FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Santonio Holmes’ eyes say it all.
When it’s late in a game and Rex Ryan needs a big play from his offense, he strolls over to his star wide receiver and takes a look at him.
“It’s like there’s something different,” the New York Jets coach said Thursday. “It’s hard to explain, but it’s like this guy is almost with his demeanor, his eyes, his everything, it’s like, ‘Give me the football.’ You know what I mean? It’s almost like he’s convincing you.”
Ryan calls it “Tone Time,” and knows something special is about to happen.
“It’s almost something you have to see,” Ryan said. “You can’t fake it. This guy wants it. He’s the guy on the baseball field with one out left, he’s begging to get the ball hit to him.”
Holmes is a game-changing receiver with a Super Bowl MVP award on his resume. His career with the Jets got off to a slow start because he had to sit out the first four games due to an NFL-imposed suspension. But, he has certainly made up for lost time by becoming one of Mark Sanchez’s go-to receivers, especially late in games.
“When that time comes in the game, you sit back and evaluate everything that’s going on,” said Holmes, who has 20 catches in five games. “You go to your offensive coordinator and you go to your quarterback, ‘Hey, look, you need me, I’m here for you.’”
Like last Sunday, when he took a short slant pass, zipped past a defender and raced into the end zone for a winning 37-yard touchdown — his first with the Jets — with 16 seconds left in overtime in Cleveland. A sprint-off touchdown, so to speak.
“I kind of heard that from someone,” Holmes said with a grin. “I think somebody wrote that to me on Twitter. It kind of feels good to just bring some life to this team and just know that the guys are going to be there to depend on me if the situation needs me.”
Like two weeks ago, when he caught a 52-yard pass from Sanchez to set up the winning field goal in overtime in Detroit.
“Tone’s done a good job of coming in, learning the offense and having some success, especially the last two weeks,” wide receiver Braylon Edwards said.
There was also the pass interference penalty he drew at Denver a few weeks before that on Sanchez’s desperation heave on fourth-and-6 from midfield with under two minutes left. It gave the Jets possession at the Broncos 2, and LaDainian Tomlinson scored the go-ahead touchdown moments later.
“He doesn’t show a lot of emotion until after the game,” Sanchez said. “The whole game, this guy is just calm in any situation, and it’s that demeanor from him that’s contagious. It’s awesome to see that. He’s never rattled.”
Maybe because he’s used to being relied upon — and delivering.
His acrobatic tippy-toe 6-yard touchdown catch in the back right corner of the end zone with 35 seconds left in the 2009 Super Bowl gave Pittsburgh a 27-23 win over Arizona.
“I’ve thought about it all through high school and college,” Holmes said. “When the big moments are needed, there’s no time to shy away from it. Those are the times you want to play for.”
Holmes was reminded of that during a phone call he received last week from a former high school teammate. The conversation turned to the good old days, when they were kings of the gridiron back home in Florida.
“He said, ‘I remember those plays happening back to back, game after game after game, and when we needed a big play, Holmes was right there,’” the wide receiver recalled. “That’s something I want to pride myself on.”
That’s what the Jets were taking a chance on in April, when the Steelers made him available after four sometimes troublesome seasons in Pittsburgh. General manager Mike Tannenbaum knew there were some off-field issues to manage and were the reason a guy of Holmes’ talent — he had a career-high 79 catches and 1,248 yards receiving last season — was even available.
But Ryan, whose Baltimore defenses were beaten by Holmes in previous seasons, jumped at the chance to add him to his team. Ryan has half-jokingly said that Holmes cost him a Super Bowl ring with the Ravens. He believes a focused and motivated Holmes is now at home and can help deliver one in New York.
“He just wants to win and he’d be more than happy if one of his other teammates made the plays and all that,” Ryan said. “But when you see it, you sense when that game is tight and somebody has to step up, he wants everybody to know that he’s the guy that’s willing to step up.”
It’s all in that look in Holmes’ eyes.
“It’s been proven,” Holmes said. “I really don’t talk about it a lot. I just go out and play football for four quarters.”
Or, nearly five, if he needs to.
“He doesn’t play to get recognized,” Sanchez said. “He just plays to win.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.
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