Update, Monday, 1:30 a.m. ET
Talk about a preseason pressure-cooker. Mark Sanchez and the Jets' first offense wanted to score a touchdown any way possible. The defense, among the NFL's leaders in stopping the run, faced a tough assignment in the perennially top-rushing Panthers. The team wanted to win a game after two losses.
And the Green & White only had to do all this on national TV.
The Jets offense remained not-ready-for-prime-time-players, unable to score a touchdown for the third straight game, this one in front of the NBC cameras. Their four field goals, three by incumbent kicker Nick Folk, gave them a 12-10 third-quarter lead they couldn't hold and they fell to Cam Newton and company from Carolina, 17-12, to dip to 0-3 on the preseason.
The Jets' 12 quarters without a touchdown is their longest preseason drought since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
Head coach Rex Ryan, calling it "disappointing" at going three summer games with only seven field goals to show, still sounded upbeat about some ball movement that led to the Jets' best preseason output of 290 yards.
"We have work to do, but I think we made some improvements," Ryan said. "I really think we're going to get this turned. We have to. There were some encouraging things, and I think it started with the way Mark threw the football and the way we protected him. I thought those were some real positives. At times I liked the way we ran the ball."
"I think a lot has to do with keeping the guys healthy right now," WR Santonio Holmes, who got his first reps and made his first catch of the preseason, said of coordinator Tony Sparano's still-vanilla, no-Wildcat game plan. "Once Week 1 comes around, all cylinders are moving."
"I've said it before. We're saving our good stuff for the regular season," Sanchez said.
Sanchez completed 11 of 18 for 123 yards and was sacked only once as Austin Howard fared well in his first Jets start at RT. But Ryan said his staff counted three dropped passes, including rookie Stephen Hill's bad bat of a pass that turned into Sanchez's only interception — "That was just me trying to run before the catch," Hill said.
Sanchez's and the first O's last series of the summer occurred on the first drive of the second half, when they moved to first-and-10 on the Carolina 26, only to get a personal-foul call on Matt Slauson and, before a Josh Brown 40-yard field goal try to regain the lead, a false start on Kenrick Ellis. Brown's resulting 45-yarder missed wide left.
Sanchez and the ones left the field having scored only three field goals on 15 possessions in the first three games.
Not even a little dash of Tebowmania from there could help the Jets encounter the end zone electric.
Backup QB Tim Tebow, leading the second offense since late in the third period, gave a little taste of what he can bring to the table by converting a third-and-15 with a 20-yard scramble to to the Panthers 46. However, Tebow then rolled right and tried to muscle a pass that was easily intercepted by S Reggie Smith.
Tim T and the offense got the ball back after a three-and-out with 4:38 to play at the Jets 19. Tebow went 0-for-2 and took a third-down sack.
Then with 1:49 left Tebow got the ball at the Jets 15. Immediately he hit two completions, to WR Joseph Collins and TE Dedrick Epps, to midfield. Then two scrambles got the ball to the Carolina 27. Finally, with 2 seconds left, he dropped back to try to find TE Hayden Smith in the end zone. Not even the former pro rugby front lock could jump high enough for the overthrow and the Jets succumbed.
"I figured that was going to be one of our best shots," Tebow said. "A tall receiver, someone who's obviously used to going up and getting the ball — 'scrums,' or whatever they're called. I figured with a split safety, he had a chance down the middle and tried to buy a little time. I tried to put it where he could get it. Unfortunately we just couldn't connect."
Tebow, not expected to play at Philadelphia on Thursday night as Greg McElroy and Matt Simms get the QB call, directed 15 drives in the first three preseason games, producing three FGs.
Midway through the third quarter, LaRon Landry came up with his second INT of the preseason, this one on an overthrow by Panthers backup QB Derek Anderson that "Dirty 30" plus a Carolina chop-block foul gave the Jets the ball at the visitors' 34.
Tebow came on and guided the "twos" as close as first-and-goal at the 8 before fading, so on came Folk for his third field goal of the game from 30 yards out to give the hosts a 12-10 lead with 1:48 left in the third quarter.
Anderson's second series went much better than the first. He led the game's longest drive, 76 yards, all the way to a 1-yard TD toss to TE Gary Barnidge. With 11:31 left, the Panthers had climbed back on top by 17-12, and that turned out to be the deciding score.
First Half: A Lead, but Still No TDs
The Jets won their third coin toss of the preseason but chose to defer their decision until the second half, the first time that's happened this summer. The Panthers took advantage by moving 65 yards into the red zone before settling for Olindo Mare's 33-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead. The drive went 65 yards on 13 plays and lasted 6:42.
The Green & White offense then came on and immediately responded. Sanchez came out throwing and hit his first two passes, to TE Dustin Keller for 24 yards and WR Patrick Turner for 20 to the Panthers 30. Ultimately Folk dropped a 46-yard field goal over the bar to tie it at 3-3. Those were the first points for the Sanchez offense in its ninth possession of the preseason.
The Panthers didn't move nearly as well on their second series, with ILBs Bart Scott and David Harris flying to the ball. That led to the game's first punt — and Jeremy Kerley's first punt return of the summer games. He put on a nice move to elude the first Panther down and picked up 12 yards to the Jets 30.
Soon after the Jets' first defense forced another punt from midfield, then the offense drove 72 yards to Josh Brown's 34-yard field goal to make it 6-3 for the Jets' first lead of the preseason. But the drive was costly as Sanchez tried to find Josh Baker in the end zone on third down, the ball landed incomplete, and Carolina CB Josh Norman landed hard into Baker's right knee. The second-year man walked off gingerly with support from the medical team, then took the cart off the field.
Quinton Coples quickly turned in his next summer spectacular with a nice pass rush that forced Newton to scramble and slip to the turf. As Newton got up, Coples swatted the ball from the QB's hands with Bart Scott recovering. Replacement ref Richard "Matt" Nicks called the play down by contact, but after Ryan red-flagged the call, Nicks reversed it, giving the Jets the ball at the Panthers 12.
Still, the Green & White's touchdown trouble continued and they settled for Folk's 22-yard field goal and a 9-3 lead.
Yet another punt set the Jets up at their 38. Then came Sanchez's only interception when Hill, who gathered in the Jets' longest reception of the preseason, a 32-yarder, on the previous drive, batted Sanchez's on-target pass into the air, with CB Captain Munnerlyn returning the easy pick for 16 yards to the Jets 31.
Five plays later, Newton found WR Louis Murphy for a 3-yard TD strike with 1:16 to play in the half for a 10-9 lead for the visitors.
And so the Jets went into the locker room at halftime with their TD-less streak to 10 quarters and with only one more quarter for Sanchez and the first offense to break that schneid or else they'd get all of the Philadelphia preseason finale and the next week to stew about it before starting the regular season against the Bills.
Besides Baker, Keller injured his hamstring on the first drive. He didn't return. Nor did Harris, who injured his ankle. "We're hopeful they're not serious," Ryan said, adding, "Baker's injury looks like it's going to be more serious." ... Jeff Cumberland (concussion) sat out the game, so the Keller and Baker injuries put pressure on the TE position, which could be down to Epps, Smith and Tarren Lloyd for the Eagles.
The Jets had one penalty for 15 yards at the half but finished with 7-60 for the game, including Matt Slauson's personal foul for standing up for WR Patrick Turner against a couple of Panthers. "We were probably going to score, so it's unfortunate," Slauson said. "I'm not going to make that mistake again." ... Against the Eagles the Jets will be trying to avoid their first winless preseason since going 0-4 in 1993.
The Jets wore their white jerseys and white pants for this one. They are 17-12 in white/white under Ryan but have lost their last six — tonight, the Giants game last week, and the last four games in all white of the '11 season. ... In their last five games vs. the Panthers (three RS, two PS), they've scored one offensive TD, none passing.