It remains a fact: The Jets have still not scored a touchdown this preseason.
But against the Carolina Panthers Sunday night, in their third regular-season tune up game, they had opportunities.
"We have work to do, but I think we made some improvements," head coach Rex Ryan said following his team's 17-12 loss.
The Green & White offense looked extremely sharp in its opening drive as quarterback Mark Sanchez went 4-of-4 for 45 yards. The first two plays of the game were Sanchez completions of 24 and 20 yards. The drive ended with a 46-yard field goal by Nick Folk, which knotted the score at 3 apiece.
"I felt good," Sanchez said. "I felt like we were in a rhythm. I tried to get our guys the ball out on the perimeter and watch them work. I thought I was accurate for the most part."
After trailing, 3-0, less than seven minutes into the game, the Jets offense scored nine unanswered points to take a 9-3 lead with 5½ minutes remaining in the second quarter.
They had a chance to increase their lead but couldn't as Sanchez threw two pretty balls that his receivers couldn't secure. The first pass was intended for Santonio Holmes, who was seeing his first action this preseason after having missed the first two contests due to a rib injury. The second pass was a slant route to rookie Stephen Hill, which resulted in an interception.
"I think he just put the ball out there a little early," Holmes said of the misconnection. "Timing was perfect. The ball just came super fast and I didn't have a chance to get my head turned around in time."
Hill described his drop as "trying to run before making the catch."
The pick gave Carolina positive field position and a chance to regain momentum. A 17-yard run by DeAngelo Williams led to a 3-yard TD pass from Cam Newton to WR Louis Murphy as the Panthers took a 10-9 lead into the intermission.
Also in the first half, a pair of Jet tight ends went down with injuries. Starter Dustin Keller suffered a hamstring injury after their first offensive play, while backup TE Josh Baker went down later with a knee injury that looked damaging from replays.
"Not good," Sanchez said. "It's not something you want to see in the preseason. You like to keep guys healthy, but our trainers will be busy and we're lucky we have the best trainers in the league. So we'll get them back as soon as possible."
One noticeable improvement the offense showed Sunday compared to last weekend's loss against the Giants was the protection the line gave Sanchez. Right tackle Austin Howard earned the start over Wayne Hunter and was praised by Ryan and teammates.
"Every minute that I got out there was a great opportunity to show people what I could do," Howard said. "It was something that was well worth it and well needed, and I feel like I progressed and I feel like we progressed as an offense."
Backup quarterback Tim Tebow also displayed some flashes. Early in the fourth quarter, on third-and-15, Tebow scrambled to his left and ran 20-yards to pick up an important first down. The former Heisman trophy winner was ecstatic after the play, jumping up from the ground and pumping his fists as the crowd at MetLife Stadium began chanting his last name. Just three plays later however, his pass intended for TE Dedrick Epps was intercepted by Panthers safety Reggie Smith.
"At times, Tim looked terrific, he absolutely did," Ryan said. "He did energize the crowd. He made some huge runs and was able to scramble, get out of trouble and still had some nice passes. He just was a little inconsistent. The one interception that he did throw, he was able to scramble, buy some time and just never got the elevation on the ball he wanted."
With the Panthers clinching to a 17-12 lead with 1:53 remaining, Tebow returned to the field. With the drive beginning on the Jets 15, the he guided the offense to the Carolina 27.
Could the Jets end their preseason TD woes and capture their first victory of 2012 on the final drive of the game? With 22 seconds on the clock, it seemed possible. But on this night, it wasn't meant to be.
Those final 22 seconds featured four passes, each an incompletion. Tebow stated he believed the Jets were going to win and still felt they should have. But even as big of a competitor as No. 15 is, he understands the team is making strides.
"You can be disappointed," he said. "Yeah, we wanted to score. But you have to be able to let it go. It's a preseason game. You've got to work on what you did bad and how you can get better and make sure that when the regular season gets here and we're playing Buffalo, we can put the ball in the end zone because that's what matters."