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Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Is Holmes upset with lack of production?

By Rich Cimini
ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets' No. 1 priority in free agency was to re-sign Santonio Holmes, and they accomplished that by making him one of the highest-paid wide receivers -- $45 million over five years.

After seven games, Holmes' numbers are pedestrian, leading to speculation that he's disgruntled with his role. He didn't exactly throw water on that smoldering issue Wednesday. Asked point-blank whether he's happy, the outspoken receiver replied:

"We're here winning ballgames right now."

And that was that.

It's not hard to read between the lines on that one.

Holmes has only 22 receptions, his least productive seven-game stretch since the start of his rookie year with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006. More alarming is the lack of opportunities. He has been targeted only 41 times, third on the team and tied for 46th among wide receivers, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Holmes was careful not to openly complain about not getting the ball, perhaps because he was hauled into Rex Ryan's office three weeks ago after criticizing the offensive line, sparking a war of words with teammate Brandon Moore. But there's no doubt that Holmes is frustrated, according to people close to him.

"We're 4-3 right now, and that's pretty much all I could ask for up to this point," said Holmes, forgetting about 5-2, 6-1 or 7-0. "I have -- what? -- four touchdowns. That's a pretty good ratio, 22 catches, four touchdowns. It fits well in my book right now."

Actually, he has three touchdowns. He almost had a fourth in the Jets' last game, a 27-21 win over the San Diego Chargers, but a diving catch in the end zone was nullified by a penalty.

The Jets' receiving corps provides plenty of soap-opera material. There was the Holmes-Moore spat, the sudden and curious trade of Derrick Mason, and the conspicuously slow start by Plaxico Burress.

Burress responded with three touchdowns against the Chargers, shifting the spotlight to Holmes, who's still waiting for his breakout game. He opened with a six-catch, 70-yard game against the Dallas Cowboys, but his production has since declined. Over the past three games, he's caught as many balls (nine) as rookie Jeremy Kerley.

There was a report last week that said Holmes was unhappy, but he claimed he wasn't aware of it.

Ryan seemed bemused when asked about Holmes, knowing that only two weeks ago he was getting the same questions about Burress.

"I understand the numbers," Ryan said. "The great thing about Tone is, he never gets caught up in the numbers. If you ask anybody in the league who the top receivers are, his name will always come up because that's who he is. He's an explosive guy, and I'd love to see him catch more balls, there's no doubt."

Obviously, a lot of it falls on Mark Sanchez, who still is struggling with his accuracy. He has completed only 55.8 percent of his passes, 28th in the league.

Sanchez has a few mouths to feed -- don't forget about tight end Dustin Keller -- and he hears it from the receivers when they're not seeing the ball. He has to be part quarterback, part diplomat.

"We're not in the business of keeping people smiling," Sanchez said. "We're in the business of winning."

Even if it means running the ball all day.

"Is that the quarterback's favorite game? No, probably not, but we win," Sanchez said. "When we get a chance to throw, you better throw it right. And when these guys get a chance to catch it, be at the right landmark and I'll hit them. And that's it. It's whatever it takes. I don't think anybody is upset about it."

Sanchez and Holmes are the offensive captains. Actually, Holmes referred to Sanchez as a "general" -- is there a colonel in the house? -- praising his quarterback for being able to stroke the egos of his needy receivers.

"You have two veteran guys that have been there, done that, and will complain a little bit about the ball," Holmes said, referring to himself and Burress, both of whom have Super Bowl-winning catches on their résumés. "There's a lot on [Sanchez's] plate, and he's doing a good job."

On Sunday, the Jets should have some opportunities against the Buffalo Bills (5-2), ranked 24th in passing defense. The Bills have a league-high 18 interceptions, but their aggressive style sometimes backfires and leads to big pass plays. The Jets believe the Bills' defensive backs are vulnerable to double moves.

Maybe, just maybe Holmes will have his bust-out game.

"We have to follow our general -- Mark Sanchez -- and allow him to lead us up and down the field, hoping he doesn't make any mistakes," Holmes said.