win it all that’s been clear since I got here.”

So, as for the Jets in 2013, it’s like the saying goes: Wait ’til next year. Unfortunately for Ryan, there might not be a next year.

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