Panthers ground Jets, take over division driver’s seat

Print_IMG_3597-2The Panthers’ defense was back in fine form Sunday during Carolina’s 30-20 victory over the New York Jets at Bank of America Stadium.

Running back DeAngelo Williams scored on a tiebreaking 72-yard pass play late in the first half, and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn returned an interception 42 yards for a touchdown 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.

Carolina (10-4) has a rematch with New Orleans next week with a chance to move atop the NFC South standings.

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.

Carolina linebacker 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 play as the Panthers took a 23-13 lead.

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.

Smith 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.

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.

Photo by Joel Beachum, Carolina Clicks Photos

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