The Carolina curse struck again.
The Jets-Panthers preseason game tonight was not a pretty one for either side, and so it fits in with the short history of the Green & White's games in the city of Charlotte, N.C., along with "the Shrek Game" in '01 and the six-turnover 30-3 loss in '05.
But like Shrek, beauty and ugliness are in the eye of the beholder, and if the beholder is on the winning side, things look a whole lot better. And the Jets' 9-3 victory over the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium looked es-special-ly pretty.
The Jets' punt coverage unit produced three of the visitors' five takeaways (aided and abetted by the Panthers' shaky returns) and Nick Folk was perfect on three field goals, two from 43-plus yards, and strong on kickoffs all night.
"It's always good to get a win, that's for sure, no matter how ugly it was," said Jets head coach Rex Ryan. "Obviously we're not going to win many games that way. But we won this one."
Corner Drew Coleman sealed the victory with an interception of Jimmy Clausen with just 1:38 remaining, ending a late Panthers scoring threat.
"Rex said last week we had to play better," Coleman said of the DB reserves. "Me, Marquice [Cole] and Dwight [Lowery] felt we didn't play up to par as a Jet. We worked with DT [DBs coach Dennis Thurman] the last couple of days just to come out more aggressive."
With 11 minutes to play, rookie Joe McKnight, who'd been bottled up out of the backfield (11 carries, 28 yards), turned on some of his skills with a 67-yard punt return. However, the Jets gave that ball back to the Panthers at their 6 when RB Chauncey Washington lost a fumble.
All the units of the defense also chipped in by limiting the Panthers to 175 yards, nine first downs and one field goal.
"It was like last year when the defense picked up the offense and the offense picked up the defense," said Lowery. "This is a team sport, you know what I mean? The goal is to come out and be consistent every game and play up to your potential."
Meanwhile, all the offensive units were out of sync. The Mark Sanchez-led "ones" produced only two field goals in their 16 minutes of work, the Mark Brunell "twos" produced four three-and-out series, and Kellen Clemens came in to engineer just a field goal on his first four drives.
But it was enough to give the Jets their first triumph of the preseason.
"I like the way our defense played in the first half, keeping them off the board," said Ryan in his halftime remarks. But as for his first offense, he said, "We have to do better than that. We got three turnovers down there in the red zone. We have to move the ball better. That was disappointing."
McKnight looked as if he got off on the right foot at the start of the third quarter, but at the end of a 6-yard run he was ruled to have fumbled, Ryan challenged the call and referee Clete Blakeman did not reverse it. That set up the Panthers at the Jets 31 for their only points of the game on John Kasay's 42-yard field goal two minutes into the second half.
The tempo for the game was set in the first quarter, which was an odd one, in keeping with the Jets' two previous visits to this stadium. The defense stopped the Panthers when Jim Leonhard picked off Matt Moore's long-ball overthrow at the Jets 8, giving him three picks in green and white (one pre-, one regular and one postseason).
Then the first offense moved fitfully up the field. LaDainian Tomlinson converted a third-and-12 with a 20-yard burst up the middle on a draw. Then the Panthers' Jordan Pugh accidentally backed into Steve Weatherford's bouncing punt, with Lance Laury falling on the loose ball.
A third-down conversion catch by Jerricho Cotchery got the ball to the 23 before Everette Brown got his second sack of Sanchez and Tomlinson was stopped on a third-down completion, setting up Folk for a 43-yard field goal try that he hit to give the Jets the first lead of the game at 3-0 with 5:34 left in the opening frame.
Leonhard continued his short night of playmaking, coming on a safety blitz with Brodney Pool for a 9-yard sack of Moore. Then following a third-down pass breakup by Lowery, Leonhard returned the first punt of the night for the Jets, a 10-yarder that started what would be the first offense's final series of the night at the Jets 36.
The kicking team worked like a charm again as Weatherford's next punt was muffed after a fair catch attempt by Armanti Edwards, with David Clowney pouncing on the loose ball at the Panthers 12. But three plays lost 6 yards so Folk came on for FG No. 2, this one from 36 yards to give the Jets a 6-0 lead 41 seconds into the second quarter.
That's when Sanchez and the first offense left, after an out-of-sync showing. The Jets QB finished 5-for-10 passing for 12 yards, no TDs, no INTs, a 56.2 passer rating, and two field goals on four series.
"It just wasn't a smooth night," said Sanchez, adding, "It wasn't our best night, but nothing alarming. We'll come back and do well Friday night [at home vs. Washington]."
From there the second offense and defense took over and not a lot developed. Brunell's four first-half drives were three-and-outs. Carolina, with starting QB Moore still in the game, also went 1-2-3-punt three times, with Jamaal Westerman applying a sack to hinder one series and Vernon Gholston (tackle for loss) and Marquice Cole (PD on a long ball) stopping another.
This was first touchdown-less Jets preseason game since 1995 and that NYJ win over TB ended with an identical 9-3 score. ... After avoiding the injury bug for most of the summer, New York's AFC representative lost DE Ropati Pitoitua to a torn Achilles. Ryan: "He's probably done for the year."... The Jets' 6-0 halftime lead was their largest in the preseason after two quarters since they held a 17-7 lead over the Redskins at Washington in 2006.
The Green & White defense held Moore and Clausen to 15-for-39 for 129 yards and two picks, which produced a 26.5 passer rating. ... DE Vernon Gholston led the Jets with five tackles, including two for loss. ... Former Jets and Giants S Sam Garnes is on John Fox's Carolina staff as special teams assistant/strength and conditioning. ... Blakeman, a new NFL referee this year, was working his first Jets game.