Slumping Jets take on Panthers
East Rutherford, N.J. — The Carolina Panthers are roaring into their favorite part of the season.
It's the home stretch with six games remaining, and sitting at 7-3 with a three-game winning streak going, it's no surprise the Panthers are starting to heat up.
Since Ron Rivera arrived as coach in 2011, Carolina is 36-15 in games played in November and December, including 2-0 this season. Next up is a matchup against the slumping New York Jets (4-6), who have lost four of their last five following a three-game winning streak.
"I think the biggest thing that our guys have done, and I think it's attributed to them, really, is we get in the latter part of the year and we seem to play well," Rivera said. "We've done well in November, December, typically."
Both the Panthers and Jets are coming off bye-week breaks, so they're well-rested. Carolina is also looking to pick up where it left off in its last two games, when the Panthers ran for over 200 yards in back-to-back games for the first time in franchise history.
In its 45-21 rout of Miami on Monday night on Nov. 13, Carolina set a team mark with 548 total yards, including 294 yards rushing. While preparing their game plan this week, the Jets certainly took note of what the Panthers did to the Dolphins.
"They played a complete game obviously, in all phases," Jets coach Todd Bowles said. "They were great on defense, they stopped the run, they stopped them from throwing the football. They ran the football, they threw the football. They made big plays. They played sound football. They played great on special teams.
"They're a good football team."
And that's a bit of an understatement. Cam Newton is heating up, particularly in the rushing attack with 181 yards in his last two games. That makes for a dangerous matchup for the Jets, who have struggled at times against the run.
Carolina also has the No. 2 overall defense, ranking third against the run and fourth vs. the pass.
"We know it's going to be a tough task because they're playing at a high level," Jets quarterback Josh McCown said. "But we're excited about the opportunity to go against the best and see where we stack up."
Here are some things to watch when the Panthers and Jets square off at MetLife Stadium on Sunday:
Keep an eye on Newton's right thumb, particularly if it's a cold day.
The 2015 league MVP has been wearing a compression glove on his throwing hand during practice, and it's unclear if the problem will affect his grip on the ball and his accuracy. The 28-year-old quarterback is coming off one of his best passing games, completing 21 of 35 passes for 254 yards and four touchdowns and no interceptions against Miami.
Carolina's offense will get a big boost as three-time Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen returns after missing the last eight games with a broken foot.
Olsen was coming off three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons before going down in Week 2. Newton doesn't expect Olsen to have any problem assimilating into the offense. Olsen should help fill the void of starting wide receiver Curtis Samuel, who was lost to a season-ending ankle injury before the bye week.
"He brings a calming presence, not that anything has been a lack of production in that tight end room with him out," Newton said of Olsen. "Greg is just a pro's pro. ... It's just an extra piece to the puzzle that we've long been missing."
On the run
With Matt Forte likely to miss his second straight game with swelling in his surgically repaired right knee, the Jets will rely again on Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire — and hope for better results.
New York couldn't get its run game going in a 15-10 loss at Tampa Bay on Nov. 12, with Powell gaining just 30 yards on 10 carries and McGuire rushing for 22 yards on eight attempts.
Jets defensive lineman Kony Ealy will take on the team that drafted him in the second round in 2014, but traded him to New England in the offseason. He ended up with the Jets before the season after the Patriots cut him, and has become a key part of Bowles' defense. Earlier in the week, he told NFL Network he was eager to get "a little revenge" against the Panthers but then downplayed that angle the rest of the week .
"Right now, I'm focused on getting a win," Ealy said, refusing to provide any additional bulletin board fodder. "I've moved on as far as that."
Getting his kicks
The Panthers will feel pretty good if the game comes down to needing a winning field goal. Graham Gano has been money all season, converting 20 of 21 field goals, including all 20 attempts from inside the 50-yard line.
AP Sports Writer Steve Reed in Charlotte, N.C., contributed.
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