The New York Jets have fallen from preseason Super Bowl contenders to mid-table mediocrity faster than headstrong coach Rex Ryan can stick his -- or someone else's -- foot in his mouth. And no single green-wearing player this side of errant quarterback Mark Sanchez embodies the ills that resulted in the discordant Jets' demise more than disgruntled wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who was unceremoniously benched in the final moments of team's season-ending 19-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Despite baffling inconsistency from a team that had reached consecutive AFC Championship Games, the Jets had a shot at a playoff berth entering yesterday's divisional matchup in Miami. While they were dependent on other results going their way, the most important part of the equation was a Gang Green triumph over the Fish. Although that result seemed a longshot in the final two minutes with the Jets trailing by two scores, New York was not throwing in the towel. The Jets were also not throwing to Holmes, who was held without a catch for the first time in his career.
After engaging in a heated argument in the huddle during the two-minute warning timeout, Holmes was pulled from the game. He would not return as Sanchez did march the offense down the field for a late touchdown. That scoring pass was caught by Patrick Turner, the player sent in from the sideline to replace Holmes after he'd gotten into that argument on the field. To the chagrin of CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf, Holmes spent the remainder of the game sitting on a bench not even watching as his team made a late comeback bid.
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Asked about his benching after the game, Holmes shed some -- but not much -- light on the incident.
"It was a coach's call," Holmes said during his postgame press conference. "Patrick came in and tapped me on the shoulder and told me to come out."
Holmes did reveal a telling tidbit late in his brief remarks, volunteering his belief that he was not taking too long to get back to the huddles after plays. During their own turns at the lectern neither Sanchez or Ryan offered much insight into the on-field spat. Sanchez uttered "What happens in the huddle, stays in the huddle" platitudes while trying to put a positive spin on the team's disappointing season. Ryan, on other hand, tried to convince reporters that he didn't know the specifics of the situation yet. He did, at least, admit that he had also noticed that Holmes did not participate in the bulk of that final scoring drive.
"I looked out there and was wondering why he wasn't out there," Ryan said of Holmes. "I did not bench Santonio."
Thankfully, other players were more forthcoming on flare-up and more details have emerged. According to Rich Cimini of ESPN New York, Holmes was arguing with right tackle Wayne Hunter before he was pulled. While Manish Mehta of the Daily News reports that several players claim beleaguered offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer yanked Holmes, Turner says he was sent to go pull Holmes by wide receivers coach Henry Ellard.
Veteran Jets running back Ladainian Tomlinson, who recently hinted this could be his last season, elaborated on what caused the spat between Hunter and Holmes, noting that the offensive lineman was not the only player upset with the wideout.
"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 fighting their butts off and one guy, for whatever reason, their demeanors not with them, you're going to get some guys to say something to him and tell him how they feel. That's what you got today."
According to another member of the Jets, the situation with Holmes was not something that just popped up today but has been a problem down the stretch of the season. A player who requested anonymity spoke with Brian Costello of the New York Post and had some harsh words for the talented but mercurial wide receiver, who arrived in New York with off-field baggage from the Steelers.
"He quit a long time ago," the Jets player who requested anonymity told Costello. "He's a cancer."
Although Ryan has distanced himself from the decision to pull Holmes from the game in the waning moments, he may ultimately have to answer for his decision to appoint Holmes a team captain. Should the Jets' next move be to remove the "C" from Holmes' jersey? Or is this just understandable frustration at the end of a frustrating season?