CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Panthers are closing in on their first playoff berth since 2008.
Not bad for a team that started the season 1-3.
Carolina beat the New York Jets 30-20 Sunday to set up a rematch with the New Orleans Saints, who lost 26-17 to the St. Louis Rams and are even with the Panthers in the NFC South at 10-4. Carolina hosts the Saints next week in a rematch of last week's humbling loss in New Orleans.
"That's how you want it.," offensive tackle Jordan Gross said. "We're going against a division opponent at home in December with the division lead on the line. It's awesome. I think we've earned it and we've deserved it.
The winner will have the inside track to winning the division and capturing a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The Panthers can achieve both by winning their final two games.
"The ball is in our court obviously," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "We just have to take care of our business. We have to play our game."
The Panthers didn't do that last Sunday, falling 31-13 to the Saints when Drew Brees threw for 313 yards and four TDs.
"I am happy to play those guys again because we didn't do too well down there last week and I didn't think we put out our best effort," Gross said.
He is looking forward to hosting the Saints, who are just 3-4 on the road this season.
"We'll be at home, which is huge," Gross said. "The dome is a tough place to play and they were coming off a tough loss and again they're going to be coming off a tough road loss so shame on us if we don't see that coming. But, we're feeling confident again. We never really lost confidence after the last game but it was definitely a bit of a wakeup call to go down there and lose like we did."
Five things we learned from the Panthers' win over the Jets:
DIFFERENT DESTINATIONS: The Panthers are likely headed to the playoffs; the Jets aren't.
The Panthers haven't clinched a playoff spot yet, but it looks like they will make the postseason after posting their first 10-win season since 2008. The Jets are 6-8 and will be eliminated from playoff contention if Baltimore beats Detroit on Monday night.
"This one would be Ripley's if we pull it off," coach Rex Ryan said of the Jets' playoff hopes.
DON'T MESS WITH MUNNERLYN: Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was irritated when he heard Jets receiver Santonio Holmes refer to the Carolina secondary as the "weakest link" of the defense. All the feisty 5-foot-8 Munnerlyn did was record two sacks and intercept a Geno Smith pass and return it 42 yards for a score. "He was talking," Munnerlyn said of Holmes. "You know, I told him, 'Catch one on me, then you can talk.' ... All that talk don't faze us man. We just go out there and play football. Like I said, every week we're just going to go out there and execute."
WILLIAMS CAN STILL PLAY: They say running backs hit the wall when they turn 30, but Carolina's DeAngelo Williams proved he's still good for a big play or two. Williams had 81 yards rushing and 87 yards receiving, including a 72-yard touchdown. "He had a hell of a game, from the pass reception to the running, he just had a great game," fullback Mike Tolbert said. "He seemed like he was in a zone."
GANO IS GOOD: Panthers kicker Graham Gano continues to put forth a Pro Bowl-worthy season, converting three more field goals to help Carolina's cause. The Panthers have finally found their replacement for John Kasay. Gano is 23 of 26 on the season.
SMITH IS LEARNING: All rookie quarterbacks have their growing pains. Smith is no different. Smith is realizing that one mistake can be the difference in winning and losing at this level.
"I let Rex (Ryan) down today," said Smith, who has 21 interceptions this season. "He had talked me about not having a turnover. I wanted to do that today. On one occasion, I got sloppy with it and forced it. I didn't get it done. Ultimately, in this league, that's something I've learned, that's what it comes down to — one or two plays here or there."
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