Darrelle Revis saw the ball deflect off Steve Smith’s foot and float right into his hands.
Finally, the New York Jets thought, a lucky bounce that went their way.
Revis returned one of the Jets’ four interceptions 67 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and New York overcame an injury scare to quarterback Mark Sanchez before holding on to beat the Carolina Panthers 17-6 on Sunday.
“That was a sigh of relief,” Revis said of his early touchdown. “That was an easy score right there. It doesn’t get any better than that to start us off.”
Thomas Jones had a 3-yard touchdown run as the Jets (5-6) won at home for the first time since beating Tennessee in Week 3, sending the Panthers (4-7) to their second straight loss.
New York can’t celebrate for long, though, with a game against Buffalo in Toronto on Thursday night. The Jets won for just the second time in eight games.
“We’re rolling now and we can’t think about a month ago,” said Sanchez, who left for four plays after injuring his left leg. “We’ve got to think about now.”
Sanchez finished 13 of 17 for 154 yards and an interception in the first game since coach Rex Ryan took a more active role in the offense. The coach and quarterback established a color-coded system that would help make the rookie more aware of the task at hand.
“You see what happens when I play smart,” Sanchez said. “I don’t know how to explain it, but it works.”
New York’s win didn’t come without some tense moments. With the Jets leading 14-3, Sanchez scrambled to the right sideline on first-and-10 from New York’s 46 and was tackled out of bounds by Richard Marshall after an 8-yard gain.
He stayed down for a few moments as the trainers checked out his left knee.
“It didn’t look good the way he was grabbing his knee,” wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said.
Helped to the sideline, Sanchez put very little weight on the leg. Sanchez was replaced by Kellen Clemens, but came back on the next offensive series to cheers from the Meadowlands crowd.
“Once we saw him throwing the ball, I said, ‘Hey, he’s cool,'” Cotchery said.
After the game, Sanchez said he was totally fine.
“I guess it was just an awkward fall and he kind of landed on my leg,” he said. “They checked out all the ligaments and stuff and it looks good.”
On his first throw after returning, Sanchez was intercepted by Chris Gamble. It appeared Carolina had cashed in on the turnover with a touchdown when Smith came down with a 10-yard catch in the end zone, but Ryan challenged the call.
After a video review, the ruling was reversed. Referee Jerome Boger said Smith didn’t have possession when he went out of bounds in the back of the end zone. It turned out to be a huge call because after another incompletion, the Panthers settled for a 28-yard field goal by John Kasay to make it 14-6 with 11:45 left.
“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Smith said. “It only mattered what the ref said. That’s how it goes. I believe I caught it.”
Revis, who had two interceptions, gave the Jets a 7-0 lead on the fluky play midway through the first quarter. After converting three third downs on their opening drive, the Panthers had another shot on third-and-9 before Jake Delhomme and Smith had a miscommunication when the quarterback changed the call at the line.
“It was an error by me,” Smith said. “The chances of the ball hitting you in the foot and popping up, it’s just one of those things. When it rains, it pours.”
Carolina had a chance late to make it a one-score game, but Dwayne Jarrett’s 28-yard touchdown catch was wiped off the scoreboard when he was called for offensive pass interference.
“It wasn’t good,” Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme said. “There’s no other way to put it. We didn’t run it well. We certainly didn’t throw it well.”
Kerry Rhodes, demoted in favor of Eric Smith, picked off Delhomme on the next play for his second interception of the game to all but seal the win. A tough week for Rhodes ended on a high note — he didn’t start for the first time in his NFL career but got a game ball for his performance.
“I got the message,” Rhodes said in a brief statement after the game. “The message was sent. Now, I am moving on and you’re going to see Kerry Rhodes.”
Delhomme was 14 of 34 for 130 yards and the four INTs, and the Jets also held Smith to one catch for 5 yards and DeAngelo Williams to 40 yards rushing on 16 carries.
“This was a great win,” Ryan said. “It feels good to say that. It’s been a while.”
NOTES: Panthers DT Tank Tyler left late in the first half with an injured right leg and didn’t return. Coach John Fox said Tyler got “rolled up, but there were no broken bones.” … In his first start of the season, Eric Smith had eight tackles to lead the Jets.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.