EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It's hard to call them the "same old Jets" because things aren't as bad and dysfunctional as they've been in the past. They are building something, even if the growing pains are increasingly painful.
But Sunday's loss, on the heels of a string of bad losses, sure did have the "same old" feel.
How else to explain the Jets once again holding their own against one of the better teams in the NFL only to maddeningly throw it all away in the fourth quarter, this time with their already thin playoff hopes clinging to the line? Their 35-27 home loss to the Carolina Panthers was their fifth loss in six games, and it felt like all the others. If only they hadn't made so many mind-boggling mistakes at key points late in the game.
If only they had just played smart football -- it didn't even have to be good football -- they probably would have hung on.
Instead … well, the anger on the faces of the players on the field after the game, and the silence in the locker room afterward told the story. They know they blew it. Again. They know they can't explain it. Again. They know everyone feels like this is what the Jets always do, dashing everyone's hopes in agonizingly creative fashion.
Same old Jets? It certainly feels that way. Here's an all-too-familiar-feeling look at what went wrong:
- Josh McCown's fourth-quarter fumble was inexcusable, especially after he explained he was merely trying to throw the ball away. The Jets were up 20-18 and their defense was doing a number on the Panthers when McCown dropped back on a second-and-11 from the Jets 45 with 12:16 remaining. The pressure came quickly. After all his years in the league, he knows he just has to eat that ball. If he gets sacked, even if the Jets are forced to punt, they're still up with maybe 11 minutes to go. Instead, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly picked it up and rumbled 34 yards for a touchdown that absolutely deflated the Jets.
- One series prior, what the heck was offensive coordinator John Morton thinking calling three straight pass plays from the 1-yard line? Granted, the second one nearly worked on a controversial (but probably correct) replay review that overturned an Austin Seferian-Jenkins touchdown catch, but he had to dive for the ball. It wasn't exactly a high-percentage throw. Even afterward, facing a third-and-1, he called for McCown to roll at and run again? Not even one try for the hard-charging Bilal Powell? That was awful. The Jets blew a chance to go up by a touchdown and instead settled for three.
- It will get underplayed because of all the other mistakes, but defensive tackle Mike Pennel's roughing the passer penalty with 2:12 left killed any chance of a Jets comeback. Pennel, in for the injured Steve McLendon, hit Cam Newton after an incomplete pass on third down from near midfield. The Jets would've gotten the ball back down five with more than two minutes to play. Instead, thanks to that drive-extending stupidity, the Jets got the ball back down eight with 21 seconds to go.
- Boy, did Jets cornerback Daryl Roberts have trouble with Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess, who finished with seven catches for 108 yards (seemingly mostly on Roberts). Twice, he tried to jump in front of him to pick off a pass, and both times he missed the ball and the tackle. Other times, he played far too soft on him. Considering not a single other Panthers receiver had a catch -- and the Jets certainly knew Funchess was their only major weapon in the passing game -- it's a mystery why the Jets didn't instead put Buster Skrine or Morris Claiborne on him. Skrine actually had a real strong game, especially early. He broke up two passes intended for Funchess, including one when he dropped out of his own coverage to help Roberts, and another time in the end zone. Claiborne was returning from a foot injury, but he did not appear limited whatsoever.
- It wasn't all bad, of course. The Jets got a Pro Bowl-caliber performance from wide receiver Robby Anderson, who had 146 receiving yards and two touchdowns, including a ridiculous 33-yard touchdown catch in double coverage where he somehow got his feet down in bounds. His other touchdown was spectacular too, mostly because McCown rolled right and directed Anderson to run deep as the quarterback bought time. Anderson, who was waiting on the sidelines for what he thought would be a short pass, took off and left Panthers safety Kurt Coleman in his dust for an easy 54-yard touchdown.
- It's really a shame the Jets' defensive effort was wasted by McCown's fumble and then Kaelin Clay's punt return for a touchdown. They did a remarkable job containing Newton, both in the air and on the ground. The Panthers quarterback completed only 39.2 percent of his passes (11-for-28) for 168 yards and was sacked three times. He also gained only 28 yards on his nine carries. The Jets gave up 145 yards on the ground, but 40 on one run up the middle by running back Christian McCaffrey, and another on a 29-yard reverse to Clay.
- Seferian-Jenkins was diplomatic about his second reversed touchdown "catch" of the season. Unlike the first one against the Patriots (which remains inexplicable), this one was probably the correct call. I know, it seemed like a catch to me and every other person with eyes, but by the letter of the NFL's law, when Seferian-Jenkins hit the ground and the ball moved a little, he didn't regain control before he went out of bounds, meaning it officially -- and correctly -- became an incompletion. That said, his inexcusable drop in the first quarter in the end zone was all on him.