First, a history lesson, in their first meeting in the Panthers first season, Panthers linebacker Sam Mills turned the game around late in the first half by picking off a Bubby Brister shovel pass and running it back for a touchdown. Three years later, running back Fred Lane got himself in trouble when he gestured towards Jets fans during the blowout loss, but grabbing his crotch.
There were no such shanningans this time, just a pair of offenses that couldn't put the ball in the end zone. One of them, in fact, could hardly move the ball. That would be the Panthers.
First possession, the Jets drove the ball right down the field until Richie Anderson made a catch inside the 10...and had it knocked loose by linebacker Dean Wells. Panther defensive back Rashard Anderson picked up the loose ball and sprinted 94-yards for the touchdown. It was the longest fumble return in Panthers' history, topping a 66-yarder by Kevin Greene.
Strange enough, but, it got stranger, as normally reliable John Kasay hit the right upright on the extra point attempt.
The Jets got the touchdown back on a similiarly odd play, as they broke through the line on a jailbreak and gave punter Todd Sauerbrun the first blocked punt of his career. Chris Hayes picked up the ball and ran it in 7 yards to give the Jets a 7-6 lead.
The Panthers' defense was having a decent day, from the standpoint that they were "bending but not breaking". At the end of the half, Doug Evans returned a Vinny Testeverde interception 49-yards to set up a John Kasay field goal as the clock ran out. Testeverde's next pass was picked off too, by Lester Towns at the Jets 37, setting up another Kasay field goal.
The three plays that the Panthers ran following that interception were the only ones they ran in Jets territory before the 4th quarter! That's how bad the offense was. Richard Huntley appeared to be on his way to a decent day in his first start, but, they inexplicably went away from the run early. Quarterback Chris Weinke, meanwhile, was having his worst day as a pro. He never appeared to be in sync. He also rarely stretched the defense, throwing passes beyond 15 yards only twice on the day, and the second, from his own 1, was picked off by Aaron Glenn, setting up John Hall's game winning field goal from 34 yards out with just under 5 minutes to go.
The Panthers, once again, find themselves playing "what-if". They've now blown fourth quarter leads three straight weeks, and have lost the last three games by a total of 6 points. They've also lost 6 in a row.
The offense was awful, gaining just 162 yards TOTAL. Curtis Martin rushed for 159 by himself. As we talked about, Weinke never got untracked hitting just 12-34 for 76 yards.
The play-calling is, deservedly, getting a lot of heat. It's baffling to say the least. Going against the worst rushing defense in the league, the Panthers abandoned the running game early on and then took a back, in Huntley, who is better straight ahead, and tried running him outside.
With trips to Miami and St. Louis on tap the next two weeks, it's no telling how long it will be before this club can win again.