FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The moment that Santonio Holmes' derogatory comment about the Carolina Panthers' secondary was raised, Rex Ryan flashed a carefree smile.
In the Jets coach's mind, there wasn't any intent behind Holmes calling Carolina's secondary "probably their weakest link on their defense," so the Panthers shouldn't take offense.
"You know what?" Ryan said Friday. "I really think he certainly wasn't trying to be disrespectful."
Of course, that's easy for him to say. The Panthers might see things differently. And given that the Jets are trying to stave off mathematical elimination from postseason contention, the last thing they needed was to motivate Sunday's opponent.
Holmes' words were relayed inside the Panthers' locker room, of course. According to an account on the Charlotte Observer's website, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn chuckled when he heard a reporter say Holmes' name, indicating that he knew exactly where the question was headed.
"He's a great receiver. He's an elite receiver," Munnerlyn said. "It's funny to me because we just go out there and play football and let our numbers speak for themselves. We're ranked fifth in the league [in pass defense] for a reason."
Ryan has been effusive in his praise of the Panthers' defense, and with good reason. Ranked second overall in the league, that defense -- particularly the pass rush -- will present significant challenges for Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith.
The way Ryan spun it, he said he thinks Holmes was trying to compliment the Carolina defense when he spoke with reporters Thursday, not take a shot at the players in the secondary whom he'll be lining up against Sunday afternoon.
"I think what he was saying is that, look, this front seven has been phenomenal . . . If you're going to take a weakness, it'd be the secondary," Ryan said. "But typical if Santonio says it, it's going to be blown up. But certainly he didn't mean to disrespect them."
Alas, it might be too late for the Jets to get that message across to their opponents.
When Panthers coach Ron Rivera was asked about Holmes' comments, according to the Observer, he said, "People are going to say what they want to say. That's fine. But that's why you play them on Sunday to find out."
Added Munnerlyn, "We just look at it as a unit and go out there and keep playing football. If he feels that way, there's a game that's going to be played at 4:05 on Sunday and we'll see what's going to happen then."
Notes & quotes: The Jets placed second-year receiver Stephen Hill on season-ending injured reserve as he continues to deal with swelling in his surgically repaired left knee. "I didn't think it was going to end this way," he said. "I thought I was going to ride it out until the end of the season." Bothered by the knee nearly all season, he had only 342 yards and a touchdown on 24 catches.