- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The preseason can't end soon enough for the New York Jets. They became the first team in 35 years to go without a touchdown in its first three preseason games, and they lost TE Dustin Keller (hamstring) and LB David Harris (ankle) to injuries. Oh, yes, and they dropped to 0-3, losing to the Carolina Panthers 17-12 Sunday night at MetLife Stadium.
Woe is O: In their final tune-up for the regular season, the Mark Sanchez-led starting unit stunk -- again. It's time to be concerned. Get this: Seven possessions, no touchdowns. The regulars ended the preseason with zero touchdowns in 15 possessions -- Jason Bay-like numbers. They were sloppy, undisciplined and unorganized. There was an interception on a pass that bounced off the hands of rookie WR Stephen Hill, a senseless personal foul on LG Matt Slauson that ruined a scoring chance, and lousy clock management at the end of the first half. Santonio Holmes' return didn't provide a spark. You hate to overreact to preseason results, but the Jets did absolutely nothing in the preseason to make you think they're heading in the right direction under new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano. According to NBC, the 1977 Atlanta Falcons were the last team that failed to score a touchdown in its first three preseason games.
Tebow chant: Tim Tebow, who made an earlier-than-expected appearance (5:38 left in the third quarter), drew the biggest cheer of the night with a wild and crazy, 20-yard scramble in the fourth quarter. Tebow fired up the sleepy crowd, jumping to his feet and giving the "first down" signal. Quarterback controversy? Yeah, right. Moments later, Tebow threw a mind-boggling interception into triple coverage.
Tight-end issues: Keller is Sanchez's favorite target, arguably the most reliable weapon on offense -- and now his status for Week 1 is up in the air. What else can go wrong? The Jets also lost the versatile H-back Josh Baker to a potentially serious knee injury, meaning their tight-end depth chart, sans Keller, looks like this -- Jeff Cumberland (concussion), Dedrick Epps and former rugby player Hayden Smith. If Keller's injury is long-term, it will be a big blow to Sanchez, who relies on him in the underneath and intermediate zones.
Silver lining: The Jets managed to plug one leak. Newly installed RT Austin Howard locked up the starting job with a terrific performance. He didn't allow any sacks, and he was often isolated against the Panthers' best pass rusher, Charles Johnson. Howard handled the outside rush, showing nice footwork and lateral agility. The man he replaced, Wayne Hunter, was used on 10 snaps with the starters as an extra lineman/jumbo tight end. Get used to that look; you'll see it a lot. Hunter's role could increase if Keller's injury is serious.
Tone Time: Holmes made his preseason debut, reuniting with Sanchez for the first time since their celebrated feud last season. Unofficially, Holmes participated in 15 plays. He was targeted three times, catching an 8-yard slant but dropping another. By the way, NBC sideline reporter Michele Tafoya, shedding new light on the Sanchez-Holmes relationship, said former Jet LaDainian Tomlinson told her Saturday night that the two players didn't talk to each other for the last 13 games of last season.
Bring back Plax? The Jets failed to score a touchdown on three trips to the red zone, bringing their preseason tally to 0-for-5. Mind you, they were No. 1 in red-zone efficiency last season. What's missing? Do they miss WR Plaxico Burress more than they're willing to admit? At 6-foot-4, Hill has the size to be a weapon in the red zone, but he has a lot to learn. Burress still is a free agent. If the Jets sign him, it would be sheer desperation. Going into camp, they were dead-set against bringing him back. They don't think he can run anymore and they're worried how a Burress-Holmes reunion would affect the young receivers from an attitude standpoint.
What's ahead: It's a quick turnaround for the Jets, who close the preseason Thursday night in Philadelphia.