Santonio Holmes carries baggage, celebrates ridiculously, wins in the clutch

Santonio Holmes celebrates. (nfl.com)
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Each time the Jets or Giants play a football game, Capital will write about a home-team member who took part in it. This post is about Santonio Holmes, who played receiver in the Jets' 35-10 win on Dec. 11 over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Santonio Holmes is the most coordinated kid on the playground, the little squirt whose best attribute is his ability to place his body in athletic positions. It’s called “body control” in scout-speak, and Holmes’s allotment of it makes him one of most fun players in the league to watch. At 5-foot-11, 192 pounds, he's small for a receiver, but his ability to contort himself gracefully when the ball is in the air allows him to catch passes that, normally, only a big receiver could get to.

Adding to his playground appeal is his mischievous, chipmunk-ish grin, which makes him look more innocent and wholesome than someone with a rap sheet for violence against women might otherwise look. He's appealing in much the same way as his coach, Rex Ryan: He just looks like he's having a lot of fun at work.

Another thing that makes Holmes a winning screen presence is his distinctive way of celebrating. There’s the “Flight Boy,” in which Holmes makes an airplane of his body by extending both arms straight out and running around, a celebration whose appeal lies in its corniness; and there’s Holmes’ first-down move, in which he stands perfectly upright and extends the ball forward with his arm, freezing in a statuesque pose of grandeur before dropping the ball.

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Yesterday, in a game in which the Jets' dominance was so thorough that fans’ excitement over it gave way relatively quickly to concern about garbage-time injuries, Holmes’ underwhelming stat line of 2 catches for 12 yards and a touchdown wasn’t a top story. But he played a bigger role than most people probably realize.

On the first play from scrimmage, he delivered a perfect “crack-back” block on Chiefs safety Jon McGraw, thus clearing the way for Shonn Greene to run for a season-high 31-yard carry.

Later in the drive, with the Jets near the goal line, Holmes drew a defensive holding call on Chiefs safety Javier Arenas. The penalty was caused by Arenas’ panic of having to cover Holmes-one-on one with so much space to either side, and it set up Mark Sanchez’ untouched touchdown run on the next play.

On the Jets’ first drive of the second quarter, Holmes made a juke to get himself wide open in the back of the middle part of the end zone. Sanchez’s pass was slightly off target, but Holmes, as all natural athletes do, made catching it look easy by turning his body and then tapping both feet down in the end zone. The score put the Jets up 14-3, and at that point it was pretty obvious the Chiefs wouldn’t get any closer.

It was a feel-good day in a season that has proven more difficult than expected for both Holmes and the Jets.

The Jets entered the season with Super Bowl expectations, but came into Sunday jockeying for the second A.F.C. wild-card playoff spot. (Things looked much better by the end of the day, as most of the teams the Jets are competing with for that spot proceeded to lose.)

Holmes displayed a similar grandiosity before the season. After signing a contract that included $24 million guaranteed, he tweeted a picture of himself chugging a celebratory bottle of champagne. The New York Post put the picture on the front page, with the headline, “Jet Fuel.”

But going into yesterday, Holmes was on pace for career-lows in both yards and yards-per-catch.

He has also not been immune from more negative headlines: Earlier in the season, he publicly called out the struggling offensive line, and his reported dissatisfaction with his role in the offense was at the center of rumors of player dissatisfaction with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

The incidents revived Holmes’ reputation as a player with baggage, which he earned with several alleged episodes of behavior far worse than pouting about football. Since being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006, Holmes has been arrested three times and twice linked to incidents involving violence against women.

Shortly after a woman accused Holmes of throwing a glass at her in a nightclub, the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose moralistic pretensions had been undermined by the Ben Roethlisberger rape case earlier that offseason, traded Holmes to the Jets. For the M.V.P. of the Super Bowl two seasons earlier, who was in his prime, the Jets gave Pittsburgh a fifth-round draft pick, roughly the equivalent of 30 cents on the dollar.

Holmes sat out the first four games of last year on suspension for a second violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy. He played well upon returning, thus making most people forget about what he euphemistically termed his “off-the-field distractions.” During the middle of last season, Holmes sprung the Jets to three straight wins with clutch catches near the end of games.

“Tone Time,” Holmes and his teammates call his predilection for clutch play. It has become a rallying cry for a team, like Holmes, that fancies itself as flawed but at its best when the chips are down. After yesterday, the second in a series of virtual must-wins the Jets have to get through in order to make the playoffs, who can argue with them?