“When you’re winning, you don’t worry about the problems,” Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. “But when you’re not winning, the problems that were there poke their heads out and people notice.”
What was noticeable with the Jets late in their 19-17 season-ending loss to the was a skirmish in the huddle between Holmes and his teammates. It appeared as if Holmes shouted at several players before tight end Dustin Keller shoved him. What is not open for interpretation is that afterward, Holmes spent most of the team’s final drive on the bench.
“There were guys in the huddle not happy with Santonio’s demeanor throughout the game and in the two-minute drill, and they said something about it,” Tomlinson said. “It was definitely boiling. Guys had had enough of it, of just his demeanor and body language. Like he wasn’t really into the game. Feeling like it’s over.”
It might have seemed as if it were over before the game even began, what with the Jets needing a combination of a victory of their own along with three losses around the league to secure the sixth seed going into the postseason. The odds were against them. What the team did not want was someone wearing green and white against them, too.
In the huddle, Tomlinson said, teammates urged on Holmes, who is also the team captain, telling him: “Come on, man. Let’s go.”
When it didn’t work, Tomlinson said that frustration surfaced. “When you have a group of guys fighting their butts off,” he said, “and one guy, for whatever reason, their demeanor is not with them, some guys are going to say something to him and tell him how they feel.”
And so they did. But afterward, few Jets players wanted to discuss Holmes or the incident in the huddle.
“I’m not going there,” Keller said.
Nor would Holmes say much on the matter.
“It’s Week 17,” he said several times when asked about his limited role in the offense Sunday, and quarterback Mark Sanchez’s inability to get him the ball.
Holmes did not have a catch against Miami, ending a streak of 84 games with at least one reception. When asked if he wanted to play for the team next season, he declined to answer. Before the season, Holmes signed a five-year, $50 million deal, with $24 million guaranteed. As a sort of exclamation point on the contract, the Jets also named Holmes their captain. Now neither move seems to sit well with the team.
“It’s tough for guys to follow a captain who behaves in that manner,” Tomlinson said. “If you’re a captain, guys are looking at you. You’ve got to lead by example. You’ve got to play your tail off until the last play. When that doesn’t happen, you will have guys look at you in a way that captains shouldn’t be looked at.”
Holmes has had problems with teammates in the past. Leading up to the last time the Jets and Dolphins played, on Oct. 17, Holmes openly complained about Sanchez and the offensive line.
At the time, guard Brandon Moore took exception. This time, it appeared that it was tackle Wayne Hunter exchanging shouted words with Holmes before Keller pushed Holmes away. Shortly afterward, Holmes said, Patrick Turner replaced him in the game.
But there seems to be confusion as to exactly what happened.
Apparently, it was the embattled offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, not Coach Rex Ryan, who benched Holmes, because afterward, Ryan said he thought Holmes removed himself from the game.
“I looked out there, and I was wondering why he wasn’t out there myself,” Ryan said. “No, I didn’t bench Santonio.”
It was indicative, guard Matt Slauson said, of a day of discord and, at times, chaos — a fitting coda for a season that began with aspirations.
“There were just a lot of things that went wrong in this game, sort of like all season,” Slauson said. “Guys were getting frustrated. Guys weren’t sure what was going on. There were times when we broke huddle, and we heard Mark say, ‘Whoa, that isn’t the right play.’ I think that’s what added to some of the chaos, to some of the penalties and guys jumping offside.”
Tomlinson said: “It’s little things. But a lot of times, you don’t notice those little things when you’re winning. But when you’re losing, those little things become big.”