CHARLOTTE — By the time Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera held his Friday team meeting, every defensive back had heard what New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes had said about them.
Defensive end Charles Johnson had shown cornerback Captain Munnerlyn on Thursday afternoon. Later that day, free safety Mike Mitchell sent a link to Holmes’ comments, in which he called the Panthers’ secondary the “weakest link” on defense, to the entire defensive backfield.
So in the team meeting, Rivera told his players that the secondary shouldn’t be the only unit that was insulted – the team should be insulted.
“The whole team should take it personal,” Mitchell said. “I like that coach tries to do things like that. Always making it team, team, team. I think that’s very good how he does that for us.”
Said Munnerlyn: “Coach Rivera said something to the defense about it and like Coach Rivera says, it’s a team game. If he feels that way, everybody on the field on Sunday, we’re out there together and we’re going to play for each other.”
Holmes told New York media on Thursday what many observers have said since the preseason, but it still hit home for the Panthers, coming off a 31-13 loss to the Saints in which Drew Brees passed for 313 yards and four touchdowns.
“Not to call these guys out, but their secondary is probably the weakest link on their defense,” Holmes said.
Holmes has been hampered by injuries this season and has caught 16 passes for 381 yards on one of the worst passing offenses in the NFL. The Jets’ passing offense ranks 30th in the league with an average of 181 yards per game and will be without receiver Stephen Hill (knee) for the rest of the season after the team placed him on injured reserve Friday.
The Panthers’ secondary has 12 of the team’s 16 interceptions and owns the fifth-best pass defense in the league.
“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 for a reason.
“Everybody’s going to talk about the front seven and how well they do and how they put pressure on the quarterback. Hey, that’s part of the game. You’ve got to have a great defensive line to have good (defensive backs) or great DBs to help you out. Some of the plays they make are because of us, and some of the plays that we make are because of them.
“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.”
This wasn’t the first time a Jets player had called out the Panthers this season. The Panthers gave up 4 1/2 sacks to Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams in the Week 2 loss, and the Bills played the Jets the following week.
Linebacker Antwan Barnes, who’s out for the season now and on New York’s injured reserve list, said there was no chance Williams would have the same success against the Jets.
“It’s the Panthers we’re talking about,” Barnes told Newsday in September.
Mitchell said he doesn’t care about the opinions of outsiders. But he sent the quote to his teammates to make sure they all saw it.