Commentary

Jets need Holmes to deliver against Pats

Tone Time helped save Gang Green several times this season. Can he do it again?

Updated: January 15, 2011, 10:41 AM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

It's been a few weeks since New York Jets wideout Santonio Holmes took off on one of those game-winning touchdown runs like he did by splitting two defenders to save the Jets against Cleveland, and it's been even longer since he drew an interference penalty that saved the Jets against Denver earlier this season. But the pattern is set.

A great portion of this Jets season was saved because Holmes delivered in some games when the Jets were wobbling, and almost out on their feet. Now, the Jets know what people are saying about their chances of beating the New England Patriots in Sunday's divisional showdown after the 45-3 beating the Patriots put on them last month: The Jets may need another miracle.

Holmes, standing at his locker Thursday, just smiled and nodded a little when it was suggested these are the kinds of games and situations that the Jets brought him here for.

"Most definitely," he said. "I will look any one of my teammates in the eyes, and anybody else in the eye, and tell them it's 'Tone Time. It's time to play football now. It's time to get out and get the job done."

That one brief answer was the most animated Holmes got in the 15 or so minutes he spoke Thursday, but it said a lot about what drives him. Up until then, he'd been giving mostly perfunctory answers about how to beat New England, the usual stuff you've heard players say a hundred times.

He had little interest in talking about Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie's hard feelings toward Pats quarterback Tom Brady, other than to say, "If that's what the defense needs to get riled up, then I'm all for it." Asked what's important to do against New England's defense, Holmes spoke of execution and avoiding turnovers.

Even a question about whether he wears the ring he won when he was MVP of the Pittsburgh Steelers' most recent Super Bowl victory -- he made one of the most sensational, beautiful, diving, tight-roping catches along the sideline that you'll ever see -- brought only this: "No. I don't."

Have you brought the ring around the Jets at all?

"Yeah, I have -- I brought it around maybe twice at the beginning of the season, and that was about it," Holmes replied.

He didn't go on to add that that ring might not be his most cherished possession, considering the way Pittsburgh stuck with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger through his nasty legal troubles earlier this season but traded Holmes away to the Jets for a mid-round draft pick -- a steal, even if Holmes eventually did have to serve a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

[+] EnlargeSantonio Holmes
Al Pereira/Getty ImagesSantonio Holmes was the Jets' go-to receiver in the big moment this season.
No, all he said Thursday was, "That [ring] happened with another team. That was then. I want one with green and white this time."

Holmes always seems to conjure up something to motivate himself. Against Cleveland, it's always that he wants to beat them because he went to Ohio State. When it seemed someone else was going to play rookie corners against him earlier this year, Holmes sniffed and archly said, "I wouldn't advise that."

This 'Tone Time thing that he likes to talk about is his invention too.

"But I know what he means," Jets guard Brandon Moore said Thursday. "Santonio wants to be the man. A lot of people say that they want to the ball, but sometimes they're not willing to do the work or the things that go along with wanting to be that guy. But in big spots he wants the ball. I think his ability to turn a simple catch into a big play is what separates him. And you know, he's a leader. He's a vocal leader.

"He's the one of the guys in the huddle that's always trying to inspire, trying to motivate. Even when he knows it's a run play, he's the guy that's trying to get everybody going, doing whatever he can."

The Jets were happy last season when they traded for their other wideout, Braylon Edwards. But head coach Rex Ryan said Thursday that the idea of being able to bookend Edwards with another big-play receiver -- someone as good as Holmes -- was something he and general manager Mike Tannenbaum talked about as a necessity from the time they started working together. They had a young quarterback, Mark Sanchez, who needed playmakers to help him.

Edwards and Holmes openly admit they have a personal competition to see who can out-do others.

Holmes nodded when told, too, that Ryan had noted the Jets' roster has a 196-101 game edge in playoff experience over the current players on the Patriots' roster.

What Ryan didn't say was that. among all of them, only Brady and Holmes have been Super Bowl MVPs.

This sort of stage is what Holmes was brought here for, all right. Big plays are big plays whether it's a quarterback or a wideout who makes them. Brady has the ball. Holmes needs Sanchez to get it to him. But there's a 60-minute slab of time in the Jets-Patriots rematch just ahead, and the underdog Jets are going to need a few offensive heroes to rise up in Foxborough on Sunday. And it's probably good news for the Jets that Thursday, Holmes interrupted a question about his previous playoff heroics by saying, "I can't live off what I've done in the past."

Holmes just emphasized one more time that Sunday is one of those games that seem made for him.

But no real playoff heroes are ever minted on a Thursday. Check back with him, Holmes said.

Sunday is a big game. And he's a big-play receiver.

"I'll probably have something to say afterwards," he told reporters.

The coy smile on Holmes' face suggested it was a promise. Not a wish.

Johnette Howard is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

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