CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers are right back in the hunt for the NFC South division title and a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Cam Newton threw for 273 yards and a touchdown, Captain Munnerlyn had two sacks and returned an interception for a score and the Panthers bounced back from their most lopsided loss of the season with a 30-20 win Sunday over the New York Jets.
With New Orleans losing 27-16 to St. Louis, the Panthers (10-4) have pulled even with the Saints with the rematch set for next Sunday in Charlotte. If Carolina wins its final two games, it will clinch the division and the first-round bye. The Panthers haven't been to the postseason since 2008.
Carolina's defense, which surrendered 313 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-13 loss to New Orleans, came up big limiting rookie quarterback Geno Smith to 167 yards passing, while sacking him four times. Munnerlyn intercepted Smith in the fourth quarter and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown to seal the win.
Newton was an efficient 16 of 24 passing, including a 72-yard touchdown on a screen pass to DeAngelo Williams. Williams had 81 yards rushing and 87 yards receiving.
Smith was 15 of 28 with a touchdown pass and one costly interception in the fourth quarter for the fading Jets (6-8), who will be eliminated from playoff contention if Baltimore wins at Detroit on Monday night.
Jeff Cumberland had a touchdown catch, and rookie defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson bulldozed his way for a 1-yard touchdown run on a goal-line play.
The turning point came in the fourth quarter with the Panthers leading 16-13.
The Jets had a chance to take the lead, but failed to pick up a first down and Ryan Quigley's punt was blocked by Jason Williams and downed at the Jets 14. Four plays later, bruising fullback Mike Tolbert bowled his way into the end zone on a 1-yard run to make it a two-possession game.