Jets face elimination after 30-20 loss to Panthers

Geno Smith found himself apologizing to his head coach after

another key turnover led to yet another loss.

The struggling rookie’s 21st interception of the season was

returned 42 yards for a touchdown by Captain Munnerlyn, and helped

the Carolina Panthers top Rex Ryan’s Jets 30-20 on Sunday.

”I let Rex down today,” Smith said. ”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.”

Smith’s miscue in the fourth quarter came with the Jets trailing

by 10 and trying to get back in the game. He threw it into double

coverage, and helped put the Jets’ already slim playoff hopes in

serious jeopardy.

The Jets (6-8) will be eliminated from playoff contention if

Baltimore wins at Detroit on Monday night.

”This one would be Ripley’s if we pull it off,” Ryan said of

the team’s playoff hopes.

Ryan said the Jets are still making too many mistakes.

”Really all three phases made a critical error that contributed

in this loss,” he said.

The defense allowed a 72-yard touchdown pass to DeAngelo

Williams on a screen play, the special teams allowed a blocked punt

which led to a Carolina touchdown and Smith’s pick-six sealed the

game for Carolina.

”It is always disappointing when you are not able to make the

playoffs,” Smith said. ”It is as disappointing for us as we feel

that our fans and all of us deserve a shot in the playoffs. It’s

not time to hang your head. No time to feel sorry for

yourself.”

The Panthers are right back in the hunt for the NFC South

division title and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Cam Newton threw for 273 yards and a touchdown, Munnerlyn had

two sacks along with the interception and the Panthers bounced back

from their most lopsided loss of the season.

With New Orleans losing 27-16 to St. Louis, the Panthers (10-4)

have pulled even with the Saints with the rematch set for next

Sunday in Charlotte. If Carolina wins its final two games, it will

clinch the division and the first-round bye. The Panthers haven’t

been to the postseason since 2008.

Carolina’s defense, which surrendered 313 yards and four

touchdowns in a 31-13 loss to New Orleans, came up big limiting

Smith to 167 yards passing, while sacking him four times.

Newton was an efficient 16 of 24 passing and Williams had 81

yards rushing and 87 yards receiving.

Jeff Cumberland had a touchdown catch, and rookie defensive

lineman Sheldon Richardson bulldozed his way for a 1-yard touchdown

run on a goal-line play.

The turning point came in the fourth quarter with the Panthers

leading 16-13.

The Jets had a chance to take the lead, but failed to pick up a

first down and Ryan Quigley’s punt was blocked by Jason Williams

and downed at the Jets 14. Four plays later, Mike Tolbert bowled

his way into the end zone on a 1-yard run to make it a

two-possession game.

”That play really kind of sparked us,” Panthers coach Ron

Rivera said of Williams’ blocked punt.

On New York’s next series, Munnerlyn then stepped in front of a

slant route for his fifth career interception return for touchdown

– a new franchise record.

It was also a little revenge for the Panthers’ secondary, which

Jets receiver Santonio Holmes referred to as ”the weakest link”

of Carolina’s defense.

The Panthers broke open a 6-6 tie late in the first quarter when

Newton faked a screen pass to the left, spun around and threw back

to the other side of the field to a wide-open Williams. The

30-year-old running back beat linebacker David Harris to the right

sideline and turned it up the field, getting a smothering block

from wide receiver Brandon LaFell en route to a 72-yard touchdown

reception.

NOTES: The Jets ran for 157 yards, the most allowed this season

by the Panthers. … Of Munnerlyn’s seven career interceptions,

five have been returned for touchdowns.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org