As it turned out, Jamal Adams’ end zone confrontation with Cam Newton was a footnote and not a central storyline in the Jets’ 35-27 loss to the Panthers on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
But make no mistake: When the Jets rookie safety got in Newton’s face as the star quarterback celebrated a second-quarter touchdown, the symbolism of that moment was not lost on a young team that might not be ready to win just yet but is certainly getting closer to that day.
Newton had just run around left end for a 1-yard touchdown with 10:02 left in the second quarter to give the Panthers a 9-3 lead. As Newton started to do his normal touchdown celebration of pretending to be Superman, Adams gave him a shove before being separated by officials.
It lasted just a few seconds, but the imprint figures to last much, much longer than that.
Adams to Newton: Not in our house.
“I just don’t like people celebrating in our end zone,” Adams said afterward.
Had the Jets closed out the Panthers, this would have been a much bigger deal, a much more impactful statement on Adams’ part. With a win over the Panthers, the Jets not only would have bolstered their playoff hopes but would have done so against a team that is less than two years removed from a Super Bowl run and is contending once more for the NFC South title.
But the Jets imploded at the end, giving up two quick touchdowns in the fourth quarter and failing to overcome their own mistakes in falling to 4-7. Nevertheless, Adams’ in-your-face moment with Newton still resonated with his teammates and coaches a day later.
“It’s a guy that cares,” coach Todd Bowles said of Adams. “He’s passionate about the ballgame. He’s one of our young leaders growing. It’s not about taking on a superstar. It’s about caring about the game, your team, and the home stadium, and having a desire to be better and want the team to be better.”
This almost certainly will not be a playoff season for the Jets, and their hopes took a decisive blow after Sunday’s loss. But with a guy like Adams having so quickly become the emotional barometer for a young team that has already earned more credibility this season than anyone outside the team might have envisioned, it’s a promising sign for the future.
“He don’t back down from nobody. He comes from LSU, and you don’t back down from nobody, no matter who you are,” said cornerback Morris Claiborne, another former LSU defensive back. “You could be in the game 10 years, and he’s been here just this year, but he’s on the same level now. It’s like, ‘I’m not going to back down from you.’ ”
Quarterback Josh McCown, who may or may not be part of the Jets’ future moving forward, said Adams’ attitude is a major boon for the team.
“Age doesn’t matter. He has a lot of confidence in himself, and we all [have confidence in him], too,” McCown said. “He’s part of some of these young guys stepping into these roles is to establish the way he wants this defense to look and this team to look. He and [fellow rookie safety] Marcus [Maye] have a bright future here. We’ve encouraged them from day one to put their stamp on it. As long as it doesn’t draw penalties, as long as it doesn’t hurt the team, I think it’s great.”
Adams didn’t draw a penalty for interrupting Newton’s celebration, even though the quarterback suggested there should have been one. It’s all the more reason the people around Adams love his moxie.
“When I first got here and got to know him and be around him, I instantly knew he was the ultimate competitor,” receiver Jermaine Kearse said. “He has that fire in him, that desire to go out and find ways to excel. I appreciate and I respect that competitiveness out of him and I think when our team sees stuff like that, it shows he’s not going to back down, no matter who it is. I think that does show a good message.”
It’s the kind of message the Jets should heed moving forward from a player who might not have enjoyed immediate results on Sunday by challenging one of the game’s great players, but whose intense desire to win will eventually pay off.
Not in his house.