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NFL PLAYOFFS: CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND

Holmes provides ex factor for Jets, but he's not looking back

January 23, 2011|Sam Farmer

PITTSBURGH — With temperatures predicted to dip into the single digits, tonight's AFC championship game between the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers could go down as the coldest NFL playoff game in the illustrious football history of this city.

It's fitting then that Santonio Holmes, the Steelers-turned-Jets receiver, is approaching this reunion with -- as opposed to a flicker of warmth -- the icy resolve of a mercenary.

"I don't care about the Steelers right now," Holmes said in the week leading up to this showdown. "Those guys are in my team's way, which is the New York Jets."

Of all the key players in this game -- Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu on one side, New York's Mark Sanchez, LaDainian Tomlinson and Darrelle Revis on the other -- Holmes is the one who has had a foot in both places.

Those feet, remember, were the ones that just came down in the back corner of the end zone with 35 seconds left in Super Bowl XLIII, a touchdown that lifted the Steelers over the Arizona Cardinals and secured Pittsburgh's record sixth Lombardi Trophy. He was named that game's most valuable player.

Holmes had his share of brushes with the law, however, bringing further embarrassment to a Steelers organization dealing with an accusation of sexual assault against Roethlisberger. The Steelers wound up keeping their star quarterback but traded Holmes -- a mere 14 months after his Super Bowl-winning catch -- to the Jets for a fifth-round pick.

"The main thing that went through my mind was, 'What caused this to happen?' " said Holmes, whose legal troubles included arrests for marijuana possession, disorderly conduct and domestic violence. "I really didn't ask any questions when it happened. I just accepted what was going on."

On the field, Holmes' credentials are impeccable. After serving a four-game suspension at the start of this season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, he made 52 catches for 746 yards and six touchdowns. In last Sunday's 28-21 upset victory at New England, he made a beautiful catch in the back corner of the end zone, just getting a knee and the tip of his cleat down before tumbling out of bounds.

Jets Coach Rex Ryan said that ever since he was defensive coordinator in Baltimore he coveted Holmes, a player Ryan credits with beating the Ravens three games in a row.

"You think you've got him batted down, and all of a sudden, boom, there he goes," the coach said. "I'm sure everyone had the same feeling I did with that Super Bowl, and how when the game was on the line, he was begging his teammates to give him a chance, to give him the football.... 'Get the ball to me!' That's Santonio Holmes."

That's not lost on Steelers defenders such as cornerback Ike Taylor, Holmes' former roommate, who this week said he'll take a shot at him if he gets a chance: "Friends off the field, yes. But in between them lines, it's about that time, it's about business."

Holmes would expect nothing less. Besides, he has already had a reunion with the Steelers, making six catches against them in a 22-17 victory against them in December at Heinz Field. That, he said, was the vindication game for him.

This time, he's approaching the Steelers as if they're just another faceless opponent, an obstacle in the path to the NFL's mountaintop.

He said he'll have time to reflect on the trade if the Jets win the Super Bowl, an outcome that would be "a slap back in those guys' face for trading me."

"If we win the Super Bowl," he said, "then everything is personal."

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Jet fuel

Santonio Holmes' career statistics:

PITTSBURGH

*--* YEAR GP REC YDS AVG. TD 2006 16 49 824 16.8 2 2007* 14 55 991 18.0 9 2008* 18 68 1,047 15.4 7 2009 16 79 1,248 15.8 5 *--*

N.Y. JETS

*--* YEAR GP REC YDS AVG. TD 2010* 14 59 812 13.8 7 *--*

* -- includes postseason statistics

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

TODAY'S GAMES

NFC

No. 6 Green Bay at No. 2 Chicago

noon, Channel 11

AFC

No. 6 New York at No. 2 Pittsburgh

3:30 p.m, Channel 2

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181

Meetings between rivals

Green Bay and Chicago (Bears lead, 92-83-6).

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12-7

The Bears' all-time playoff record at home.

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4-15

The Jets' all-time record against Pittsburgh.

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19-9

The Steelers' all-time playoff record at home.

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