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Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Sanchez-Holmes connection still bad

By Rich Cimini
ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Horrible Memory Tour continues for the New York Jets. One week after returning to Pittsburgh for the first time since the 2010 AFC Championship Game, the Jets travel to Miami, where they became a national joke this past New Year's Day when their infighting went from the locker room to the huddle.

"I don't even remember that game, honestly," Santonio Holmes said Wednesday with a straight face, perhaps trying to convince himself one of the worst days of his professional career never happened.

Holmes was the villain that day. He was held without a catch for the first time in his career, whined about it to teammates and got tossed from his own huddle. He was benched and sulked on the sideline, and soon the world would learn of his rift with quarterback Mark Sanchez.

With the Jets headed back to the scene of their defining moment from the 2011 season -- and we mean that in a Napoleon-Waterloo kind of way -- it's a good time to take stock of the Sanchez-Holmes relationship. Has it improved since last season? Not really, at least not on the field.

Sanchez said they're communicating better than before, and he praised Holmes for showing the willingness to spend extra time in the film room. But as Bill Parcells used to tell his players, "Don't tell me about the labor; show me the baby."

So far, the baby ... er, Holmes still isn't clicking with his quarterback. On Sunday in Pittsburgh, Holmes was targeted a team-high 11 times, but only three resulted in completions, including a touchdown. A 3-for-11 ratio might get you a $5 million-a-year contract as a hitter in the major leagues, but for a quarterback-receiver tandem, it stinks.

After two games, Sanchez-to-Holmes is only 7-for-18, the second-worst success rate in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. A year ago, they were at 50 percent, which, in fact, was the lowest percentage for a quarterback-receiver combo.

Sanchez and Holmes left unmade plays all over Heinz Field last weekend. There were two miscommunications between them and another play on which Sanchez overthrew Holmes in the end zone on what should have been a 24-yard touchdown. It would have given the Jets a 14-6 lead.

Mark Sanchez/Santonio Holmes
Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes haven't been on the same page for a while.

"Was that play in my wheelhouse? No question, I should've hit that in my sleep and I missed it," Sanchez said.

It was troubling, to be sure, but it was a physical mistake. The mental mistakes between them -- Holmes running here, Sanchez throwing there -- are more alarming. It looked a lot like last season, and that ain't good. This is their third year together; they should have great chemistry.

"A big part of it is, they're not sharing the same thought," said tight end Dustin Keller, referring to this past game. "By that I mean, whatever defensive look comes, they should have the exact same thought in their head."

We will learn in the coming weeks whether their relationship is strong enough to endure adversity. That wasn't the case last year. By the final week of the season, Holmes was blowing off after-hours meetings organized by Sanchez for the quarterbacks and receivers. Former Jet LaDainian Tomlinson said recently that Sanchez and Holmes didn't speak to each other over the final 13 games.

So it was significant Wednesday when Sanchez revealed that Holmes came to him Monday and wanted to revisit the mistakes from Pittsburgh. They watched film together, trying to make corrections. On the practice field, Holmes asked to see some of the same defensive looks that gave them problems in the game.

"It's easy for someone to shy away from something like that and not bring it up until I bring it up," Sanchez said. "He was right there on Monday, [saying], 'Hey, let's talk, let's watch this.'"

Baby steps?

"I think we're working great together," Holmes said. "As far as I go, I stay in the film room a lot longer. I put in the time I need to, to help this team be successful."

It would help if he plays like a No. 1 receiver. Holmes has gone 27 straight games without a 100-yard receiving day, a stunning drought for a $9 million-a-year player. Obviously, there are mitigating factors, but you'd think he'd break an occasional big play to put him over the 100 mark.

Naturally, Holmes dismissed that statistic, saying it doesn't reflect his ability.

"Whether I catch one pass for 13 yards, whether I catch nine for a 1,000 yards, it really doesn't matter," he said, claiming the most important thing is grading out well from the technique standpoint.

Blah, blah, blah. Holmes isn't getting paid for technique; he's collecting big money to produce. So is Sanchez, who was only 10-for-27 on Sunday. Looking at the positive side, he hit nearly 50 percent to receivers not named Holmes.