The sulky wide receiver returned to the scene of his most recent professional low point -- the Miami meltdown -- and he rescued the misfiring Mark Sanchez, lifting the Jets to a 23-20 overtime victory Sunday over the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium.
In nine months, Holmes went from whiner to winner, catching nine passes for 147 yards -- including a 38-yard reception that set up Nick Folk's game winner. On a day when the offense couldn't do anything right, Holmes galvanized the team he fractured last season.
You can't make this stuff up.
"Santonio played his ass off," said Sanchez, who probably wanted to kick Holmes in that part of the anatomy after his diva act last New Year's Day. "That guy, say what you want about him, he played his absolute ass off.
"I was so proud of him," Sanchez continued. "To come back into an environment that brought back so many bad memories and for him to fight it off, to make some unbelievable catches, some Santonio Holmes-like catches ..."
You get the point. Holmes finally played like a $9 million-a-year receiver, recording his first 100-yard receiving day in 28 games.
"Coach [Tony] Sparano let us play Holmes-Sanchez football," Holmes said.
This was a day of redemption for Holmes, whose day began with a former teammate -- LaDainian Tomlinson -- trashing him on TV. Tomlinson, in his new gig as an NFL Network analyst, predicted that Holmes "will quit on you again. That's one thing I do know. That's what I expect as the season goes along."
Tomlinson was Holmes' most outspoken critic last Jan. 1, the day that defined the Jets' dysfunctional season. You remember, don't you? Holmes was held without a catch for the first time in his career, complained, nearly came to blows with Wayne Hunter in the huddle and was benched for the final two minutes by then-coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
After the game, Rex Ryan admitted he was oblivious to the incident -- and to all the chemistry issues in his own locker room. This time, Ryan and Holmes shared a moment at the end, smiling.
"I ripped him for not scoring," Ryan joked.
Ryan was referring to the 38-yarder, one of the few plays the offensively challenged Jets were able to execute. Holmes beat single coverage by cornerback Richard Marshall, who saved a 56-yard touchdown with a shoestring tackle at the Dolphins' 18. A few moments later, Folk kicked the winner, with an assist from Dolphins coach Joe Philbin's timeout.
"I played Santonio Holmes football," Holmes said, refusing to acknowledge any personal satisfaction.
Holmes backed up his words from a few days ago, when he vowed the Jets' receivers would "take advantage of" the Dolphins' young defensive backs. Asked if he did, Holmes said, "the numbers speak for themselves."
Holmes capitalized, and so did Jeremy Kerley on his 66-yard reception, but no one else did. Rookie Stephen Hill, who appears lost, dropped a would-be touchdown and was held without a catch for the second straight week. The rest of Sanchez's weapons, sans injured tight end Dustin Keller, resembled a preseason roster.
This doesn't absolve Sanchez from his second straight poor performance. He completed only 21 of 45 passes, threw an end zone interception, overthrew two wide-open receivers on potential long touchdowns and generally seemed ... well, uncomfortable. He threw for 104 of his 306 yards on two plays.
"I just wasn't making throws that I can make," said Sanchez, who became the first quarterback since Kerry Collins (Giants, 2002) to win a game in which he completed fewer than 50 percent of his throws with at least 45 attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Sanchez had one thing going for him -- Holmes. When the Dolphins blitzed, he looked for Holmes. In fact, he completed four passes for 81 yards when facing at least five pass-rushers, according to ESPN Stats.
The game was rife with irony, the villain turning into the savior.
"I'm not talking about that," said guard Brandon Moore, refusing to go back to Jan. 1. "That's not a storyline. The storyline is the Jets beat the Dolphins and they're moving on to San Fran."
They got lucky, needing all kinds of breaks to beat a team that lost its best offensive weapon, Reggie Bush, in the second quarter. The Jets lost their best guy, too, cornerback Darrelle Revis. In the end, Holmes was the best player on the field.
Marshall tried to mug him on the game-changing play. Holmes, calling himself a "savvy veteran," clubbed Marshall with his right arm and gained separation. Sanchez, for a change, didn't blow the opportunity, hitting Holmes in stride.
Holmes didn't quit on the Jets, as Tomlinson had predicted. There's still a long way to go and, considering the way their offense played, there will be adversity ahead. We'll find out if Holmes is in it for the long haul.
When asked about Tomlinson's TV criticism, Holmes snapped, "Next question."
Sounded like a response from last Jan. 1.