CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The postgame words of regret are becoming all too familiar for Geno Smith, but this time was different. This time the Jets' rookie quarterback felt he didn't come through for his biggest supporter.
"I feel as though I let Rex [Ryan] down today, man," Smith lamented after the Jets' 30-20 loss to the Panthers. "He talked to me about not having a turnover, playing a game without a turnover, and I wanted to do that."
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Smith almost made it the entire game without a turnover, something he had done only twice before. But there it was, the one mistake that killed any hope of a fourth-quarter comeback.
The Jets trailed 23-13 after Carolina converted a blocked punt into a touchdown with 11:05 to play. Smith faced a third-and-11 from the Jets' 30 and faded back to pass. He wanted to hit Santonio Holmes, who ran a skinny post up the left side. Holmes was in double coverage, but Smith threw it anyway.
Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn stepped in front of Holmes, picked off the pass at the Jets' 41 and ran it back for a touchdown to make it 30-13 with 8:17 to play.
"On one occasion, I got sloppy with it and forced it and I just didn't get it done," Smith said. "Ultimately in this league, it's something that I've learned. That's what it comes down to, one or two plays here and there, because teams are so even and the games go back and forth."
What should Smith have done instead?
"I should have checked it down ," he said.
It was the fifth interception return for a touchdown thrown by Smith this year, tying him for the franchise record. Hall of Famer Joe Namath threw five pick-6s in 1967.
Even though the blocked punt and subsequent Panthers touchdown represented the real turning point, Smith put the loss on himself.
"I'm going to be extra hard on myself after this one,'' he said, "because I think had I not thrown that interception for a touchdown, we would have had a great chance at the end."
Smith struggled early, throwing for only 59 yards in the first half, which ended with Carolina ahead 16-6. But he came alive in the third quarter after the Jets held Carolina on a fourth-and-2 at the Jets' 14.
Smith led a nine-play, 86-yard drive that ended when defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson scored on a 1-yard run to pull the Jets to within 16-13.
Smith hit tight end Jeff Cumberland for a 35-yard reception and Bilal Powell took a short pass 13 yards to the Panthers' 15. Smith's pass intended for Holmes in the end zone fell incomplete, but Carolina was called for pass interference. Richardson scored two plays later.
"Every loss is tough and everyone has a different set of challenges," Smith said. "I hate to lose."
The Jets are just about out of playoff contention, but Smith said there will be meaning in their final two games against Cleveland and Miami.
"We want to win them both," he said. "That's the goal every single week, and it starts with this next game. We're going back to the film room and we are going to study and get ourselves prepared for another tough team."