CHARLOTTE – Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn usually plays with a chip on his shoulder but a smile on his face.
The smile was obscured Sunday by the supersized chip on his shoulder, only bubbling to the surface after he got the last laugh.
Munnerlyn and his fellow defensive backs, referred to as the "weakest link" by New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes leading up to Sunday's matchup, held Holmes to 14 receiving yards and the Jets to 167 passing yards in a 30-20 victory.
Munnerlyn delivered the final blow, stepping in front of Holmes for an interception that he brought back 41 yards for a touchdown that salted away the victory. Munnerlyn paid homage to Holmes, so to speak, by mimicking Holmes' typical touchdown celebration.
"I think my celebration said it all," Munnerlyn said. "He always does that when he scores – the little jet thing – and I had to give it back to him.
"You call out our secondary and say we're the weakest link, I take that personal."
Munnerlyn played – well - the role of captain in the secondary's strong response to Holmes' pregame proclamation. In addition to setting a franchise record with his fifth career interception return for a touchdown, Munnerlyn matched the total number of sacks he had collected in 74 career games with two.
He will savor the sacks but relished the interception.
"The defensive backs wear shirts around here saying, 'The ball is worth millions of dollars.' I want the ball," said Munnerlyn, who has returned all but two of his career interceptions for touchdowns. "Every time I get the ball, I think about scoring. I think it's because of my background as a punt returner."
Holmes probably wished he had punted when asked to break down the Panthers' defense earlier in the week. Holmes was named MVP of Super Bowl XLIII nearly five years ago after catching the game-winning touchdown for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he entered Sunday with just one touchdown in eight games this season on 16 receptions.
"With what Santonio said earlier in the week, we had to come out and shut him up. I think we did a good job of that," Panthers safety Quintin Mikell said. "Our thing all year has been that people point the finger at the secondary, and that's fine. We drive the bus from the back. We've had some good games and we've had some bad games. Tonight we had a good one and just shut them down."
And Munnerlyn was right in the middle of it even more so than usual. The 5-8, 195-pounder left South Carolina following his junior year, figuring he'd be a fairly high draft pick only to be selected by the Panthers in the seventh round of the 2009 draft.
Being underestimated has always driven Munnerlyn, but Holmes struck a chord that fired up Munnerlyn even more so than usual.
"I'm the laid-back guy in the group – Mike Mitchell is the one that's always geeked – but I took this one personal," Munnerlyn said. "When I got to the stadium, I couldn't wait to play. I was kind of mad that the game was at four o'clock. I was ready to get on the field."