Panthers dump Jets, set up NFC South showdown

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was determined to let his play speak loudest.
After hearing from a member of the New York Jets that the secondary was Carolina's soft spot, Munnerlyn answered on the field Sunday in the Panthers' 30-20 victory over the Jets at Bank of America Stadium.
"It fired me up a little bit, and I was ready to play football," Munnerlyn said, referring to the comments from Jets receiver Santonio Holmes. "I took that kind of personal. I don't think he had hardly any yards. We did a good job."
Munnerlyn returned an interception 42 yards for a touchdown and recorded two sacks.
Running back DeAngelo Williams scored on a tiebreaking, 72-yard pass play late in the first half as the Panthers moved to the verge of clinching an NFC playoff spot.
A week after their franchise-record, eight-game winning streak was snapped by the Saints in New Orleans, the Panthers found the ideal response by swarming the Jets for most of the game.
"All we care about is the guys in this room," Panthers safety Mike Mitchell said, downplaying comments from opponents.
Carolina (10-4) has a rematch with New Orleans next Sunday, with the winner moving atop the NFC South standings. The Saints (10-4) fell into a tie for first place by losing to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.
"We have an even bigger game next week," Carolina linebacker Jason Williams said. "Ten wins is good right now, but we've got to focus on the next thing."
The Jets (6-8) would be eliminated from playoff contention if the Baltimore Ravens beat the Lions on Monday night in Detroit. If the Ravens lose, the Jets must win their final two games and receive some help to make the postseason.
Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson said there is no reason to give up on the season.
"Guys are fighting our butts off," Wilkerson said. "We made too many mistakes. They made plays."
Jason Williams blocked a fourth-quarter punt, allowing the Panthers to take possession at the New York 14. The play set up running back Mike Tolbert's 1-yard touchdown run with 11:05 to go as the Panthers took a 23-13 lead.
"We were out there four times, and we've got to be perfect each time," Jets punter Ryan Quigley said. "We've got to go to the film room and fix it."
Less than three minutes later, Munnerlyn picked off Jets quarterback Geno Smith and ended up in the end zone. It was Munnerlyn's franchise-record fifth interception return for a touchdown in his career.
Holmes caught two passes for 14 yards.
"I just went out there to be real physical on them," Munnerlyn said.
Smith, who was sacked four times, connected on 15 of 28 passes for 167 yards. His lone touchdown pass went to tight end Jeff Cumberland from 8 yards out with 3:50 left in the game.
"We knew a guy with his kind of ability, we'd have to keep pressure on him the entire time," Jason Williams said of Smith.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton completed 16 of 24 passes for 273 yards and one touchdown.
The Jets, who posted a season-high point total in last week's 37-27 victory against the Oakland Raiders, didn't score a touchdown until defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, filling in as a fullback, bulled in from 1 yard out to conclude a nine-play, 86-yard drive with 3:04 remaining in the third quarter.
Carolina had a chance to build on a 16-6 edge with its first possession of the third quarter, but Newton threw incomplete on fourth-and-2 from the New York 14.
The Panthers won three of four games against AFC foes, making them the only NFC South team with a winning record against the other conference.
The Jets, who dropped to 1-6 on the road, gained 93 first-half yards on the ground against a Carolina defense yielding a league-low 79.4 rushing yards per game. New York finished with 157 yards on the ground, with running back Chris Ivory picking up 66 yards on 11 carries.
The teams traded field goals in the first half until DeAngelo Williams rambled for a touchdown on a swing pass from Newton.
Kicker Graham Gano added a 40-yard field goal with eight seconds to play in the half to give Carolina a 16-6 lead.
The Panthers struck first on Gano's 35-yard field goal at the 4:39 mark of the first quarter.
The Jets tied it on the last play of the opening quarter on kicker Nick Folk's 54-yard field goal. That made Folk 15 of 16 from 40-plus yards this season.
Carolina settled for Gano's 22-yard field goal on its next drive, which went 85 yards on 15 plays but stalled after reaching first-and-goal at the New York 2.
Folk hit from 33 yards out to make it 6-6 with 3:49 remaining in the first half.
Until DeAngelo Williams' touchdown reception, the Panthers were in danger of being limited to two first-half field goals for the second game in a row.
NOTES: Jets team captains for the game included S Josh Bush, FB Tommy Bohanon, LB Calvin Pace (all former Wake Forest players) and LB Quinton Coples (out of the University of North Carolina) as a tribute to returning to the state where they played in college. ... Pace notched a first-quarter sack, giving the 11-year veteran a career-high nine for the season. ... The Jets placed WR Stephen Hill on injured reserve and signed WR Saalim Hakim from the practice squad. ... Panthers LB Chase Blackburn played a home game for the first time in more than a month after a foot injury caused him to miss the previous two home games (and three overall). ... Carolina LB Thomas Davis played in his 100th career game. ... The Jets, who dropped to 3-1 against NFC opponents, play their home finale next week against the Cleveland Browns.

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