The New York Jets and Carolina Panthers are similarly constructed teams, but have a large disparity in talent at the quarterback position. That proved to be the difference on Sunday. Cam Newton asserted himself early, and the result was a game the Panthers controlled, winning 30-20.
Newton was near-perfect in the first half, completing 80 percent of his passes and throwing for a career-high 224 yards at the break. A screen pass to running back DeAngelo Williams was the biggest play of the game up to that point, with the veteran back taking the ball 72 yards for a long touchdown.
The Panthers had a scare on the team's next drive when Newton was brought down from behind by defensive end Sheldon Richardson. Newton's leg was twisted in the tackle, and he hurt his hip. He left the field shortly before the half, but was able to continue without pain in the second.
It was a game that appeared to be much closer on the box score than it looked. Carolina had lapses on defense which allowed long drives, but was stout for much of the day and limited Geno Smith's passing opportunities. He finished with 167 passing yards, one touchdown and an interception.
The second half fell apart for the Jets. For a fleeting moment it appeared the game would be within reach for them. The offense turned to Richardson to become a short-yardage back, and he ran a critical touchdown in to narrow the Panthers' lead to three points.
This jubilation didn't last long, however. Carolina blocked a punt and took advantage of the short field with a Mike Tolbert touchdown. That was followed quickly by an interception from Smith that helped seal the victory for the Panthers.
New York scored a conciliatory touchdown with just under five minutes to go, but it was too little too late. The lack of reliable passing nullified how well the Jets ran the football and created a situation where the offense lacked the big plays needed to make a difference.
The Carolina Panthers now hold the first wild card in the NFC, edging out the San Francisco 49ers on a tiebreaker. Their sights will be set on winning the NFC South, which remains a possibility when they meet the New Orleans Saints in Week 16.
Fantasy studs and duds
Williams had an excellent day for the Panthers. The veteran running back finished with 168 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.
Santonio Holmes had a disappointing day for the Jets. He caught two passes for 14 yards.
Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy suffered a cramp in the fourth quarter. He did not return, but it does not appear to be a long-term injury.
Did they cover?
The Panthers were favored by 10 points, according to OddsShark. Their 10-point win means the game was a push.
Carolina vs. New Orleans, Dec. 22, 1 p.m. ET
New York vs. Cleveland, Dec. 22, 1 p.m. ET