NFL Nation: 2013 Week 15 NYJ at CAR

Rex: Playoffs would be worthy of Ripley's

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
11:15
PM ET
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Mathematically, the New York Jets are alive. But their playoff situation is dire.

"This one would be Ripley's if we pull this off," Jets coach Rex Ryan said Sunday after their 30-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

Ryan has been known to be premature with his elimination scenarios -- see 2009 -- but he's right about this. It would take a miracle for the Jets (6-8) to qualify as a wild card. This is what they'd need to happen:

" The Baltimore Ravens (7-6), who play Monday night against the Detroit Lions, have to lose their remaining three games. If they beat the Lions, the Jets will be officially eliminated.

" The Miami Dolphins (8-6) have to lose their final two games. They finish with the Jets.

" The San Diego Chargers (7-7) have to lose one of their final two games.

Yes, that's all. They've got a better chance to win the lottery. Afterward, they were realistic. They talked about playing for pride.

"This is one of those situations where we'll find out about the individuals on this team," David Nelson said. "We'll find out about what they're here for and what they're all about. Are they here for the game of football or are they here for ulterior motives?"

It would be three straight seasons out of the playoffs. The loss clinched their third straight non-winning season. Reminded they can't finish above .500, Antonio Cromartie said, "Whoa, whoa, we still have two games left."

Finally, he did the math.

"I mean, we can finish at .500," he said, adding, "The biggest thing is, we don't want to go 6-10 again."

If Ryan survives, he'd be the first Jets coach since Walt Michaels (1977-1980) to keep his job after three straight seasons out of the tournament.

"Hell, it's not our intent going into the season or any other time," Ryan said. "We want to win it all. That's been clear from the day I took the job."

Richardson rumbles for first TD run

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
10:30
PM ET
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Sheldon Richardson usually uses his 6-foot-3, 294-pound frame to wreak havoc on opposing NFL offenses. But for two plays during the New York Jets' 30-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers, he turned the tables and used his body to try pounding the ball into the end zone.

Lining up in the backfield behind quarterback Geno Smith, Richardson ran the ball on consecutive plays from the Carolina 2-yard line. He gained a yard each time, which was good enough in the end for the rookie defensive lineman's first NFL touchdown.

[+] EnlargeSheldon Richardson
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneRookie D-lineman Sheldon Richardson rushed for a 1-yard TD run -- yes, you read that right -- to pull the Jets within three points late in the third.
Richardson, 23, admitted it was the first time he had touched the ball on offense or scored a touchdown since high school, when he “played everything.”

Running back? Check.

But that was a long time ago. He admitted that he wasn’t surprised to get the chance Sunday, because the Jets “practiced it a few times” last week. And when he didn’t get into the end zone on his first attempt (although both he and coach Rex Ryan thought he did), there was no question he was going to get another attempt.

Not in Richardson’s mind. Not in Ryan’s. Not in offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s.

“Marty wanted it in there, so I told him to give it back to me. He had already relayed the call,” Richardson said. “I thought I scored the first time. But [the officials] needed to be reassured, so I did it again.”

Ryan added: “We’ve been working on it and thinking they shouldn’t be able to deny that guy down there, and we just kept running it. We thought we scored the first time, but we were a little short. And I’m like, ‘Well, we’ll just run it again.’ And that’s what we did.”

The touchdown with 3:04 remaining in the third quarter drew the Jets to within 16-13, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie later admitted the unconventional score brought smiles to the faces of Richardson’s defensive teammates on the sideline.

“He looked good. That’s just something that we practiced,” Cromartie said. “We knew it was going to happen if we got down there to the goal line. We practiced it with him, giving him the ball. We got him his touchdown and he pulled us to within three.”

Even in the wake of the disappointing loss, Cromartie couldn’t help grinning at the thought of Richardson doing a fine William “The Refrigerator” Perry imitation. When asked if he would be able to take down a guy Richardson’s size in a similar situation, Cromartie was candidly honest.

“No, man. I don’t ever want to try to tackle a 300-pound person like that,” said Cromartie, who is 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds.

Richardson was in no jovial mood after the loss, despite his offensive heroics. He said he knew of Perry and that it “was cool” to be mentioned in the same breath as the former Chicago Bears defensive tackle who occasionally ran the football back in the day. But he admitted that none of that really mattered under Sunday’s circumstances.

“It was a touchdown. But it means nothing. We lost,” Richardson said.

Punt protection blocks Jets' momentum

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
10:00
PM ET
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Momentum seemed to swing in favor of the New York Jets heading into the fourth quarter Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.

Then, it flipped on the Jets in the instant that Carolina's Jason Williams burst through the Jets' line untouched and blocked a Ryan Quigley punt just over three minutes into the fourth quarter. The block gave the Panthers the ball at the Jets' 14-yard line, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Mike Tolbert four plays later that turned a narrow 16-13 Panthers' lead into a comfortable 23-13 advantage.

The Jets never recovered as the Panthers went on to win, 30-20.

[+] EnlargeRyan Quigley
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsRyan Quigley had his punt blocked in the fourth quarter, quickly changing the Jets' momentum.
"They just made a good call. We had gone into a certain formation that they adjusted to, and he just got a good jump off the ball," Jets long-snapper Tanner Purdum said of Williams.

Coach Rex Ryan admitted the Jets got caught in a vulnerable formation, going with an extra gunner -- Ryan referred to it as "a flyer" -- on the outside that permitted the Panthers, by NFL rule, to place a rusher over center. Having been burned in the past by Carolina punt returner Ted Ginn, Ryan put an extra coverage man in play to prevent a big return by Ginn -- who in 2009, while with Miami, returned a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns against the Jets, from 101 and 100 yards, no less.

"We were trying to take advantage of our speed," Ryan said. "Obviously they have one of the premier returners in the game in Ted Ginn. But when you do that, you obviously cover up the center. The guy had a good rush on us. That's exactly what happened."

A dejected Purdum insisted there wasn't much he could have done to stop Williams in that situation.

"There was nothing we could have done differently in that formation. Not that I know of," Purdum admitted.

Quigley tried to shift some of the blame onto himself.

"It's on me. When it comes down to it, you've got to get the ball off faster," Quigley said.

But then he said Williams was upon him so fast that it would have been very difficult. He also pointed out the Jets had not previously had a punt blocked all season.

"We've been using different formations all year. We've been mixing it up, and obviously we've run that formation this season, so they might have seen it," Quigley said. "And obviously whatever they did, it worked. ... It's just unfortunate that it happened at that point in the game, where it switched the momentum.

"Anytime that happens, it's tough. That was a very tough spot for us to put our defense in."

Quigley said mishaps on special teams are always magnified, and understandably so.

"I was out there four times tonight, and you've got to be perfect all four times," he said.

Panthers back in control of destiny

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
9:50
PM ET
Captain Munnerlyn AP Photo/Bob LeveronePanthers' Captain Munnerlyn celebrates his INT return for a TD in the second half Sunday.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who preaches never to look past what's in front of you, found himself looking at the scoreboard late in Sunday night's 30-20 victory over the New York Jets.

Not just once, either.

"Unfortunately, a few times too many," Rivera said with almost an embarrassed look. "To be honest with you, I did get distracted a couple of times."

What he saw was New Orleans (10-4) losing at St. Louis 27-16, making next Sunday's rematch against his Panthers (10-4) at Bank of America Stadium even bigger.

You can't blame him.

The Panthers now control their destiny in the NFC South. A win at home against a New Orleans team that embarrassed them 31-13 a week ago on prime-time television and a win the following week at Atlanta would give them the division championship and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

All the woe-is-me talk a week ago suddenly has turned into optimism.

"You can always judge a champion by how they respond," cornerback Drayton Florence said. "We got knocked on our butts last week. We came back and responded."

What this game proved: The Panthers are up to challenges -- on many levels.

Carolina answered the challenge of not letting a loss to New Orleans turn into another.

It answered the challenge that Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes issued earlier in the week, when he said the secondary was the weak link to the league's second-ranked defense.

Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, in particular, answered in a big way, sacking Jets quarterback Geno Smith twice -- he had only two sacks his entire career prior to that -- and returned a fourth-quarter interception 41 yards for a touchdown to make it 30-13 with 8:17 to play.

He then rubbed it in the Jets' faces, imitating an airplane crash in the end zone that earned him a 15-yard penalty and likely a sizable fine from the league later in the week.

It was worth it, though.

As Florence said, you have to have fun when you're in Carolina's position because these situations don't happen every day. And if that means Rivera letting down his guard and checking out the scoreboard, that's OK.

He has earned as much.

"It's that time of the year," Florence said.

Few gave the Panthers a chance to be in this position after a 1-3 start. Many probably doubted it after the loss to New Orleans in which the defense gave up four touchdown passes after surrendering no more than two scores in a game all season.

That's why Rivera wasn't all that upset about Munnerlyn's celebration.

"It was huge for our secondary," he said. "For them to play the way they did and play very physical, that is going to be one of the keywords there -- physical."

[+] EnlargePanthers
AP Photo/Mike McCarnPanthers RB DeAngelo Williams had 15 carries for 81 yards against the Jets' defense.
A week ago, the Panthers weren't physical with New Orleans defenders, allowing them to roam in the secondary almost as though they were uncovered.

But this wasn't a game decided by Munnerlyn or the secondary. This game in many ways was as much a team victory as any this season. Linebacker Jason Williams, a player you seldom hear mentioned, blocked the team's first punt of the season to set up Mike Tolbert's 1-yard touchdown run with Carolina nursing a 16-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Wide receiver Brandon LaFell threw a key block allowing running back DeAngelo Williams to complete a 72-yard touchdown catch with the score tied 6-6 late in the first half. Williams also added 81 yards rushing against the league's second best run defense.

Quarterback Cam Newton didn't have a spectacular day, but he had a passer rating of 118.9 that kept the offense moving.

It's the type of effort most would be pleased with next weekend against a New Orleans team struggling on the road.

"We don't have to do anything revolutionary," tight end Greg Olsen said.

This is a team that remains extremely hungry. That's why the Panthers allowed themselves moments to check out the scoreboard, why they laughed at the mention of Rivera doing it.

Munnerlyn set the tone.

"They challenge one of us, they challenge us all," he said. "That was the mantra going in."

The Panthers never really lost confidence with the loss at New Orleans, understanding the Saints have blown out a lot of teams at the Superdome.

But, Carolina still has a chip on its shoulders.

"A very big chip," said defensive end Greg Hardy, who had one of Carolina's four sacks. "Not as big as the one I normally have, but a big one. I don't like losing ... to anyone."

Indeed, the Panthers' only loss in their past 10 games is to the Saints. And with another win comfortably at hand against the Jets on Sunday, Rivera allowed himself to look at the big screen.

"We control our own destiny right now," Newton said. "We've just got to continue to do things that we've been doing up until this point."

Rapid Reaction: New York Jets

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
7:09
PM ET

CHARLOTTE -- A few thoughts on the New York Jets' 30-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers:

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.

Rapid Reaction: Carolina Panthers

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
7:02
PM ET

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A few thoughts on the Carolina Panthers' 30-20 victory against the New York Jets:

What it means: By taking care of business against the Jets, and assuming St. Louis completes its win against New Orleans, the Panthers (10-4) still can win the NFC South. They would need a home victory next week against New Orleans and a road win at Atlanta -- assuming the Saints don't lose out -- to claim the division title and get a first-round bye. So all the woe-is-me after the 31-13 loss to New Orleans a week ago was for naught.

Stock watch: Running back DeAngelo Williams can say what he wants about not caring how many carries he gets as long as the team wins, but his career numbers show he gets into a better rhythm with 15 or more carries. The topic came up this past week with Jonathan Stewart out with a knee injury. Williams responded with 81 yards on 15 carries, and 87 yards receiving on three catches, including a 72-yard touchdown.

Weak link: Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn didn't take kindly to Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes saying the Carolina secondary was the weak link of the defense. He let the Jets know it with two sacks, equaling the total he had during his first four-plus seasons in the NFL, and an interception returned for a touchdown.

Riverboat Ron: Coach Ron Rivera has earned a reputation for going for it on fourth down, but gambling on fourth-and-3 with 7:55 left in the third quarter and a 16-6 lead seemed like a stretch. He showed a lot of faith in his defense, but that group let him down as the Jets answered with a touchdown to pull within 16-13.

Block party: Jason Williams picked a good time to give the Panthers their first blocked punt of the season. It came with just over 12 minutes remaining and Carolina clinging to a 16-13 lead. Mike Tolbert's 1-yard touchdown run made it 23-13.

Worth repeating: I said this in the halftime report, but it is worth repeating. Carolina's wide receivers have been among the best in the league at blocking downfield all season. Brandon LaFell showed why. He completely tied up cornerback Dee Milliner to allow Williams to complete the 72-yard touchdown catch and run that put the Panthers up 13-6 with 3:29 left in the half.

What's next? The Panthers and New Orleans Saints meet in Round 2 at Bank of America Stadium. The Saints dismantled Carolina 31-13 a week ago in New Orleans to end the Panthers' eight-game winning streak.

Saalim Hakim likely to return kickoffs

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
3:05
PM ET
CHARLOTTE -- Wide receiver Saalim Hakim, who was signed Friday from the practice squad, is expected to return kickoffs Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. He will be the New York Jets' third kickoff returner in as many weeks. It will be his NFL debut.

Running back Darius Reynaud, who handled the job last week, was declared inactive. Previously, the kickoff returner was Josh Cribbs, but he suffered a season-ending pectoral injury.

In other pre-game news, cornerback Antonio Cromartie, listed as questionable with a concussion, is active and will start. The Jets' inactive players are quarterback David Garrard, linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, guard Will Campbell, tackle Ben Ijalana, tackle Oday Aboushi, and tight end Chris Pantale.

Charles Johnson to start despite flu

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
2:58
PM ET
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers sack leader Charles Johnson will start Sunday's game against the New York Jets despite being listed as questionable on Saturday with the flu.

The defensive end leads the team with 9.0 sacks.

Johnson missed two games before last Sunday's 31-13 loss to New Orleans with a sprained right knee.

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