The Carolina Panthers' Captain Munnerlyn (41) celebrates his interception return...

The Carolina Panthers' Captain Munnerlyn (41) celebrates his interception return for a touchdown against the Jets during the second half. (Dec. 15, 2013) Credit: AP

It didn't take the Panthers long to let the Jets' receivers know they didn't take kindly to Santonio Holmes' critical remarks. It took, like, a millisecond.

"They made a point to let us know on the first series of the game that they were not appreciative of the comments," wide receiver David Nelson said. "They made sure to let us know that they weren't appreciative of it and that they were going to make us pay throughout the entire game."

Holmes had said Thursday, "Not to call these guys out, but their secondary is probably their weakest link on their defense.'' Those words quickly made their way to the Panthers' bulletin board and were referenced by coach Ron Rivera in the run-up to the game.

Nothing like a little disrespectful trash talk to get your players going.

Way to go, Santonio.

"We're the weakest link? I took that real personal," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "Santonio Holmes lit a fire in our secondary, and we showed up today."

Yes, they did. In fact, it was Munnerlyn who stepped in front of Holmes on a fourth-quarter pass and ran back his interception 41 yards for a touchdown that made it 30-13. It was a perfect in-your-face payback from the Panthers' secondary to Holmes, who did almost all his talking in the days before the game. Not, you know, during the game.

Holmes dropped the first ball that came his way on a third-down pass in the first quarter and wound up with a measly two catches for 14 yards.


Yes, the Jets could have done without the noise from Holmes during the week, especially given the circumstances. Why poke the bear when you're going on the road . . . with a rookie quarterback trying to make his way through a difficult stretch . . . with the season on the line?

Why say something that you know will further motivate a defense that already has proven to be among the NFL's best?

There's just no reason, especially when the words come from a player who has done so little the last three seasons and appears headed out the door.

Holmes once was a big-time playmaker for the Jets, helping them reach the AFC Championship Game in his first season with the team. But ever since, he has been a mostly negative influence, both in the locker room and on the field.

His production has plummeted and his leadership has disappeared, making you understand why the Steelers were so eager to part ways with him for so little in return. A fifth-round pick for a Super Bowl MVP? Now you know why.

Holmes has been hurt for much of the season and unproductive for the rest of it. In nine games, he has 18 catches for 381 yards and one touchdown.

Sorry. With those numbers, you don't call anyone out.

Holmes has no regrets, though. "I'm an eight-year veteran," he said. "I wouldn't regret anything."

Besides, he didn't see anything wrong with what he said.

"It doesn't matter to me, because what's said is said. You get out there and you play the game on the football field,'' he said. "You don't play the game through the media and through words that are being exchanged in front of cameras."

Fair enough. But in a game in which a young Jets team needed every edge it could get, Holmes' tweak was unnecessary.

Munnerlyn not only came up with the game-clinching pick-6 but sacked Smith twice on blind-side blitzes.

And Holmes? He was a complete non-factor. Afterward, he couldn't even get his tweaks straight. "Those guys wanted to back up being the weakest secondary in the league," he said. "I said it and I still feel that way."

Now the Panthers have the weakest secondary in the league?

When asked to clarify, Holmes replied, "No, I said the same thing I said. Weakest link."

Glad we got that straight.

If only Holmes had been more effective in getting his message across -- on and off the field -- maybe we'd be having a different conversation about the Jets today.

Instead, it's about to be a third straight year with no playoffs, and more controversy from a receiver who isn't worth the trouble any longer.

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