EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Jets’ playoff hopes went from slim to highly unlikely with another fourth-quarter collapse.
Todd Bowles’ bunch has five losses in its past six games and what had been a surprising early part of the season has turned ugly.
The Jets have blown leads in the final 15 minutes of three of those defeats, with the latest coming in a 35-27 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
“It just sucks, bro,” quarterback Josh McCown said. “I mean, I don’t know. It sucks. It’s frustrating.”
Chandler Catanzaro’s 19-yard field goal 59 seconds into the fourth quarter put the Jets (4-7) up 20-18 against the surging Panthers (8-3) — but there was an ominous sign that this one was about to go awry just moments before.
On second down, it appeared Austin Seferian-Jenkins had a 1-yard touchdown catch. But the call on the field was overturned by video review when officials determined that the tight end didn’t maintain control of the ball.
“I thought it was a touchdown when I originally made that play,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “They didn’t think it was a touchdown. I agree with that call. It is what they called.”
McCown then missed a wide-open Matt Forte in the end zone, forcing New York to settle for the field goal.
After the Panthers went three-and-out and momentum appearing to be on the Jets’ side, disaster struck.
First, Luke Kuechly scooped up a fumble by McCown, who was sacked by Wes Horton and had the ball slip out of his hand as he was about to throw, and rumbled 34 yards to the end zone for a touchdown.
“I was trying to dirt it to (fullback Lawrence Thomas) and they got to me before I could get it out,” McCown said. “Obviously, in hindsight, I wish I would’ve tucked it and ate it.”
Cam Newton then hurdled over linebacker Jordan Jenkins for the 2-point conversion to give the Panthers a 26-20 lead with 12:05 left.
After New York’s next drive stalled, the Jets were forced to punt. Kaelin Clay fielded Lachlan Edwards’ kick and spun out of a tackle attempt and sped into the end zone 60 yards for a score. Newton’s pass on the 2-point conversion fell short, but Carolina was suddenly up 32-20 with 9:54 remaining.
“Self-inflicted wounds,” Bowles said. “You can’t play three quarters of good football and (then) give away two touchdowns. … You’re not going to beat a good football team like that.”
And, right now, the Jets are not.
They also blew fourth-quarter advantages in losses to Miami and Atlanta, games in which it appeared the Jets were on their way to victories. Just like this one against Carolina.
“It’s been a fourth-quarter problem the whole year,” Bowles said.
The Jets weren’t done yet, though.
McCown drove the Jets down the field, connecting with Jermaine Kearse on a 3-yard touchdown pass to cut New York’s deficit to five at 32-27 with 5:32 left.
“I was proud of how we responded and got back down there and got a touchdown and gave ourselves a chance,” McCown said. “I think that’s a good step for us, but ultimately we have to find a way to not allow those (mistakes) to happen.”
The Panthers sealed the win with a 45-yard field goal from Graham Gano with 21 seconds remaining. The drive was extended when Mike Pennel was called for roughing the passer on third-and-12.
“When you win games, you’re a playoff contender,” Bowles said. “When you lose games, you’re not. Right now, we’re not a playoff contender. We have to go back to the drawing board.”
Robby Anderson was a bright spot with two touchdown catches, giving him five straight games with a score. But even he couldn’t escape controversy.
Moments after the wide receiver scored on a 54-yard grab on a terrific pass by McCown, Anderson asked fans to vote for him to go to the Pro Bowl. FOX analyst Chris Spielman, doing color commentary for the game, ripped into Anderson by saying he should focus more on holding a lead than campaigning.
“I didn’t see it, but if that’s true, that’s not smart football,” Bowles said. “We don’t want selfish players on this team doing selfish things.”
Anderson insisted he just got caught up in the moment and didn’t mean any harm to the team.
“I wasn’t trying to come off in a bad way, just excitement, spur of the moment,” he said. “Everybody knows that I’m all for this team in every aspect. I make my life decisions based off my teammates. Everything I do is about being the best I can for my teammates, so it wasn’t anything malicious or anything like that or trying to come off in the wrong way. I was just excited in the moment.”