- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
CLEVELAND -- When it's crunch time, Rex Ryan looks for Santonio Holmes. He will walk up to Holmes on the sideline and study his eyes. The eyes always demand the football -- "an unbelievable look," according to the New York Jets coach.
"It's 'Tone Time, isn't it?" Ryan will ask.
"You know it, Rex," Holmes will reply.
'Tone Time goes something like this: Throw the ball to Holmes and let him win the game. He did it again Sunday, turning a 7-yard slant into a 37-yard touchdown with 16 seconds left in overtime to beat the Cleveland Browns, 26-20.
Just like that, the Jets (7-2) snatched victory from the jaws of a tie, becoming the first team in NFL history to win overtime road games in back-to-back weeks.
Holmes' 52-yard reception set up the game-winning field goal last week in Detroit and, with every writer at the Ryan Bowl preparing the obvious story lead -- a tie is like kissing your twin brother -- Holmes ran away from the Cleveland defense before time ran out on the Jets.
"That's back-to-back games he's really won for us," Ryan said after beating his twin brother, Rob, the Browns' defensive coordinator.
The Jets, off to their best start since 1986, have turned into fourth-quarter (and overtime) magicians, pulling out games in the craziest ways. Before Detroit, they won in Denver because a defensive back named Renaldo Hill committed a killer pass-interference penalty on -- you guessed it -- Holmes.
Three late-game wins, three key plays by Holmes. Coincidence? Hardly. In Holmes, the Jets have the kind of playmaking receiver they've lacked since -- well, forever. Holmes can change the game in a heartbeat, a dimension that will serve them well on their Super Bowl-or-bust mission.
Sometimes these games come down to just a guy making a play, one guy simply beating another. The Jets received clutch performances from several players, namely Mark Sanchez, Jerricho Cotchery and Drew Coleman, but it was Holmes who delivered when everything was at stake.
"I've never seen anything like this, the way this team closes games," said guard Brandon Moore, one of the longest-tenured Jets.
Helped by strange play calling by former Jets coach Eric Mangini, who didn't know whether to be aggressive or conservative, the Jets got the ball at the Cleveland 37 after a nice punt return by Jim Leonhard.
Earlier, Holmes had pleaded with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to call a slant route for him. Cornerback Eric Wright was giving too much cushion all day, and Holmes knew he could exploit it.
"We hadn't run a slant all game," Holmes said, "and we caught it at the perfect time."
Holmes caught the pass on Wright, who was soft again, and he blew past ex-Jets linebacker Eric Barton and safety T.J. Ward. Unlike last week, when he was caught from behind by a Detroit linebacker, Holmes wasn't going to be stopped.
After 74 minutes, 44 seconds of entertaining, hard-nosed football between two old-school teams, it was over.
Good thing he scored. Otherwise, the Jets would've turned to Nick Folk, who had reverted to his Dallas days and missed three field goals -- including a 46-yard attempt in overtime. That wouldn't have been comforting.
"We're far from perfect, but we'll take it," Ryan said. "We're 7-2."
The Jets aren't a juggernaut, but they've developed an admirable quality, the ability to close. This team has guts, and it has players who emerge in pressure situations.
Start with Sanchez. He suffered a calf injury late in the third quarter, but he stayed in the game and made a few fantastic improv plays in the pocket, moving and throwing. He passed for 299 yards and two touchdowns, and his interception could be considered a smart decision because it basically was a punt to the Cleveland 3 -- and set up the game winner.
"I don't know how good he is," said Sanchez's father, Nick, who watched with pride from the stands, "but he'll never quit."
There also was Coleman, the demoted nickelback who forced a fumble on ex-Jets receiver Chansi Stuckey in overtime. If he hadn't stripped Stuckey, the Browns would have been practically in field goal range.
Another player in a reduced role -- Cotchery -- made what Ryan called "the gutsiest play I've seen in a long time." On a third down in overtime, Cotchery pulled a groin, but he continued to run his route and made a diving, full-body-extended grab.
"J-Co was hurt, he sees me scrambling and he motions to me that he's hurt," Sanchez said. "I'm pointing to him to keep running and he makes a diving catch, leaves his body out there."
It was an amazing effort, symbolic of the team itself. You can't kill these Jets. For much of the day, they were scuffling, a step behind their old coach and his clever game plan, but they kept grinding. Like Cotchery, they kept looking for an opening.
"We're built to win these type of games," Ryan said.
It came down to 24 seconds left. They were looking for a 10-yard play, something to get them closer for Folk. But it was 'Tone Time.
Truth be told, 'Tone Time began April 10, when Ryan got word that the Pittsburgh Steelers were looking to trade the troubled receiver. He literally ran into GM Mike Tannenbaum's office and said, "Let's get him."
Tannenbaum asked Ryan if he needed to watch film of Holmes before making the trade.
"F--- no!" replied Ryan, who had faced Holmes several times in the Baltimore-Pittsburgh rivalry. "That [guy] cost me a ring."
If this keeps us, Holmes might get Ryan that ring this season.
Santonio Holmes has become a late-game hero for Gang Green.