The Jets were asked this week about the possibility of playoffs and they answered dutifully that, yes, there was a chance, but they had to play six one-game playoff seasons successfully to get into the AFC grid.
All they had to do in their first "playoff game" was beat the streaking Carolina Panthers at home. A tall order.
They appeared up to the task as Josh McCown found WR Robby Anderson for a pair of touchdown strikes, the defense harassed Cam Newton into an off-target passing game, and Chandler Catanzaro's second field goal giving the Green & White a 20-18 lead with 14 minutes to play.
But back-to-back return touchdowns in a little over two minutes of clock time ruined the Jets' plans. Carolina prevailed, 35-27, with the Panthers improving to 8-3 while the Jets fell to 4-7. A home date with the Kansas City Chiefs lies ahead at MetLife next Sunday.
Here are nine chronological takeaways from the Green & White's difficult day of defeat:
1. Feeling-Out Period
Both teams opened with decent drives to moderate-range field goals. On Carolina's opening march, CB Buster Skrine looked "on" with two downfield PDs, forcing the Panthers ultimately to settle for Graham Gano's 40-yarder. On the Jets' answering opening drive, Robby Anderson grabbed a 20-yarder from Josh McCown — his 13th 20-plus reception of the season — moving the hosts into plus territory and eventually into the red zone before Austin Seferian-Jenkins dropped a third-down TD pass from McCown and Chandler Catanzaro came on for a 31-yarder.
2. Putting Cam Under Pressure
The Jets defense came up with a couple of nicely designed sacks of Cam Newton on the second series that produced a punt. On first down, Steve McLendon got his first full sack of the year, then on a third-down corner blitz, LB Demario Davis closed quickly to drop Newton and up his team-leading total to 4.5 sacks. Nice development, but could the D keep up the pressure on Newton for the next three quarters?
Top Gameday Photos from the Week 12 Matchup at MetLife Stadium
3. Panthers on the Prowl
The Carolina offense got cranking early in the second frame, moving 86 yards on eight plays, with Newton stiff-arming Bruce Carter on third down for a 1-yard bootleg TD. The big play was WR Kaelin Clay's 29-yard end-around to the Jets' 25. Gano's extra point went wide right so the Green & White trailed, 9-3, with 10 minutes to play in the half.
4. Two-Minute Success
The Jets gave up field position and almost a TD but held the Panthers to a Gano field goal for a 12-3 lead with four minutes left in the half. Then came another exchange of downs and the Jets were facing a two-minute drill. And they capitalized on — what else? — a McCown-to-Robby Anderson TD strike. Anderson despite double coverage, gathered in the 33-yard throw with 1:12 to play to cut the deficit to 12-10 at intermission. It was the Jets' seventh score in the last two minutes of the first half (3 TDs, 4 FGs). And it was Anderson's fifth straight game with a TD catch and his 14th catch of 20-yards-plus on the year.
5. And Anderson Again
Midway through the third quarter, the Jets moved toward midfield. Then McCown bounced outside to the right and a golden opportunity opened. McCown pointed to Anderson to take off down the right sideline, which he did, and McCown hit him in stride for a 54-yard strike with S Kurt Coleman trailing the play badly. Anderson tiptoed the sideline before taking off, but the replay review upheld the call and the Jets were suddenly on top 17-12.
6. Fourth-Down Jitters
The Panthers, who converted a fourth down on their first drive of the day, went for it again on fourth-and-2 at the Jets 32. The pass went incomplete but before the snap, Newton's hard count got Jordan Jenkins to jump. The offside gave the visitors the first down and they went on to a 2-yard TD run by Jonathan Stewart to go up 18-17.
7. Close But No Cigar
The Jets got close to opening a six-point lead when McCown appeared to hit Seferian-Jenkins with a 1-yard fade for the score. But the booth replay review overturned the call on the grounds that ASJ didn't secure the ball after hitting the turf, so the Jets settled for Catanzaro's very short field goal and their last lead of the game at 20-18 with 14:01 to play.
8. Then Two Exploding Cigars
The Panthers took control of the game with two return TDs in the span of 2 minutes, 11 seconds. On the first, LB Luke Kuechly scooped up a McCown strip-sack fumble and rambled 34 yards for the go-ahead TD. Then after a 3-and-out, Clay took Lachlan Edwards' 37-yard punt (3.63 hang) on the run and broke free down the left sideline for a 60-yard punt-return TD and a 32-20 lead.
9. Back to a One-Score Game
McCown atoned for the strip sack by leading one more scoring drive, to his 3-yard dart to Kearse with 5:32 left. But the Jets defense couldn't get the ball back from the Carolina offense until Gano hit his third field goal, from 45 yards out. Needing eight points with no timeouts left and 21 seconds on the clock, the Jets' hopes ended with Kearse hitting the turf at midfield as the clock hit 0:00.