CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- This is a Super Bowl team?
The big-talking, hard-knocking New York Jets staged a back-to-reality show Saturday night with a feeble offensive performance that conjured up images of Brooks Bollinger-to-Doug Jolley. They beat the Carolina Panthers 9-3 in a preseason game at Bank of America Stadium, but the story was the no-show by Mark Sanchez & Co.
The Sanchez-led offense took a major step backward, producing only 33 total yards in four series (and 20 came on a run by LaDainian Tomlinson). The first unit managed a couple of field goals, but those were gifts by the turnover-plagued Panthers. The Jets were so out of sync that they turned screen passes into high-risk adventures, providing plenty of fodder for those who believe they're not worthy of so much preseason hype.
So were they humbled by their sloppy performance? The Jets? Are you kidding? Not a chance.
"No excuses -- we didn't play well -- but I wouldn't take anything from this game," wide receiver Braylon Edwards said. "Put your judgment on next week. Watch that game. Don't take anything out of this game."
Right tackle Damien Woody smiled when a reporter approached. He anticipated the question.
"Ugly? Yeah, that's an understatement," he said, still grinning. "Luckily, these games don't count. We'll come out next week and make a statement in the right direction."
Said Sanchez: "It wasn't our best night. Nothing alarming."
It was a five-and-dime offense, as Sanchez completed only five of 10 attempts for 12 yards. The good news: He didn't throw any interceptions, although he came close to another first-possession pick. Cornerback Chris Gamble jumped an in-route to Edwards, who saved a turnover by grabbing Gamble's hand as he tried to secure the errant throw.
The pass protection was shoddy, as left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and tight end Ben Hartsock surrendered a pair of sacks to defensive end Everette Brown. Sanchez's screen passes were undermined by poor throws, faulty protection and lousy timing. He completed only one of three screens for minus-1 yards -- and they're supposed to be the easy throws.
The Jets squandered dream field position. They started drives on the Carolina 35 and 12 but self-destructed and managed only field goals by Nick Folk.
Jets coach Rex Ryan didn't seem too concerned by the offense, which also struggled under Mark Brunell, Kellen Clemens and Kevin O'Connell, who were a combined 7-for-16 for 34 yards. Ryan said he told Panthers coach John Fox that it "looked like a pillow fight out there," two feeble offenses flailing away at each other.
"Obviously, our offense got it handed to them by a pretty good defense," Ryan said. "We're better than that. You're not going to win many games playing like this, but we won tonight."
So should there be concern? No, not yet. Most of the football nation outside New York probably wants to dump on the Jets because of their bravado, but take a step back and examine the circumstances:
The Jets were coming off a short week, practiced only two days and did no game-planning for the Panthers. (And, yes, it showed.) What's more, their first unit played only one quarter, whereas the Panthers' starters played the entire first half.
Basically, the Jets treated this like a throwaway game -- and they'll want to throw away the tape after reviewing it. But now it's time to get down to business.
Back in the comforts of their training facility in Florham Park, N.J. -- adios, Cortland, N.Y. -- they will have six days to prepare for the Washington Redskins. It's their third preseason game, their most important game because the starters will play three quarters. If they stink again, it'll be time to get panicky.
"We need to focus on next week," Sanchez said, "and take it seriously."