EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Mark Sanchez looked pretty good for nearly three quarters. He just couldn't get the New York Jets into the end zone – again.
Tim Tebow had the play of the game, but also couldn't get that elusive preseason touchdown for the Jets.
Tebow got the fans fired up with a dazzling 20-yard run in the fourth quarter, but threw an interception three plays later and the Carolina Panthers held on for a 17-12 victory Sunday night.
The Jets (0-3) still have not scored a touchdown through three preseason games, an alarming display of ineptitude even though the games don't count. But Sanchez and the starters will not play Thursday night in the preseason finale at Philadelphia, so they certainly have a lot to work on before the regular-season opener against Buffalo on Sept. 9.
Sanchez played well into the third quarter, but got no help from his receivers who dropped a few passes. He finished 11 of 18 for 123 yards and an interception.
Tebow faced a third-and-16 from the Jets 34 and ran around in the backfield, eluded a tackle attempt by Ryan Van Bergan 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 threw an easy interception to Smith.
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. He was 4 of 14 for 55 yards and the interception.
While the Jets (No. 17 in the AP Pro32) 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. One was handcuffed quickly and led off the field, while the other struggled for a few minutes before being led away
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.
Backup Derek Anderson put Carolina ahead to stay with a 1-yard touchdown toss to Gary Barnidge, making it 17-12 with 11:31 left in the game.
Sanchez was done in on consecutive plays by his receivers not holding onto the ball. First, on second-and-10 from the Jets 38, Sanchez hit Santonio 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, hurting 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. Stewart stayed down for a few moments before being helped to the bench. After trainers looked at Stewart's right leg, the running back was carted to the locker room – but was smiling at his teammates as he headed into the tunnel.
The Jets got the ball with 1:11 left and two timeouts and ran just two plays, preferring not to go for a score – as the crowd at MetLife Stadium booed loudly.
Tebow came in the game for the Jets in the third quarter, and couldn't get much going, either. On second-and-goal from the 12, he was nearly picked off by David Nixon, who read the play all the way and stepped in front of Tebow's toss for Dedric Epps but dropped the ball – or he would have had a clear path to the end zone.
Two plays later, Folk kicked a 30-yarder to give the Jets a 12-10 lead with 1:48 left.
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.
Olindo Mare's 33-yard field goal midway through the opening quarter put the Panthers up 3-0 on their first drive of the game, helped in part by a pass interference call on Jets linebacker Bart Scott that put the ball in New York territory.
The Jets came right back and tied it on Nick Folk's 46-yard field goal on their opening offensive drive.
Josh Brown, competing with Folk for the Jets' kicking job, made a 34-yarder with 6:51 left in the first half to give New York a 6-3 lead.