FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Geno Smith will look around in his huddle at some point Sunday and likely see three familiar faces on the field with him.
Jeremy Kerley, Santonio Holmes and Kellen Winslow Jr. will all be out there together with Smith for the first time since Week 4. And for the struggling New York Jets, it’s been a long time coming.
“When we’re all firing, when we’re all doing our thing out there,” Kerley said Friday, “it’s a beautiful thing.”
Kerley will make his return after missing three games with a dislocated elbow, and fellow receiver Holmes (hamstring) and tight end Winslow (knee) will also play Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. The trio has played together in a grand total of three games this season — not a good thing for a developing rookie quarterback.
Smith has just one touchdown pass and 11 interceptions in his last seven games, and the Jets (5-7) have gone from controlling their playoff destiny to barely hanging on while mired in a three-game skid. While there are serious questions about whether the second-round pick is the team’s quarterback of the future, having a healthy offense will give the Jets a better chance to more accurately assess Smith.
“We don’t make excuses or anything else, but obviously having your top guys out there healthy, I think makes a huge difference,” coach Rex Ryan said. “We had those conversations and to me it’s like, judge us moving forward. And look, you’re going to judge us anyways up until this point and you should, and I understand it.
“But, let’s see how we close this thing out when our guys are healthy.”
Kerley still leads the team with 28 receptions despite missing four games this season, and running back Bilal Powell is second with 26. The fewest receptions to lead the Jets in a 16-game season were Derrick Gaffney’s 32 in 1979. While the Jets will likely top that total with four games left, they’ll be hard-pressed to surpass the second-fewest — 48 by Wesley Walker in 1978.
“We’re going all-in this game,” Winslow said. “We’re coming, so it’s going to be fun. We’re letting loose a little bit and we’re going to let guys play and go make plays. We don’t have anything to lose, so we’re just going to go out there and give it our all and try to make plays for Geno.”
The Jets had the rare Friday injury report in which nearly every player was listed as probable except for Stephen Hill, who was a late downgrade to questionable with a knee ailment.
“We are as healthy as we have been in a month,” Ryan said. “I feel great about that.”
Kerley fully participated in practice for the second straight day, making a remarkable recovery from a scary injury that occurred on Nov. 3 against New Orleans. He was on the ground with both arms extended behind him when the Saints’ David Hawthorne — a former college teammate at TCU — slammed into his left elbow, sending it in an unnatural direction.
“I thought (my season) was over,” Kerley said. “I thought I was going to be back (home) in Texas.”
Kerley, who said his elbow is 90 to 95 percent healed, has been catching with two hands in practice since last week after previously using only his right hand. He has been wearing a brace on the elbow since, but is going to play Sunday without one.
“I just don’t want to feel restricted,” Kerley said. “Like I tell people all the time, if I could, I would play naked. Extra padding makes me feel limited, so I don’t want it.”
Kerley is “a little bit worried” about taking contact and expects to feel some pain during the game, especially since he’s anticipating the Raiders trying to target his elbow.
He had a good rapport with Smith at the time of his injury. Six of Kerley’s career-high eight catches in the Jets’ 30-27 overtime win over New England on Oct. 24 came on third-down plays that were converted for first downs, including a 12-yard touchdown.
“Jeremy is a guy who can get separation in a hurry,” Ryan said. “I’m not saying he’s Wes Welker, but similar like a slot receiver who can shake you, burst and get open just like that. He has some of that ability.”
Holmes was limited Friday, as were Winslow and cornerback Antonio Cromartie (hip), but all three will play. Holmes played only two snaps last Sunday against Miami because the coaches didn’t see the “burst” they usually see from the receiver because of his ailing hamstring.
Ryan said Holmes’ hamstring “looked great” and anticipates him significantly more against the Raiders.
“We’ve had an outstanding week of practices,” Ryan said. “It better translate to the game, I understand that, but I’m confident it will.”
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