CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Geno Smith found himself apologizing to his head coach after another key turnover led to yet another loss.
The struggling rookie’s 21st interception of the season was returned 42 yards for a touchdown by Captain Munnerlyn, and helped the Carolina Panthers top Rex Ryan’s Jets 30-20 on Sunday.
“I let Rex down today,” Smith said. “He had talked me about not having a turnover. I wanted to do that today. On one occasion, I got sloppy with it and forced it. I didn’t get it done. Ultimately, in this league, that’s something I’ve learned, that’s what it comes down to — one or two plays here or there.”
Smith’s miscue in the fourth quarter came with the Jets trailing by 10 and trying to get back in the game. He threw it into double coverage, and helped put the Jets’ already slim playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.
“It was a very very tight window and I tried to pick up that third down at a crucial point in the game, and it ultimately bit me and our team in the butt,” Smith said.
The Jets (6-8) will be eliminated from playoff contention if Baltimore wins at Detroit on Monday night.
“This one would be Ripley’s if we pull it off,” Ryan said of the team’s playoff hopes.
Ryan said the Jets are still making too many mistakes.
“I think we made some critical errors in the game, that goes without saying,” he said. “But really all three phases made a critical error and that really contributed in this loss.”
The defense allowed a 72-yard touchdown pass to DeAngelo Williams on a screen play, the special teams allowed a blocked punt which led to a Carolina touchdown and Smith’s pick-six sealed the game for Carolina.
“It is always disappointing when you are not able to make the playoffs,” Smith said. “It is as disappointing for us as we feel that our fans and all of us deserve a shot in the playoffs. It’s not time to hang your head. No time to feel sorry for yourself.”
The Panthers are right back in the hunt for the NFC South division title and a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Cam Newton threw for 273 yards and a touchdown, Munnerlyn had two sacks along with the interception and the Panthers bounced back from their most lopsided loss of the season.
With New Orleans losing 27-16 to St. Louis, the Panthers (10-4) have pulled even with the Saints with the rematch set for next Sunday in Charlotte. If Carolina wins its final two games, it will clinch the division and the first-round bye. The Panthers haven’t been to the postseason since 2008.
Carolina’s defense, which surrendered 313 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-13 loss to New Orleans, came up big limiting Smith to 167 yards passing, while sacking him four times.
Newton was an efficient 16 of 24 passing and Williams had 81 yards rushing and 87 yards receiving.
Jeff Cumberland had a touchdown catch, and rookie defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson bulldozed his way for a 1-yard touchdown run on a goal-line play.
The turning point came in the fourth quarter with the Panthers leading 16-13.
The Jets had a chance to take the lead, but failed to pick up a first down and Ryan Quigley’s punt was blocked by Jason Williams and downed at the Jets 14. Four plays later, Mike Tolbert bowled his way into the end zone on a 1-yard run to make it a two-possession game.
“That play really kind of sparked us,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of Williams’ blocked punt.
On New York’s next series, Munnerlyn then stepped in front of a slant route for his fifth career interception return for touchdown — a new franchise record.
It was also a little revenge for the Panthers’ secondary, which Jets receiver Santonio Holmes referred to as “the weakest link” of Carolina’s defense.
The Panthers broke open a 6-6 tie late in the first quarter when Newton faked a screen pass to the left, spun around and threw back to the other side of the field to a wide-open Williams. The 30-year-old running back beat linebacker David Harris to the right sideline and turned it up the field, getting a smothering block from wide receiver Brandon LaFell en route to a 72-yard touchdown reception.
NOTES: The Jets ran for 157 yards, the most allowed this season by the Panthers. … Of Munnerlyn’s seven career interceptions, five have been returned for touchdowns.
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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)