EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The New York Jets' offense has been grounded for three games.
Whether it's Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow at quarterback, it hasn't mattered. The Jets' anemic offense just hasn't been able to get into the end zone.
Three preseason games. Seven field goals. No touchdowns.
"We've got to score touchdowns instead of field goals to win," Sanchez said after a 17-12 loss to Carolina on Sunday night. "We understand that. We'll keep improving."
They better, and soon because they're running out of time.
Sanchez, Tebow and most of the starters will not play Thursday night in the preseason finale at Philadelphia, so the Jets (0-3) certainly have a lot to work on before the regular-season opener against Buffalo on Sept. 9. All of that sneaky wildcat stuff the Jets have planned with Tebow will have to wait a few more weeks — when the games actually count.
"When Week 1 comes around, all bets are off," wide receiver Santonio Holmes said, "and the guns are firing."
They sure weren't in this one — for either team. But, Tebow almost got the Jets into the end zone with a late drive in the final seconds.
The Jets (No. 17 in the AP Pro32) are the first team since the 1977 Atlanta Falcons, according to NBC, to go without a touchdown in its first three preseason games. That's a span of 12 quarters, 35 drives and 174 plays.
"Well, I've said it before," Sanchez said. "We're saving our good stuff for the regular season."
Jets fans sure hope so because they haven't seen much to be excited about so far — particularly from the offense. The Panthers, though, were pretty proud of themselves.
"Any time you can hold a team to field goals, I think you've accomplished something," coach Ron Rivera said.
Tebow, who entered in the third quarter, got the fans at MetLife Stadium fired up with a dazzling 20-yard run in the fourth, but threw an interception three plays later.
Tebow faced a third-and-16 from the Jets 34 and ran around in the backfield, eluded Ryan Van Bergen and then took off and slipped through a few other tackle attempts by the Panthers (2-1) before being taken down for a 20-yard gain by Reggie Smith. Tebow pumped both fists and yelled at the crowd chanting "Tee-boww! Tee-boww!"
But three plays later, Tebow was intercepted easily by Smith.
"It was kind of good news, bad news with Tim," Jets coach Rex Ryan said.
Tebow got the Jets in scoring position again in the closing moments, again with the fans chanting his name, but threw four straight incompletions from the Panthers 27 to end the game.
"I felt like we had it the whole time," Tebow said. "I still feel like we should have had it. I feel like we just came up one or two plays short."
Tebow finished 4 of 14 for 55 yards and the interception, but certainly had the Panthers (No. 20) nervous. He ran five times for 45 yards.
"It's a nightmare," Rivera said of facing Tebow. "Heck, I was in San Diego trying to stop him when he was in Denver. He's an exciting football player. There are things he does that brings excitement and gets his teammates going. He's a guy if you keep the game close gives you a chance to win. He's a different type of football player, a different type of quarterback."
Cam Newton was held mostly in check by the Jets, going 6 of 15 for 60 yards, but he got the Panthers (No. 20) into the end zone with a touchdown pass to Louis Murphy.
"Offensively, we have to do a better job sustaining drives," Newton said. "We got some first downs, but we stalled at the end."
Backup QB Derek Anderson put Carolina ahead to stay with a 1-yard touchdown toss to Gary Barnidge, making it 17-12 with 11:31 left.
Sanchez played well into the third quarter, going 11 of 18 for 123 yards and an interception, but got little help from his receivers. On consecutive plays in the third quarter, Sanchez hit Holmes in the mask and the receiver couldn't corral the pass. On the next play, Sanchez hit Stephen Hill in the chest, but the rookie couldn't control the ball and it bounced off his arms and into the hands of cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.
Five plays later, Newton connected with Murphy, starting for the injured Steve Smith, for a 9-yard touchdown that put the Panthers up 10-9 with 1:16 left in the opening half.
Jonathan Stewart was injured on the drive, twisting his right ankle when he took a handoff and went down the right sideline for 7 yards before he was knocked out of bounds on a hard hit by LaRon Landry.
Rivera said X-rays "were completely negative" and he didn't believe it was a high ankle sprain.
Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis had a sack in his first game since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last September.
"It was unbelievable," Newton said. "I went over to him when we were on the sideline and flat out told him it's fun to see him out there, and especially how passionate he is and how much he means to this team."
The Jets lost three key players to injuries as tight ends Dustin Keller (hamstring) and Josh Baker (right knee) and linebacker David Harris (ankle) all left in the first half.
Baker appeared to sustain the most serious injury in the second quarter, when he was hit on the right knee by a Panthers defender while trying to catch a pass from Sanchez in the end zone. Baker stayed down for several minutes, was helped to the sideline and then carted to the locker room.
NOTES: While the Jets didn't get into the end zone, two fans nearly did. Two men — wearing only underwear and sneakers — were tackled by security behind the end zone before they could get onto the field of play. ... Josh Brown, competing with Nick Folk for the Jets' kicking job, made a 34-yarder but missed a 45-yard attempt wide left in the third quarter. ... Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum needed a few stitches after injuring an arm earlier Sunday while riding his bike with his family. ... Panthers rookie LB Luke Kuechly was in on a game-high 10 tackles.