The Jets made a late charge Sunday as the Robert Saleh era got underway, outscoring the Panthers 14-3 in the second half. Unfortunately, the Green & White were outscored 16-0 in the opening half and rookie QB Zach Wilson never got a shot for a game-winning drive. Christian McCaffrey's 18-yard run was the final nail as the Jets dropped their season-opener, 19-14.
No. 2 Shows His Mettle
After an impressive preseason, Jets QB Zach Wilson had a slow start to his first NFL regular-season game. Wilson completed 6 of 16 in the first half and threw an interception as the offense totaled 82 yards. But Wilson battled and showed some encouraging signs in the final 30 minutes while throwing for a pair of touchdowns to Corey Davis.
Wilson and the offense crossed midfield twice in the first two quarters, the first time coming after Wilson and Davis connected for a 35-yard catch-and-run that put the offense on their 46-yard line. Three plays later, however, Wilson threw his first NFL interception as Panthers LB Shaq Thompson corralled the rookie's pass intended for TE Ryan Griffin.
The offense found the end zone before the end of the third quarter as Wilson scrambled right and fired a 22-yard pass to Davis, who was wide open. The rookie signal-caller then kept the ball after a fake handoff for the 2-point conversion to cut the Panthers' lead in half, 16-8.
Trailing by 11 late, Wilson led a 93-yard scoring possession that culminated with a 8-yard rope to Davis. The former Titan had 5 catches for 97 yards Sunday while Wilson finished 20 of 37 for 258 yards with the 2 scores and 1 INT.
Wilson and the Jets may have suffered a big loss on the first TD. LT Mekhi Becton got rolled up and was carted off the field with a knee injury. The Green & White finished with George Fant at LT and Morgan Moses at RT.
Wilson was sacked five times and the Panthers' defense recorded 10 QB hits.
"There are a lot of things involved in protection and we have to get better," first-year head coach Robert Saleh said after the game. "I'm not going to blame the offensive line. There were a lot of breakdowns in the first half, but there were issues with route running, the QB getting rid of the ball and dropped balls."
For his part, Wilson said that while he took the hits, Carolina's defense deserves credit.
"They have good rushers up front," he said. "Our O-line is going to go back and do their thing and make it work."
The red-zone defense kept the Jets within striking distance all afternoon, holding the Panthers to just 1 TD on their four trips inside the red zone.
The Panthers had three opportunities in goal-to-go territory and came away with 6 points. In the first half, QB Sam Darnold fumbled on fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line and DT Sheldon Rankins, making his debut in green and white, recovered. Then, after Wilson's interception put the Panthers on the Jets' 32-yard line, the defense held and K Ryan Santoso put the Panthers ahead, 3-0, with a 22-yard field goal. Down by 16-8 in the fourth, the Jets held Carolina to a field goal on its first drive in the final quarter.
Carolina's offense was paced by Christian McCaffrey. He had 21 carries for 98 yards with a long scamper of 18 yards, and caught 9 passes from Darnold for 89 yards.
See Best Images from the First Game of the 2021 Season
The Panthers had the better of the play early on, but the Jets trailed only by 3-0 with 4:18 remaining in the first half. And they were in plus-territory, facing a fourth-and-1 from the Carolina 42. The Jets failed to get push up front and Tevin Coleman was stopped in the backfield for a 1-yard loss by DE Yetur Gross-Matos.
On the next play, Jets fans saw a connection they had become familiar with in 2018-19 as Darnold connected to Anderson for a 57-yard TD. Darnold stepped up the in the pocket to avoid DL Sheldon Rankins and delivered the ball as Anderson split safeties Marcus Maye and Sheldrick Redwine.
Instead of the Jets closing in on scoring territory, the deficit rose to 10-0. Then seconds before the half, Darnold called his own number and it was 16-0. Darnold threw for 234 yards in the first half and RB Christian McCaffrey had 91 yards receiving along with 33 yards on the ground.
OT Mekhi Becton injured his right knee on the Jets' first scoring play and was carted to the team's locker room and did not return to the game. George Fant took Becton's spot at LT and Morgan Moses took Fant's spot at RT.
DE John Franklin Myers had two tackles behind the line of scrimmage, stopping DJ Moore for a 5-yard loss in the opening quarter and his takedown of Sam Darnold in the third was the Jets' first of the season.
Kicker Matt Ammendola was called on to punt in the first half after P Braden Mann departed with a knee injury. Mann was barreled into by a Jets blocker who had been pushed back into the second-year punter. Ammendola averaged 49.8 yards on six punts including a 65-yarder with two downed inside the 20-yard-line.
The Jets started Fant at RT while rookie CB Brandin Echols got the call across the way from Bryce Hall. Fant and Moses had been listed as co-starters on the depth chart and Echols earned the nod above the likes of Isaiah Dunn and Javelin Guidry. Echols had 5 tackles.
The Jets lost a pair of defensive starters in the game as both rookie LB Jamien Sherwood (foot) and veteran S Lamarcus Joyner (elbow) exited. Del'Shawn Phillips, a practice-squad promotion Saturday, filled in for Sherwood and finished with a team-high 9 tackles. Marcus Maye pitched in with 8 and rookie nickel Michael Carter II had a strong performance, tallying 5 tackles, 1 TFL and a pass defended.
Rookie QB Zach Wilson distributed the ball to eight different receivers and Braxton Berrios tied Davis with a team-high 5 grabs. The Jets were limited to just 2.6 yards per carry on the ground.
Both WR Keelan Cole (knee) and La'Mical Perine (foot) were among the gameday inactives. Cole didn't practice on Friday and Perine was a full participant and the two players were listed as questionable on the injury report. … RB Josh Adams, LB Quincy Williams, CB Jason Pinnock and DL Jonathan Marshall rounded out the inactives. … Veteran wideout Jamison Crowder started the season on the Reserve/Covid-19 list.