Both the New York Jets and the Carolina Panthers had a lot at stake when they strode into Bank of America Stadium. Ultimately, the Panthers laid claim to the spoils. The Jets needed a win to stay mathematically eligible for the playoffs, but with this loss the only thing keeping them from playing golf in January is a Baltimore Ravens loss on Monday night. The Panthers on the other hand were able to jump the San Francisco 49ers for the fifth spot in the NFC playoffs, not to mention keep pace in the NFC South race.
This game had all the makings of a trap game, and for much of the game it lived up to that billing. Both teams had difficulty finishing off drives in the first half, settling for field goals on a majority of their scoring opportunities. The only touchdown of the first half was a surprising 72-yard screen pass from DeAngelo Williams, one of few explosive plays that Panthers were able to generate during the day. Both offenses were able to run the ball despite having the No. 1 and No. 2 run defense in the league, but it was the Panthers passing game that ignited the offense, Cam Newton going 16-of-24 for 273 yards and a touchdown.
The Panthers won the first half decidedly and went into the third quarter sporting a 16-6 lead. The Jets quickly snatched the momentum by stopping the Panthers on fourth down then marching down the field and capping the drive with a touchdown by defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, trimming the lead to three. The Panthers retook the momentum with a clutch blocked punt from Jason Williams, setting up a one-yard Mike Tolbert run, putting the pressure squarely on rookie Geno Smith‘s shoulders. Smith responding as he has all season, sealing the game by throwing a pick-six to Captain Munnerlyn.
The Jets were able to shrink the lead to 30-20 with an eight-yard touchdown to Jeff Cumberland with four minutes remaining, but following a failed onside kick it was up to the Jets defense to get a stop. Fueled by a tremendous 18-yard run by DeAngelo Williams on third and 10, the Panthers sealed up the win, putting them back into a tie for the NFC South crown with a loss by the New Orleans Saints. Most importantly, the Panthers secondary refuted Santonio Holmes‘ claims that they were a “weak link,” with Holmes only collecting two catches and Geno Smith only passing for 167 yards, not to mention Captain Munnerlyn breaking out for two sacks and a pick six. Ice up Santonio. Ice up.