Holmes’s hands have been helpful

Big-play receiver a boon to the Jets

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / December 3, 2010

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — As the weeks move on, the games pile up, the fantastic end-of-game catches mount, as Santonio Holmes proves that the Jets pulled off a bit of a heist in the offseason in nabbing him for a fifth-round pick, it’s understandable that his confidence would be sky high. He appears not intimidated by anything — especially rookie cornerbacks.

Asked if a rookie should start against him, Holmes said, “Negative. That was proven Super Bowl Sunday, two years ago, when they had a rookie [the Cardinals’ Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie] following me around the whole game. I wouldn’t do it if I was them.’’

That rookie is likely to be New England’s Devin McCourty, who could see significant time lining up against Holmes Monday night when the Jets come to Foxborough.

Not that McCourty is the only young player in the Patriots’ secondary, with the rookie leading a group of callow defensive backs.

“If I can really speak my mind, I would,’’ said Holmes. “But just off the strength of me being a professional, I don’t worry about those guys. We have to worry about what we have to do here.

“I don’t care who they line up over there on the other side of the ball. It’s our job to get the job done, and play well, pitch and catch, run the ball, block those guys, and get out of there with a victory.’’

And giving the Jets victories, especially in the teeth of an apparent loss, is exactly what Holmes has done this season. Exiled from Pittsburgh in April after the NFL announced that the receiver was going to be suspended for the first four games of this season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, Holmes has come up big in New York. In seven games, he has 32 receptions for 491 yards, teaming with Braylon Edwards to form a dynamic pass-catching duo.

“He’s a big playmaker,’’ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “Fast, quick, good routes, runs well after the catch, complements Braylon well, because Braylon’s a big, physical, downfield receiver and Holmes is fast, quick, has very good route-running ability.

“He can get down the field, but he can also run short/intermediate routes, run after the catch, do all those things. They’re both big threats, big-play guys.’’

Those big plays have come in abundance this season, and perhaps they should have been expected. Holmes is, after all, the same player whose catch pulled out the win in Super Bowl XLIII with less than a minute to go. It was his ninth reception (for 131 yards) in that Super Bowl, earning him MVP honors.

He’s been there before. He’s done it before. For the Jets, he’s doing it again — and again and again.

“He’s a player,’’ Edwards said. “You know, there’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. He’s a player. He’s strong, he’s a great player, he’s intelligent, and he does the little things.

“He asks questions. He writes things down. He takes notes. He asks you what’s going on. He has the ability to move positions, he can play the Z, he can play the X, and he’s learning fast on the fly.

“That’s made him dangerous in the pass game, and he’s contributed to our success since he’s gotten back. He’s jumped right in there, especially now, he’s playing with a confidence level like he knows the offense, which he does.’’

The last time these teams faced each other, Holmes was sitting out his suspension. It’s different now. He’s ready.

If you ask him, he’s always ready. And that’s exactly what makes things click for him when the moment is biggest, when the spotlight is brightest.

It was his touchdown catch with three seconds left that allowed the Jets to come back against the Texans Nov. 21. It was his 37-yard touchdown catch that gave the Jets an overtime win over the Browns Nov. 14. It was his 52-yard reception that set up the field goal that beat the Lions in overtime Nov. 7. It was his drawing a pass interference penalty near the end of the fourth quarter against the Broncos that allowed LaDainian Tomlinson to get the winning touchdown Oct. 17.

Few Jets players have had more of an impact in getting them to 9-2.

“I think I play to the last second of the game,’’ Holmes said. “There is not a moment in the game that I think, ‘The game is over at this point.’

“If we still have a chance, we’re on the field, just make it work. That’s what you practice for, that’s what you go through two-minute drills in the offseason [for], putting the last-second plays in. Just make them work. Trust that you can make them work.

“Just play football, man. It’s nothing, getting out here and doing something that you love to do. You dedicate yourself to your job for 20-odd weeks out of the season. Why not give everything you’ve got, working on the field, off the field, into what you do for one day out of the week?’’

Hard to argue with that.

Hard to argue with the results, too. Holmes has made the most of his second opportunity in football, after the Steelers — already burdened by the Ben Roethlisberger suspension — decided to jettison the receiver. Holmes feels he was brought to the Jets to play football, to help the team win, and that “thus far I have been successful.’’

And he’ll attempt to add another win Monday, against that young secondary, perhaps against that rookie cornerback.

“That’s our job to go out and exploit those guys,’’ Holmes said. “No matter how much we talk about it, it would probably boost up the media.

“It’s not what we do. Our job is to go out and exploit those guys on the field, physically, making good routes, catching the ball, making the plays happen for [quarterback Mark] Sanchez.’’

And, if you ask Holmes, there will be plenty to exploit. Then, again, Devin McCourty might have something to say about that.

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