Josh McCown's fourth-quarter fumble led to a touchdown that gave...

Josh McCown's fourth-quarter fumble led to a touchdown that gave the Panthers the lead for good. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Jets have lost five of their last six games and continue searching for answers about their freefall as a playoff contender. After Sunday’s 35-27 loss to the Panthers, few Jets had any answers as to why the team doesn’t finish games.

But during a Monday afternoon conference call with reporters, an answer revealed itself: a lack of discipline.

“Yes, I can agree with that as well,” cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “It takes discipline to stay onsides and not give up costly penalties.”

The Jets (4-7) struggle to maintain their poise, which has led them to blow three fourth-quarter leads this season. In the last four games the Jets were outscored 46-30 in the fourth quarter. Costly penalties and mistakes are among the reasons why. Against the Panthers, two penalties — an offsides by Jordan Jenkins and roughing the passer by Mike Pennel — extended second-half drives that led to scores. And then there was the big mistake by Josh McCown early in the fourth quarter.

He made a poor decision trying to pass the ball when in the grasp of a defender and fumbled. The ball was scooped up and returned for a 34-yard touchdown by linebacker Luke Kuechly, and the Panthers took a 26-20 lead with 12:05 left in the fourth quarter.

It was an inexcusable mistake by McCown, who admitted he was sick about the fumble that led to Carolina taking the lead for good. But he also knows better to allow something like that to happen, given his 15 years in the NFL.

“You try to make plays when you can, and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t,” McCown said. “That one hurts, yeah. When I look back, I regret that.”

But it’s these types of mistakes that continue to hurt the Jets.

“We fight and do the right things for three quarters,” Todd Bowles said. “Then for about a quarter, in about five minutes, we let the game get out of hand. We do all of the right things the right way. We were down in penalties initially before going into the fourth quarter. We were down in mental errors in the fourth quarter, and for some reason, we lost our composure at times for a brief moment, and that’s all it takes to lose a ballgame.”

But the Jets, who started the season 0-2 and morphed to a 3-2 mark, have fallen apart recently. Before they faced the Panthers, they were one game out of the last wild-card playoff spot in the AFC, but with seven losses already and only five games remaining, it appears doubtful that the Jets can make a push for the postseason.

Getting back into contention means the Jets will need a lot of help from other teams, and that is also difficult to depend on.

But the Jets have no one to blame but themselves for their situation.

“I would say it’s a discipline thing,” defensive Leonard Williams said. “On film, we weren’t getting physically beat. There wasn’t a lack of effort. Guys were flying around, being physical, playing fast. They were giving us exactly what we’ve seen from them on film. It seemed like guys knew what our opponent was doing. We would just mess up on plays here and there, self-inflicted wounds basically. It comes down to discipline.”

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