Beware, Geno Smith: Panthers defense will be even angrier after last week's effort
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- After failing to create a turnover for the first time in more than a year in last Sunday's loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Carolina Panthers are looking to start another streak -- at the expense of Jets quarterback Geno Smith.
"We take pride in getting the ball out and picking the ball off and we need to get back to that this week," said Carolina's leading tackler, Luke Kuechly.
After reeling off a franchise-record eight straight regular- season wins, the Panthers let their guard down and the Saints took full advantage on national television.
The Panthers entered that game having allowed no more than two touchdowns to any team this season.
The Saints recorded four.
Carolina had allowed only two first-half touchdowns all season.
The Saints put up three in the second quarter alone.
"We did get a little ahead of ourselves, just as far as feeling good, you know," Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy said. "It happens to the best of us when you get something that you deserve. It gives you a great feeling. Man, you get kind of comfortable in a sense, not really content or complacent.
"I feel like that's where we were for a brief second. We learned our lesson and got our hand burned. I'm back and we're back."
Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes' comments about the Panthers' secondary being the "weakest link on their defense" has only added to Carolina's focus.
This week has been about resetting the Panthers' second-ranked defense (296.2 yards per game) back to where it was two weeks ago, when it surrendered only 206 total yards to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a 27-6 win.
"You've got to go back to basics after taking a loss like we did," said Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who reportedly chuckled when he heard of Holmes' comments.
Despite the Saints game, the Panthers, who have held teams to a league-low average of 14.5 points per game, still rank fourth in the NFL with 26 takeaways this season: 16 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries.
"We have to do some things to try to confuse him,'' Panthers safety Mike Mitchell said of Smith. "Because he is young, he [probably] hasn't seen every single look that there is in the NFL. Hopefully, we can get him in a situation where he doesn't quite know what's happening."
At times this season, it's appeared that opposing teams have done just that to Smith, who is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions (20) with the Giants' Eli Manning despite attempting 102 fewer passes.
In Panthers losses in Week 1 and 2, Seattle's Russell Wilson and Buffalo's EJ Manuel totaled 616 yards and two touchdowns.
Since then, the only elusive quarterback Carolina has faced has been San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick, whom the Panthers held to 91 yards passing and 16 yards on the ground in a 10-9 win.
"We're trying to approach it just like we would playing against a Wilson, or a Kaepernick," said Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.
With a New Orleans rematch set for next weekend, Carolina coach Ron Rivera has done his best to keep his team focused on stopping Smith.
"This is a quarterback that is fearless and doesn't know any better," Rivera said. "Those guys are dangerous."