NFL: Panthers at Jets today
By Dennis Waszak Jr.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. ó The Carolina Panthers know exactly what the New York Jets are going through.
Injuries, costly mistakes and inconsistent performances by key players have both teams sitting at 4-6, barely alive in the playoff hunt.
“Pride comes in,” Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith said. “How well do you want to do? What do you want to be looked at as? Obviously, you’ve got to cut out the binges of ice cream, all the things that you think you’d be depressed about.”
The Panthers come to the Meadowlands today and play for the first time in 10 days after a 24-17 loss to Miami on Nov. 19. They’ve still won three of their last four, and know a victory over the free-falling Jets could jump-start a late-season run.
“You just never know,” quarterback Jake Delhomme said. “We’re going to play a Jets team that’s still a talented football team. They’ve just had a lot of hard-luck losses. I think they’re a lot like us. You’ve got to keep going. You don’t feel sorry for yourself.”
The Jets have struggled mightily after a 3-0 start, dropping six of seven under rookie coach Rex Ryan.
“We just need a win and this is the perfect week to start,” quarterback Mark Sanchez said. “It’s important to me. If we want to win, we have to take care of the football and that starts with the quarterback.”
That’s why Ryan decided this week to take a more active role in the offense in an attempt to cut out Sanchez’s mistakes. The rookie has thrown 16 interceptions, which rank second in the NFL, and his 61.1 quarterback rating is the lowest among current starters. Sanchez has also been blamed by some for single-handedly costing the Jets a few wins.
“That’s your opinion that he’s losing games,” Ryan said. “I will say that Mark Sanchez has played well enough to win seven games this year. I think the three games that he never played well enough for to us win were obviously the games where he had the multiple interceptions.”
Delhomme has had his own issues with turnovers, although he had gone three straight games without an interception until getting picked off once in the loss to Miami.
“I think that with all quarterbacks, you’ve just got to play,” said Delhomme, who has 14 interceptions and was on the verge of being benched early this season. “I never was put in a situation like he is, playing as a rookie. It was a while before I had a chance to play. When you come to the NFL, it’s very different. The speed of the guys here is great. I can’t say that I know exactly what he’s going through because as a rookie, at best I was holding a clipboard.”
While Sanchez continues to start, Ryan made it clear earlier this week he won’t accept established veterans underachieving by demoting safety Kerry Rhodes in favor of Eric Smith.
“I’ll do what’s in the best interest of our football team,” Ryan said. “Sometimes this is tough to maybe accept, but I think I’m doing it in the best interest of Kerry as well.”
DeAngelo Williams has been a bright spot and a steady presence on the Panthers’ offense, ranking fourth in the NFL with 982 yards rushing entering the week. He has had at least one run for 25 yards in four straight games, and had a run of 50 yards or more in three of the last four games.
Jonathan Stewart has 509 yards rushing and six TD runs, giving the Panthers a solid double threat against the Jets’ fifth-ranked defense. That’s even without left tackle Jordan Gross, who’s sidelined with a broken leg.
“Carolina is running the ball as well as anybody in this league,” Ryan said. “They run it on first down, second down, third down, makes no difference. … I think these two teams are very similar, not just in record, but in the style of play for sure.”
Na’il Diggs also has a rib injury and may not play, potentially leaving James Anderson and Dan Connor as the starters next to Jon Beason in the middle.
“That’s the story of our life this year as far as the Carolina Panthers are concerned: a lot of injuries,” Beason said. “But guys are still stepping up and doing fairly well.”