Santonio Holmes questions Panthers

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes has a lot of respect for the Carolina Panthers' front seven. Their secondary, not so much.

"Not to call those guys out, but their secondary is probably their weakest link on their defense," the mercurial Holmes said Thursday.

Few would argue with Holmes' opinion, but it was an ill-advised comment considering how much the Jets struggle to throw the ball. Their passing offense ranks 30th in the league, with rookie quarterback Geno Smith appearing overwhelmed at times by defenses.

The last thing Smith needed was a teammate inciting an opposing secondary with bulletin-board material. The teams meet Sunday in Charlotte, a game the Jets (6-7) need to win to maintain their slim playoff chances.

Holmes made his comment in response to a general question about the Panthers' second-ranked defense. Reminded that the Panthers have 16 interceptions, tied for fifth in the league, Holmes didn't back down from his opinion.

"Just from a numbers perspective and guys in their position, nothing from my perspective puts those guys in [the elite] category," he said. "It's the way they're ranked throughout the NFL. It's not my perspective."

Actually, the Panthers are allowing only 217 passing yards per game, fifth-best in the league. Their starting defensive backs are cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, rookie cornerback Melvin White, safety Quintin Mikell and safety Mike Mitchell, who leads the team with four interceptions.

Holmes has a history of controversial quotes. Coming off a poor offensive game early in the season, he cracked, "I can't throw it to myself," which some perceived as a shot at Smith.

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, perhaps in damage control, raved about the Panthers' secondary.

"I don't know what context he said it ... but they're very, very good," Mornhinweg said.

Mornhinweg said the Panthers' defensive backs are able to play aggressively because of the pressure generated by the front four. The Jets have struggled against most teams. In fact, they've topped the 200-yard mark in passing only once in the last six games -- and that was last week against the Oakland Raiders.

Holmes is likely in his final days as a Jet. He's signed for two more years, but he's due to make $9.5 million next season, making him an obvious candidate to be released.

Because of foot and hamstring injuries, Holmes has missed 17 of the Jets' past 29 games. The former Super Bowl MVP has only 16 receptions for 381 yards and a touchdown.

"It's not a concern of mine right now," Holmes said of his future. "I signed a [restructured] contract this year for three years to be with the Jets, and that's what I plan on doing, being with the Jets for three years."