5 things to know after Panthers clip Jets 30-20

The Panthers are closing in on their first playoff berth since

2008.

Not bad for a team that started the season 1-3.

Carolina beat the New York Jets 30-20 Sunday to set up a rematch

with the New Orleans Saints, who lost 26-17 to the St. Louis Rams

and are even with the Panthers in the NFC South at 10-4. Carolina

hosts the Saints next week in a rematch of last week’s humbling

loss in New Orleans.

”That’s how you want it.,” offensive tackle Jordan Gross said.

”We’re going against a division opponent at home in December with

the division lead on the line. It’s awesome. I think we’ve earned

it and we’ve deserved it.

The winner will have the inside track to winning the division

and capturing a first-round bye in the playoffs.

The Panthers can achieve both by winning their final two

games.

”The ball is in our court obviously,” Carolina coach Ron

Rivera said. ”We just have to take care of our business. We have

to play our game.”

The Panthers didn’t do that last Sunday, falling 31-13 to the

Saints when Drew Brees threw for 313 yards and four TDs.

”I am happy to play those guys again because we didn’t do too

well down there last week and I didn’t think we put out our best

effort,” Gross said.

He is looking forward to hosting the Saints, who are just 3-4 on

the road this season.

”We’ll be at home, which is huge,” Gross said. ”The dome is a

tough place to play and they were coming off a tough loss and again

they’re going to be coming off a tough road loss so shame on us if

we don’t see that coming. But, we’re feeling confident again. We

never really lost confidence after the last game but it was

definitely a bit of a wakeup call to go down there and lose like we

did.”

Five things we learned from the Panthers’ win over the Jets:

DIFFERENT DESTINATIONS: The Panthers are likely headed to the

playoffs; the Jets aren’t.

The Panthers haven’t clinched a playoff spot yet, but it looks

like they will make the postseason after posting their first 10-win

season since 2008. The Jets are 6-8 and will be eliminated from

playoff contention if Baltimore beats Detroit on Monday night.

”This one would be Ripley’s if we pull it off,” coach Rex Ryan

said of the Jets’ playoff hopes.

DON’T MESS WITH MUNNERLYN: Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn

was irritated when he heard Jets receiver Santonio Holmes refer to

the Carolina secondary as the ”weakest link” of the defense. All

the feisty 5-foot-8 Munnerlyn did was record two sacks and

intercept a Geno Smith pass and return it 42 yards for a score.

”He was talking,” Munnerlyn said of Holmes. ”You know, I told

him, `Catch one on me, then you can talk.’ … All that talk don’t

faze us man. We just go out there and play football. Like I said,

every week we’re just going to go out there and execute.”

WILLIAMS CAN STILL PLAY: They say running backs hit the wall

when they turn 30, but Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams proved he’s

still good for a big play or two. Williams had 81 yards rushing and

87 yards receiving, including a 72-yard touchdown. ”He had a hell

of a game, from the pass reception to the running, he just had a

great game,” fullback Mike Tolbert said. ”He seemed like he was

in a zone.”

GANO IS GOOD: Panthers kicker Graham Gano continues to put forth

a Pro Bowl-worthy season, converting three more field goals to help

Carolina’s cause. The Panthers have finally found their replacement

for John Kasay. Gano is 23 of 26 on the season.

SMITH IS LEARNING: All rookie quarterbacks have their growing

pains. Smith is no different. Smith is realizing that one mistake

can be the difference in winning and losing at this level.

”I let Rex (Ryan) down today,” said Smith, who has 21

interceptions this season. ”He had talked me about not having a

turnover. I wanted to do that today. On one occasion, I got sloppy

with it and forced it. I didn’t get it done. Ultimately, in this

league, that’s something I’ve learned, that’s what it comes down to

– one or two plays here or there.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org