CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On Sunday, some ghosts of Jets past oozed up through the cracks between the strips of Ericsson Stadium sod.
There was the ghost of Vinny Testaverde the Intercepted, of Richie Anderson's Oakland nightmare of last December, of Bubby Brister's 1995 shovel pass committed nearby at Clemson Stadium. And there was a growing specter that the Jets were about to lose a must-have game to an opponent reeling from injuries and a five-game losing streak.
"Yeah, I'm concerned," coach Herman Edwards said with a smile Sunday after the Jets, just as in a good horror flick, fought off the poltergeists for their 13-12 victory over the Panthers. "I'm concerned that we won the game. We did some things that are uncharacteristic, we didn't play on all cylinders, but we still won the game."
The Jets were not going to give back their third road victory of the season, making them 4-3. What does it say about their chances of beating the 4-2 Saints at New Orleans next week, for the rest of the season, for the playoffs? They expressed no overt concern. And they simply weren't going to let anyone tell them this baby was too ugly to take home.
"This is the NFL," said running back Curtis Martin. "We knew they were going to pull out all their cannons. We knew we had to be the last ones standing. It was only by one point, but we got it done." The most interesting and hopeful sign for the Jets was the backward way in which they pulled the squeaker out: with a defense that entered the game ranked last in the NFL overall and against the run, and with special teams still stinging from last week's onside-kick insult laid on them by St. Louis.
The defense first. The Jets were vulnerable early to the running of new starting back Richard Huntley, but they put a choke hold on the Panthers in the second half, limiting them to 61 yards on 30 plays. On the day, they forced Carolina into seven three-and-out series. And that set up the big play of the game, Jets' first and only takeaway. Cornerback Aaron Glenn's interception of rookie quarterback Chris Weinke's pass from his end zone and 22-yard return to the Panthers 21 with 6:53 to play set up John Hall's game-winning field goal.
"I told Aaron and Marcus (Coleman) to be ready for the deep ball," Edwards said. "A lot of times you put eight guys in the box and most people think you're going to run. That is a great time for a play-action pass." In fact, coordinator Ted Cottrell went to a lot of eight-man fronts, some more 3-4 looks, judicious blitzing of Mo Lewis and James Farrior, and matchup coverage by his corners. Glenn dropped an interception in Carolina territory early in the second half, but his coverage on Muhsin Muhammad was impeccable as he held the Panthers' leading receiver to two catches for 15 yards and defended three passes thrown to him. The big one was Glenn's third pick of the season, when the 5-foot-9 corner won a jumpball against the 6-2 Muhammad.
"People say if you're not a 6-1 corner, you're no good — it's a battle I've been fighting for years," Glenn said. "When I'm out there, I'm not just playing for myself but for all the corners who aren't 6-1." The respect issue crept up in another form for coach Mike Westhoff's special teams. "Last week was tough," rookie Jamie Henderson said of the Rams' third-quarter onsides kick. "We really thought that was wrong, being they already were up. Today was a good comeback game for us."
Henderson took matters into his own hands after Anderson's red zone fumble on the game's opening drive produced Rashard Anderson's 94-yard return touchdown and a 6-0 lead. First Henderson caught and downed one of Tom Tupa's five inside-the-20 punts at the Carolina 2. Then when the Panthers had to punt deep in their territory, the Jets overloaded their right-side protection, Henderson jumped gaps and produced the first blocked punt of punter Todd Sauerbrun's football career. Chris Hayes scooped up the ball and scored his first touchdown since he was a junior at Washington State.
"We've got to get that young guy out there — he's such a good athlete," Hayes said, adding that Henderson didn't get a game ball after the game, "but he's going to get it." As always this season, Martin was deserving of a game ball, running toward a 159-yard game on 27 carries.
Other than some timely third-down passing by Testaverde to Kevin Swayne, starting for Chrebet, there wasn't much to commend offensively. Testaverde threw three interceptions on the game. One came seconds before halftime on a failed fake-spike play that Doug Evans' returned to the Jets' 27. John Kasay's field goal turned the error into a 9-7 Panthers halftime lead. "I should've spiked it," said Testaverde, clearly no Dan Marino when it comes to fake spikes.
"I decided to go to Matthew on a little out. I thought I had enough on it. It was a bad mistake on my part." Swayne took the blame for not adjusting on a Testaverde scramble that produced pick No. 3. Anderson committed his second faux pas of the day when he couldn't corral a pass that deflected to linebacker Lester Towns and produced Kasay's second field goal. "I got that out of my system," Anderson said with a shudder. "I think I played terrible and we won. We get to chalk up a win. That's all you can say."
Well, not quite all. Testaverde still had a bit of wishful thinking about the ugliness and the apparitions. "Sometimes you have to win ugly," Testaverde said. "Last year we were sitting there at 9-7 and thinking if we just had one more win, we'd be in (the playoffs). Maybe this will be that one win."
That remains to be seen. But for this week, to ward off evil spirits, all Edwards and the Jets will do is hold up the ugly "W" against the Panthers.