'Weakest link' line sets Tone for Jets loss

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The New York Jets expected some blowback Sunday for Santonio Holmes' ill-advised "weakest link" comment, but they were surprised it came so fast and so furiously.

"Ten messed up," one Carolina Panthers defensive back snapped at wide receiver David Nelson on the first series, referring to Holmes' uniform number.

Yes, No. 10 messed up by poking the Panthers' secondary last week, and the Panthers started throwing it back at the Jets as soon as the national anthem was finished, vowing payback. The Panthers got the first laugh, the last laugh and a few in between, taking a 30-20 victory at Bank of America Stadium.

It all but eliminated the Jets (6-8) from playoff contention, dooming them to their third straight non-winning season. They didn't lose this game because of Holmes' loose lips, but he set the mouse trap and supplied the cheese. It was only a matter of time before someone triggered it.

"They made a point to let us know on the first drive that they weren't appreciative of the comments and that they were going to make us pay throughout the game," Nelson said. "On the first series, they were gunning for us."

Holmes dropped a wide-open pass on the Jets' opening possession -- a lack of concentration -- finishing with only two receptions for 14 yards on eight targets. He was the intended receiver on Captain Munnerlyn's fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown and, although it wasn't Holmes' fault, it seemed only fitting he was in the middle of it. Call it a karma thing.

He's been a pain in the rear for nearly three seasons, unable to duplicate the feel-good vibes from his brilliant touchdown catch against the New England Patriots in the 2010 divisional playoffs. Holmes has lasted this long only because of his bloated contract, filled with a ridiculous amount of guaranteed money. In some ways, he's the symbol for three straight disappointing seasons -- unfulfilled promise.

It's all coming to a close, Holmes' time with the Jets and perhaps Rex Ryan's tenure as coach. Holmes will be released in the offseason. Ryan's future appears to be up in the air.

Afterward, Holmes showed no remorse. With an air of defiance, he stood in front of his locker, claiming he didn't regret telling reporters last Thursday that the Panthers' secondary is the "weakest link" of their defense.

"I'm an eight-year vet," said Holmes, staring down the questioner. "I wouldn't regret anything."

Holmes downplayed the impact of his comment, insisting, "You don't play the game through the media and through words that are being exchanged in front of a camera."

He actually suffered another foot-in-mouth moment.

"Those guys wanted to back up being the worst secondary in the league," he said. "I said it and I still feel that way."

The league? No, he later clarified he didn't mean the worst in the league, only the worst unit on the Panthers' defense.

Incredibly, Holmes failed to see why his comment riled up the Panthers. Worse, Ryan backed his diva, reiterating that the secondary is the weakest link. What they fail to understand is that a player shouldn't call out an opponent like that, not when your own team is struggling to score points.

And especially not when your quarterback -- a rookie -- is struggling, period. Holmes did no favors for Geno Smith by opening his mouth. Nelson all but said the Panthers were out to get Smith because of the Holmes remark.

"It seemed like even if the ball wasn't in our hands, even if Geno was scrambling, it seemed like they were targeting -- not targeting, I don't want to use that word, but they were trying to be physical with us," Nelson said.

"They tried to set the tone on the first series. It died down as the game went on, but you could definitely tell the comments didn't go over too well with them."

Nelson said he'd never criticize a teammate for speaking his mind, but he didn't sound pleased, judging by his description of the Panthers' reaction. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie backed Holmes, saying, "It's not what someone says in the paper. You've got to play within the white lines. You can't play between the black and white lines [of a newspaper]."

You can bet the comments would've been different if Holmes' teammates had been ingesting truth serum instead of Gatorade.

True, Holmes didn't miss a tackle on DeAngelo Williams' 72-yard screen pass for a touchdown. And he didn't miss a block on Jason Williams' blocked punt in the fourth quarter, which helped turn a 16-13 game into 30-13.

The Jets managed to screw up those plays without Holmes, but the wide receiver's comments altered the perception of the loss, making a bad game look worse than it was.

The Panthers' secondary wasn't the weakest link. It held Smith to 167 yards, limited the wide receivers to six receptions, recorded two sacks and scored a touchdown. The Jets' offense was so inept that its first touchdown came from a defensive tackle -- Sheldon Richardson, on a 1-yard run.

Which means Richardson has scored as many touchdowns this season as Holmes.

"They played pretty good," Holmes said of the Panthers.

When Munnerlyn scored, he mocked Holmes' signature celebration, pretending to be a jet airplane. He "crashed" in the end zone, drawing a taunting penalty.

Best 15 yards he ever cost his team.