FLORHAM PARK, NJ – We all saw the moment that he turned from your average mid-first round wide receiver to an elite aerial threat. Arms extending for the ball while stretching his tippy toes to stay in bounds with a Cardinal defender all over him — all this with just a mere :37 seconds remaining in Super Bowl XLIII. We all remember the magnitude of his game-winning catch for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The play, not even two years old, is already historic for the level of difficulty in such a heavy situation. Well, heavy for some. For Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes, the heavy situations are the moments that he lives for.
“It’s hard to explain, but it’s almost like he says with his demeanor, his eyes, his everything, “Give me the football,” Rex Ryan said on Holmes’ assertiveness in wanting the ball in late-game situations.
Mark Sanchez, as well as Ryan, are getting used to that demanding demeanor. After missing the first four games of the season due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy, it took some time for Sanchez and Holmes to establish a level of trust.
“It’s trust, ya know?” Holmes said. “Just trust me that I’m going to be where you need me to be. Just put the ball where it’ll be safe for me to get it and I’ll get there.
Over the last two weeks, that trust has been growing vastly. In the overtime against Detroit, Holmes (5 rec, 112 yards) had a back-breaking 52-yard catch-and-run that set up Nick Folk’s game winning drive. And in last week’s overtime game against Cleveland, with 16 seconds left, he (5 rec, 76 yards, 1 TD) had a 37-yard reception to win the game.
But these late-game heroics aren’t anything new for the fifth-year receiver from Ohio State, Holmes has made a career out of it. While the big-play score is what draws the headlines and praise, his abilities as a possession receiver who can keep the chains moving is what separates him from other elite receivers in the league. Of his 255 career receptions, 201 have gone for first downs.
“You sense that when the game is tight and somebody has to step up, he wants everybody to know that he’s the guy willing to do that,” Ryan said.
Ryan’s depiction couldn’t have been more on point. Throughout his career, Holmes has developed a knack for playing at his best when his team is behind. Of his 4,156 career receiving yards, nearly half (1,847) has been when his team has been on the wrong end of the scoreboard. Ten of his 21 career touchdowns have happened in the same situation as well.
In fact, while everyone recalls Holmes’ iconic touchdown grab in the Super Bowl, many forget his 40-yard catch two plays prior that set-up the game-winning score. In fact, on that final drive with 2:37 left in the season Ben Roesthlisberger looked to Holmes on five of the eight plays. He came down with four catches on that drive.
The truth is, the Jets haven’t had this type of caliber receiver since a young Keyshawn Johnson took New York by storm. Certainly Braylon Edwards ( a former first-round pick from the Big 10 as well) offers that big-play spark, but rarely does the spark ignite.
For Holmes, the spark is always lit. It’s just a matter of when the flame will become luminous.
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