FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Rex Ryan recognizes that the Panthers present a unique challenge to the Jets going into Sunday's game in Charlotte, N.C. And not just because Carolina is 9-4.
The Jets haven't played the Panthers since a 17-6 victory in 2009, and they haven't played at Carolina since 2005. Brooks Bollinger was the Jets' quarterback in a 30-3 defeat.
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Perhaps that lack of history is why Ryan Wednesday called the Panthers "a brand-new opponent we're really not familiar with.''
Good thing for the Jets: The Panthers are not familiar with rookie quarterback Geno Smith.
At least the Jets hope that's a good thing for them. The Panthers, with one of the league's better defenses, think it might be a good thing for them.
"He'll be out of his element,'' Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy said Wednesday. "It's a home game for us, so naturally, hopefully, he will be out of his element here at Bank of America Stadium with our awesome fans and just drop back a little deep, be a little slow on his reads, mess up a few handoffs.''
The Panthers should come out snarling after taking a nationally televised, 31-13 pasting in New Orleans on Sunday night that ended an eight-game winning streak. Facing Drew Brees on the road is not the same as facing Smith at home, even if Smith did have an excellent game Sunday against the Raiders.
"We're going to try to make him uncomfortable,'' Panthers rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei said. "I think that's been the big emphasis that our coach has tried to get through to us. With a rookie quarterback, you always want to make him uncomfortable.''
Smith, who wasn't even assured of starting last week after being pulled at halftime the week before, had one of his better outings in the 37-27 victory over Oakland. He was 16-for-25 for 219 yards with a touchdown and an interception and ran five times for 50 yards and a score.
The Jets have been studying up on the Panthers since Sunday and were impressed by what they saw from the league's second-ranked defense.
"I see many challenges,'' Smith said. "Up front, they play hard; they have a good rotation of guys on the defensive line. They have one of the best middle linebackers in the game right now in [Luke] Kuechly, and Thomas Davis is not too far off of it. He's been playing great. Chase Blackburn -- veteran guy. Second, they've got guys who play hard, are smart, very opportunistic. So it's up to us to be ready for that challenge. It's going to be another tough road game, but we've got to prepare with the right mindset.''
Smith was asked if the Panthers have "the most complete'' defense he's seen this year. His answer showed an awareness of just how tough it is for a rookie quarterback to go up against any NFL defense.
"Every defense I've seen has been pretty good,'' Smith said. "I've only been in the league one year -- it's not even been a full year -- so every one of those defenses are very challenging to me. It's going to be another challenge and I've just got to prepare myself.''--With Seth Lakso