At the two-minute warning of their must-win game against the Dolphins, the Jets stared up at a nine-point deficit. Every snap was essential. There could be no hiccups if the Green & White wanted the opportunity to stage a stunning comeback victory over the hometown 'Fins.
Instead, the Jets began their emergency drive without one of their offensive captains, second-leading receiver, and team leader in touchdowns. When the Jets broke huddle and called the first play of their two-minute drill, they did so without WR Santonio Holmes, who said he was pulled from the game after being involved in a heated exchange with a teammate.
"I can't explain what that was about," said Holmes. "It was emotions running high on the field between teammates."
Frustration was a factor for the Jets, who had a chance to sneak into the playoffs with a win in Miami coupled with a series of losses from other AFC foes. Holmes did not catch a single pass all game and was targeted only once.
QB Mark Sanchez credited Dolphins CB Vontae Davis for the lack of production from the star wideout, saying that the low number of targets was certainly not part of the game plan. As for what happened inside that huddle, Sanchez did not confirm nor deny any alleged confrontations.
"The only thing I'll say about that is that it's an emotional game," said Sanchez. "I don't talk about that stuff publicly. I don't want to say too much about that. It's for the guys in the huddle."
Even head coach Rex Ryan said immediately after the game that he had no idea what had happened or why Holmes was sitting on the bench as his offense was executing the two-minute drill.
"He was on the bench when I asked where he was," Ryan said. "I never saw it. I'd rather not really comment about it until I know the particulars."
One of the players inside that huddle was Dustin Keller. The tight end caught all seven passes intended for him during the game, including a 1-yard TD pass in the first quarter. He finishes the 2011 season as the Jets' leading receiver with 65 receptions. In a CBS replay, Keller could be seen restraining Holmes from a teammate in the huddle.
"I'm not going there," said Keller. "I really don't know the whole story of anything with the stuff that went on in the huddle so I can't really comment on it. I don't want to say something that's not true, so I am just not going to go there."
LaDainian Tomlinson shed some light on the situation when asked about it at his locker afterwards.
"Let me just say there were some guys in the huddle that were unhappy with Tone's demeanor," Tomlinson said. "When you have a group of guys that are fighting their butts off, and one guy, for whatever reason, their demeanor's not with them, you're going to get some guys to say something to him and tell them how they feel. That's what you got today.
According to Holmes, WR Patrick Turner came off the sidelines, tapped him on the shoulder, and told him he was being replaced. Holmes complied, and remained seated on the bench for the remainder of the game.
"The receivers coach [Henry Ellard] sent me in," said Turner. "I just know my role is to be ready to fill in when called on."
Turner caught a 10-yard touchdown pass — the first TD of his NFL career — from Sanchez with 1:15 left, cutting the score to 19-17. The Jets were left with no timeouts, and an onside kick attempt to save the season was recovered by the Dolphins, who finished the game with two kneeldowns.