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Panthers handle Jets, control own destiny in NFC South

The Carolina Panthers are back in a tie for first place in the NFC South.

Bolstered by a balanced offense and a defense that harassed Geno Smith, the Panthers earned a 30-20 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday.

Here's what we learned in Sunday's game:

  1. With the Saints losing in St. Louis, next week's game between New Orleans and Carolina will likely determine the NFC South winner. The Saintsfinish at home versus the 4-10 Buccaneers while the Panthers travel to the 4-10 Falcons in the season finale.
  1. The Panthers have to be encouraged by the play of DeAngelo Williams, who has looked better the past two weeks than he has since September. On his 72-yard screen-pass touchdown, Williams blew past linebacker David Harris, who had the angle on him. Williams' 168 yards from scrimmage were 51 more than any game this season.
  1. Brandon LaFell also had his best game in a couple of months, showing big-play ability, making difficult catches in traffic and springing Williams for the long touchdown with a great block. Since Steve Smith no longer makes plays down the field, the Panthers need LaFell, Williams and Ted Ginn to take the top off defenses.
  1. Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn had the game of his life. In addition to setting the franchise record with his fifth career pick-six, Munnerlyn recorded a career-high two sacks and his pressure led to another sack for Luke Kuechly. He's been the best player in a secondary that has exceeded expectations for the majority of the season.
  1. The Jets unveiled rookie defensive end Sheldon Richardson as a goal-line weapon, giving him the ball on back-to-back carries, culminating in a 1-yard touchdown. That sequence called to mind former Bears icon William "The Refrigerator" Perry.
  1. While the majority of the attention has focused on Smith's struggles as a rookie quarterback, the Jets offensive line has been a disaster. Carolina's ailing pass rush got well with four sacks, six tackles for loss and eight quarterback hits.

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