CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Nov. 13, 2005) -- When the Carolina Panthers handed cornerback Ken Lucas a $36.5 million free-agent contract, more than a few eyebrows were raised -- even inside their own locker room.
But Lucas is steadily earning his pay, reeling in two game-changing interceptions to help the Panthers to a 30-3 victory over the stumbling New York Jets.
"He earns that contract every day," safety Mike Minter said. "That is the type of player we needed in our secondary. His interceptions changed the complexion of the game."
Lucas' picks started a rash of turnovers -- four of which came on consecutive New York possessions, to help the Panthers (7-2) pull away for their sixth-straight victory.
The Jets (2-7) finished with six turnovers that Carolina converted into 20 points.
Will Witherspoon returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown and Chris Gamble had an interception and a fumble recovery -- but none were as important as Lucas' two plays.
Carolina led 10-3 when Brooks Bollinger, the fourth quarterback this season for the injury-ravaged Jets, moved New York to the Carolina 24. He had an open shot at the end zone when Laveranues Coles blew past Lucas, but Coles had to wait for Bollinger's pass -- which hung in the air long enough for Lucas to catch up and jump in front of him for an interception in the end zone.
"He beat me on that, but I didn't quit on the play," Lucas said. "I took it away from him and they kind of gave up after that because they felt they couldn't score.
"It's good when you get a team to quit on you."
Bollinger, who was sacked four times, threw four interceptions and finished 11-of-21 for 98 yards, insisted the Jets didn't give up.
"I wasn't going to back down -- we were still in the game," he said. "But obviously from there it didn't go my way. I made some bad decisions but mostly just bad throws.
"And they didn't miss any beats. They made the plays when they had the chance."
The Panthers didn't score after Lucas' first pick, but got another chance on New York's next possession when Bollinger was again picked off by Lucas, giving the Panthers the ball at the New York 34.
That turnover put a spark in Carolina's defense on a day when the Panthers' offense wasn't nearly as efficient as it had been the last two weeks.
Carolina didn't squander its second chance, handing it off eight times before Stephen Davis finally punched it in on a 1-yard score. It was Davis' 12th touchdown of the season, and gave the Panthers a 17-3 lead with 13:25 to go.
New York then fell apart.
Justin Miller fumbled away the ensuing kickoff and Gamble recovered to set up a field goal by John Kasay that made it 20-3.
Bollinger seemed rattled under pressure and threw his third pick -- to Gamble -- on the next series to set up Kasay's third field goal.
"We were like 'Gee Whiz!' they are just snatching the balls out of the air," said Carolina defensive end Mike Rucker.
Bollinger could do nothing right from there, and was picked off for a fourth time by Witherspoon, who ran it in for the score.
"It's almost unbelievable, you sit there and say, 'This is not happening,'" said New York running back Curtis Martin. "It seems like it didn't stop."
Carolina's strong defensive showing helped the Panthers win on a day in which star receiver Steve Smith was a non-factor.
Jets cornerback Ty Law played Smith tough all day, holding him to three catches for 34 yards. New York's defense also limited Davis to 81 yards rushing.
But behind the inexperienced Bollinger, New York's offense was stuck in neutral. Martin was held to 75 yards rushing. The Jets had 214 yards total offense.
New York coach Herman Edwards seemed defeated afterward, defensive about Bollinger's play and the effort his injury-plagued team is giving.
"That's a young quarterback, he doesn't have a lot of experience, he's doing as good as he can do," Edwards said. "That's all you can ask of any of these guys. If you have a problem with that, it's too bad."
- Jets right tackle Jason Fabini tore his left pectoral muscle in the first quarter and will miss the rest of the season. He was replaced by Scott Gragg, who gave up a sack to Kindal Moorehead shortly after entering the game.
- Martin lost a fumble in the second quarter, his first since the eighth game of the 2003 season -- a span of 863 carries.
- Nine of Davis' 12 TDs have been on 1-yard runs.
- Jake Delhomme was intercepted twice, and finished 10-of-20 for 119 yards and a 19-yard TD to Keary Colbert.