- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: The Jets dropped to 6-8, ensuring their third straight non-winning season -- a fairly large stain on Rex Ryan's résumé. As a result, they have a better chance of winning the Mega Millions lottery than making the playoffs. They will be mathematically eliminated if the Baltimore Ravens beat the Detroit Lions on Monday night. This was actually a three-point game in the fourth quarter, but the Jets came unglued in spectacular fashion, allowing 14 unanswered points until they responded with a late touchdown pass. They still haven't won two in a row. Hard to believe.
Stock Watch: This was a step back for quarterback Geno Smith, who struggled against the Panthers' secondary -- the so-called "weakest link" of their defense. Smith (15-for-28, 167 yards) didn't commit a turnover for 52 minutes, but then came his fifth pick-six of the season. He forced a pass into double coverage and it was returned for a touchdown by cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who also made two sacks. Smith completed only six passes to his wideouts, giving the Panthers' defensive backs plenty to chirp about. Santonio Holmes, he of the weakest-link quote, wore the dunce cap by dropping the first pass thrown to him. He finished with only two catches.
Two major breakdowns: For the most part, the Jets went toe-to-toe with the Panthers, but they were ultimately doomed by two huge mistakes -- a 72-yard screen pass for a touchdown by DeAngelo Williams and a blocked punt that set up the Panthers' second touchdown. On the Williams play, the Jets were fooled badly by a fake screen to the left. David Harris and Ed Reed were slow in pursuit and Dee Milliner couldn't get off a downfield block. The defense was woefully slow. On the punt, Jason Williams came clean through the A gap, an inexcusable blunder.
A touchdown for ... Richardson?: The Jets made quite a statement, rushing for 157 yards against the league's top-rated rush defense. Chris Ivory (66 yards) did most of the damage, but the highlight was Sheldon Richardson's 1-yard touchdown plunge. It was a Refrigerator moment, with the 295-pound defensive tackle scoring on his second consecutive carry. The Jets had used Richardson twice as a blocker in previous games, but this was his first actual rushing attempt. It was a clutch play, cutting the Panthers' lead to 16-13 in the third quarter. Overall, the Jets did a nice job of using misdirection plays to gash the Panthers' defense.
What's ahead: The Jets close their home schedule against the Cleveland Browns (4-10), a dismal late-season matchup.