EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Instead of looking through rose-colored glasses, which many players do after an ugly win, New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes wore orange-tinted contact lenses to his postgame news conference. Really, he did. It gave him a devil-eyes look, but he said the lenses eliminate the glare from TV lights.
The man knows how to deal with distractions. He was even better on the field, blocking out the ineptitude around him and rising up Sunday to score the game-winning touchdown in the Jets' 27-20 victory over the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium.
On a day in which the Jets demonstrated a total lack of discipline, committing a franchise-record 20 penalties for 168 yards, Holmes, once regarded as the poster boy for bad behavior, was the epitome of fourth-quarter cool. How's that for irony? His 69-yard scoring reception with 9:23 remaining in the game culminated a five-catch game for a career-high 154 yards.
"He might have been the difference in the game," said Jets coach Rex Ryan, who contributed to the near-meltdown with a couple of questionable decisions.
This was an historically ugly win. The last time a team won a game with 20 penalties was the autumn of Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca. Yep, it was 1951, when the Cleveland Browns beat the Chicago Bears with a blackjack day -- 21 penalties.
The Jets almost busted with 20, blowing a 20-6 lead that seemed safe with a tenacious defense that gave rookie quarterback EJ Manuel a serious case of the yips. But they lost their minds with 15 penalties in the second half, including four on one drive by cornerback Kyle Wilson -- an embarrassing loss of poise that set up a game-tying touchdown for the Bills.
It was getting away from the Jets, just like it got away from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1 on this same field. It was only a matter of time before someone became the Jets' version of Lavonte David, he of the last-minute bonehead penalty. Before that could happen, Holmes made it Tone Time.
Geno Smith dropped back and launched a rocket. It came down like a feather, right on Holmes' left shoulder. He beat a fill-in cornerback named Justin Rogers, made the catch at the 35-yard line and ran in for the Jets' longest fourth-quarter (or overtime) touchdown pass since Neil O'Donnell hooked up with Jeff Graham for 78 yards in 1996.
Ah, yes, memories from a 1-15 season.
"The ball landed in the perfect place for me to get a chance to catch it," Holmes said. "The rest is in the history books."
It was significant for Holmes because it came one week shy of the one-year anniversary of his season-ending foot injury. It was a severe LisFranc injury, and it required two surgeries and several months of intense rehab. There was a lot of doubt as to whether he'd be ready for the opener.
Holmes made it back, but he was ordinary in the first two games, lacking his usual burst. After the Jets' six-drop debacle in Foxborough last week, the team needed a Holmes-ian performance to lift the maligned receiving corps.
"Kudos to him. He stood up for us in a big way," guard Willie Colon said of his former Pittsburgh Steelers teammate. "That's the Santonio I know. That's the only Santonio I know. He's a lot of things, but he's a gamer."
Holmes can be a diva, and he can be a malcontent, as he was in 2011. That year, he caused so many problems in the locker room -- as a captain, no less -- that Ryan abolished the practice of naming permanent captains.
He lost his "C," but the man still is an "A" performer in the fourth quarter.
"We all know -- every Jets fan knows -- what kind of player he is when he's healthy," Ryan said. "We're starting to see that now. He had a huge day."
Ryan should send Holmes a thank-you gift. If the Jets had lost, Ryan would be getting hammered for presiding over an undisciplined team. This was a carryover from the final seconds in New England, where they threw punches and bumped an official in a melee with the Patriots. This was like a bunch of unruly fourth-graders on the playground.
"We lost our composure," linebacker David Harris said. "You never want to have that many stupid mistakes. It was ridiculous."
Ryan took the blame, saying, "It's on my shoulders." It was inexcusable. You expect growing pains from a rookie quarterback, but you don't expect the entire roster to behave like rookies. It will be hard enough to endure Smith's ups and downs, but they have no chance to win more than a few games if everybody else plays dumb football.
They should be thankful to be 2-1.
In the end, they avoided humiliation with a quick strike for the ages, the third-longest go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter in team history. Joe Namath hit Eddie Bell for 83 yards in 1972, and Matt Robinson found Wesley Walker for 75 yards in '78.
Now there's Smith to Holmes, 69 yards.
Afterward, the often sulky Holmes actually smiled a few times. He was asked to recall the last time he was this happy.
"I really don't know how to answer that question," he said. "I'm happy to be here. That's probably the most important thing, that I'm able to play this year."