Down by four points with 10 seconds on the clock, quarterback Mark Sanchez floated a pass into the corner of the New Meadowlands Stadium east end zone. It should come as no surprise that the man who ran underneath the ball to make the game-winning touchdown grab was wide receiver Santonio Holmes.
Holmes has been a revelation in the six games he's played this season after missing the first four. The Jets brought in the former Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl MVP to make plays just like the 6-yard score that sealed the 30-27 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday.
"That's just me playing football," Holmes said. "I think Woody Johnson and Rex Ryan made a great call by giving me a phone call on April 11 at about 9 o'clock at night. I think that was the best decision for myself and for this team. They brought me here for one reason and that's to help this team win ballgames."
Holmes is no stranger to making big plays, as his iconic, toe-tapping catch in the back of the end zone against the Arizona Cardinals to win Super Bowl XLIII two seasons ago is a lasting image. So when the Green & White found themselves trailing, 27-23, with 55 seconds left, many teams might have faltered, but not these Jets with Holmes in the huddle. He and Sanchez have built a bond that brings out the competitor in one another.
"I'm always the one sitting on the sideline by myself just thinking, 'OK, what can I do to make a play for this team?' " Holmes said. "The fire in my eyes and the fire in Mark's eyes, it kind of meets and I think that's what we need to build around here amongst all of us. It's showing on the field every week.
As the team's signalcaller, Sanchez is developing a winning way that Holmes carries as well. While the fifth-year pro out of Ohio State had seven receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns, it was only a part of the Southern Cal product's 22-for-38, 315-yard, three-touchdown passing day. Holmes said it's the dedication to video study and daily practice intensity that the second-year gunslinger exudes that has helped the Jets soar to an 8-2 start.
"I think those things build character," Holmes said. "It shows that he wants to be a leader, he wants to win ballgames. He wants everything to be perfect. Regardless of how the outcome is in the game situation, he practices to be perfect and we all make it work come Sunday."
It definitely worked this Sunday as the Jets jumped out to a 23-7 lead and seemed on the way to their first blowout victory since their Week 4 whooping of the Bills. The score that made it 20-7 was a 41-yard third-down strike from Sanchez to Holmes on a play very reminiscent of the duo's 37-yard pitch-catch-and-scamper that beat the Cleveland Browns in overtime last week. The play of the game, however, was undoubtedly the game-winning grab in the closing seconds.
"When we made the call, I kind of licked my lips," Holmes said. "I looked down at Brad [WR Brad Smith] and I kind of knew this play was something we had been working on all week in practice, trying to make it work against our defense. It just popped open so clean for me."
Holmes started inside, then cut to the back corner of the end zone, and came down with the ball, just barely keeping his feet inbounds to put the Green & White on top for good.
A theme for this team has been preparation and hard work. Holmes said he suggested to head coach Rex Ryan that the Jets' first offense work critical situations (red-zone, two-minute, third-down) against the first defense, and that it has paid dividends for the offense, himself and Sanchez. For evidence, look no further than the final play.
"That was a great feeling," Holmes said. "Just to know that Mark placed the ball where only I had a chance to catch it. For me to be running so clean to the back of the end zone, to get my feet down in the back of the end zone, I definitely had to stop and take a mental picture."
That catch, after a booth review to make sure he got both feet inbounds, sealed an exciting day for Holmes. It was his highest receiving yard total since he went for a career-high 149 yards against Oakland last year, and his first two-touchdown game since a 2007 matchup against the Ravens and Ryan, then their defensive coordinator. For a man who has now made a late game-changing play in the last four Jets victories, it's all about perspective and mental toughness, characteristics this team has in abundance.
"If you know one play can make the difference," Holmes said. "You never want to shy away from those moments."