Just when the Jets had everyone fixated on Sunday's big unveiling of Dinosaur Ball -- that long-awaited moment when they'll run out of the tunnel for their season opener against the Buffalo Bills, and finally take the wraps off their highly retro, run-first offense that has neither road-grading offensive linemen nor a marquee running back nor the stamp of approval of NFL experts who say pass-happy offenses now win -- up jumped Santonio Holmes this week to remind everyone the even scarier proposition could be how much the Jets are relying on him more than ever now, too.
Holmes is simultaneously the Jets' only NFL-proven wide receiver and their only accused/tried/convicted locker room wedge -- at least until proven otherwise. His own teammates fingered him as the principal culprit in how their 8-8 season unraveled into ugly dysfunction.
And so, the longer Holmes went on Wednesday talking out of school about how his starting quarterback Mark Sanchez was "rattled" by the Jets' offseason trade for Tim Tebow -- short-circuiting what was an otherwise highly complimentary interview he gave about Sanchez -- the easier it was to drift back to wondering which of Holmes' warring natures is going to win out again this season. And how that could submarine the Jets.
Is he going to return to being the guy who had something to prove after Pittsburgh dumped him and made a slew of game-changing catches in his first season in New York? Or will he revert to the pouting receiver who was stripped of his captaincy and didn't speak to Sanchez at all for the last 13 games last year, according to former Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson, something Tomlinson recently said he'd never seen in all his years in football?
Sanchez might've felt tempted to start a new vow-of-silence streak with Holmes after hearing what Holmes volunteered to reporters about him on Wednesday.
"[Tebow's arrival] kind of rattled him a little ... [like] 'Wow, how did this happen?' -- those were the words that came out of his mouth," Holmes said of Sanchez. Then Holmes added Sanchez was able to move on thanks mostly to some words of wisdom from, well ... him. If Holmes does say so himself.
"I think it was having the conversation that he and I had the day it happened," Holmes said. "He talked to me, and I basically told him that this is his team, you're the starting quarterback, Tebow is here to help. ... Coach Ryan told me that Tebow's going to help us keep the drives going, keep the ball, score touchdowns, and win ballgames. Those were the exact words I gave to Mark, to give him that sense of security that he's our starting quarterback and that Tebow is here to help us win as many games as he can."
So, to recap: Holmes says Tebow's arrival not only plunged Sanchez into a trough of self-doubt -- something Sanchez labored all preseason to deny -- but the person who magnanimously rescued him was Holmes, the same guy who behaved last season as if Sanchez was dead to him when he didn't get the ball enough? The same Holmes who could get frustrated again this season by being constantly asked to block for the Jets' run-first attack, and being constantly bracketed by double coverage every week as opposing teams dare the Jets' other wideouts to beat them?
When Jets coach Rex Ryan was asked Thursday if he agreed with Holmes that the Tebow trade rattled Sanchez, Ryan flatly said, "No."
A little later -- not speaking directly about Holmes now -- Ryan added, "You know, the circus [atmosphere] thing is a little old for me."
Sanchez wasn't available for comment to break the tie about whether Holmes' version of events is true. But it's a safe bet Sanchez didn't want his private conversation with Holmes made public.
Holmes' carelessness -- and that's really all it was for now -- just seems worse because Ryan has made it a point since last season ended to insist (sometimes angrily) that whatever happens in-house should stay in-house for the Jets. Thursday also wasn't the first time Ryan disagreed with Holmes. Early in the preseason, Ryan finally took the long overdue step of zinging Holmes for yet another wayward thing he'd done, snapping that the Jets don't need Holmes "to play offensive coordinator" after Holmes publicly said he didn't think a two-headed QB system with Sanchez and Tebow could work.
All of it just underscores that Holmes has a tendency to cast himself as the hero in many stories, and that he still marches to his own music no matter what the team vibe around him is supposed to be.
Neither lingering trait is good news, given how eager the Jets are to bury 2011. But in a way, Holmes has the Jets right where he wants them.
His contract is too big of a salary-cap hit to discard, no matter how badly he behaves going forward. And besides, the Jets badly need him.
He's still their most dangerous offensive weapon even if he hasn't had a 100-yard receiving day in his past 26 games. The Jets were 6-2 in games in which Holmes caught at least one touchdown pass last season, but they were just 2-6 in the games he did not.
It's no wonder the Jets now have a new offensive coordinator, Tony Sparano.
But did they hire the right one? Starting Sunday, we'll finally begin to see.
Sparano is one of those dese-and-dose guys who exudes the same certainty about his football smarts that Ryan does. (Their unofficial personal motto should be "Often wrong, but never in doubt.") The two men have a proven love for being football iconoclasts. They both preen a little about being able to scheme things up so brilliantly their teams can win even when they don't have the most talent.
And more and more, that's what the Jets' 2012 season looks like it's hinging on.
It was Sparano, of course, who as Miami's head coach introduced the NFL to the Wildcat offense that Tebow is supposed to run. And it's Ryan who is now styling himself as the NFL's leading practitioner of old-time football, even if it flies against the high-octane passing attacks other NFL teams are using to take advantage of rule changes.
The Jets' version of Dinosaur Ball is likely to be more sophisticated and versatile than it's so far been portrayed. ("It's not like we're going to bang our heads running it 70 times a game," lineman Brandon Moore scoffed Thursday.) But if it doesn't work or they find themselves stuck in too many games playing catch-up, a lot of roads for the Jets could lead them straight back to Sanchez-to-Holmes whether they drew it up that way or not.
The Jets have to hope the two of them will still be speaking by then.