By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork.com
NEW YORK (CBS 2) — They got him in the hope he would perform just as he did Sunday in Detroit.
Santonio Holmes has had his share of great moments and low points during his NFL career, but as far as Jets fans are concerned he should be the difference maker on an offense that’s in dire need of an identity.
The Jets are supposed to be a ground and pound machine, but due to maddening inconsistency in both play-calling and execution the running game has proven to be a less reliable focal point than one would have figured coming into this season, especially considering the team’s personnel at the skill positions and along the offensive line.
The simple truth is the Jets have no idea what they want to be on offense. They think they want to hand the ball off to LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene a combined 30 times a game and wear opponents down with the type of smashmouth football that was so successful during the latter stages of the 2009 regular season and in the playoffs.
However, a team-wide lack of intensity in spots, mixed with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s glaring lack of confidence in anything that appears to be successful, has forced second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez into positions he shouldn’t be subjected to, again, considering all the talent he has around him.
Luckily for the Jets, General Manager Mike Tannenbaum had the foresight during the offseason to go out and get Sanchez the types of weapons he’d need to make the ascension from a rookie to a third-year star in the making, along the way bypassing any semblance of a regression in production in Year 2. The way Tannenbaum saw it, Sanchez could only get better following his 12-TD, 20-INT freshman campaign, but only if he had help.
Enter Holmes, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Steelers for some practice jerseys and a Gatorade jug. At the time the move was viewed as an absolute steal, that is as long as Holmes played the good soldier and didn’t allow his four-game suspension for substance abuse to linger in any form any further than time served.
So far, so good. But it hasn’t been easy. Holmes’ rapport with Sanchez has taken a long time to develop and is just now beginning to look like it’s set in stone. It didn’t materialize in the preseason and the fear was the suspension would further deter a quarterback-wide receiver relationship that desperately needed to flourish if the Jets were to become more than just a student body right or left and chuck and duck operation with the football.
The good news is Holmes and Sanchez now appear to be on the same page. Just in case you’re still concerned, watch a replay of the Jets’ insane 23-20 overtime win in Detroit on Sunday.
Holmes, for the sake of a better term, earned his green and white wings. And Sanchez, despite looking awful at times, still somehow managed to throw for a career-high 336 yards and a score and rush for another TD, all in support of a seemingly improbable victory that put the Jets back in first place in the AFC East and gave them a share of the best record in the NFL.
Holmes came up huge when it mattered, hauling in a 54-yard pass early in overtime that set up Nick Folk’s winning field goal and allowed the Jets to escape from what looked like a certain loss, one that would have sent the fan base into a tirade of epic proportions. Holmes finished the day with 5 receptions for 114 yards, easily his best game of the season and, in all likelihood, a sign of things to come as the Jets begin to position themselves for the stretch run.
The Jets simply are not good enough yet on the offensive end to warrant any serious confidence, so it will be up to players like Holmes to take that next step, to keep the Jets fresh and unpredictable. Schottenheimer hasn’t helped matters because he doesn’t even play the hot hand. He has no idea who he wants the featured back to be. He’s sort of phased out tight end Dustin Keller, which is crazy considering just how quickly he started. Jerricho Cotchery, as much as the fans love and respect the guy, has looked lost for weeks and Braylon Edwards is largely a feast or famine option, as you saw Sunday with his 74-yard TD reception to close the first half, only to follow that up with a terrible fumble during the first drive of the third quarter.
No, it’s up to Holmes to provide stability to the passing game, to be the one who uses every last bit of his incredible route running ability and flair for the dramatic to find the openings in coverage and be that go-to guy when it truly matters. Sanchez needs Holmes to be that player. The Jets need Holmes to be that Super Bowl MVP again, on a weekly basis.
Because without a real approach on offense the Jets need to rely on the abilities of their many skilled assets. The Jets could very well go very far this season without an identity, which in a sense could be a blessing in disguise.
Because isn’t it better to be unpredictable and get by while trying a myriad of things rather than being one-dimensional and have to be perfect in the process?
The Jets are by no means perfect and they have forced their fans to fear for their lives on a weekly basis. The one saving grace is the fact that this team may be talented enough to win on talent alone.
Nobody said you need to have an identity if you still find a way to get it done with ability, character and guts.
The Jets appear to have plenty of all three.
And Holmes, with what appears to be an unrivaled skill set despite his small stature, may just be that once-missing link that could bring it all together.