Maybe Geno Smith is better off without Santonio Holmes

Geno Smith throws a pass during warmups before

Geno Smith throws a pass during warmups before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Oct. 13, 2013) (Credit: AP)

Geno Smith has had two of his best performances in the last three weeks, beating Matt Ryan's Falcons in his first Monday Night Football appearance and then outplaying Tom Brady in the Jets' win over the Patriots on Sunday.

On both occasions, his No. 1 wide receiver was out of the lineup with a hamstring injury.

Which begs the question: Is the Jets' promising rookie quarterback actually better off without Santonio Holmes?

Geno says no. I say yes.

"For one, we love Santonio,'' Smith said when asked about his recent success without Holmes in the lineup. "We would love to have him right now.''

But . . .

"But we have to continue to move on without him,'' Smith said. "The reason for that is because the guys around me have made me better, the offensive line has stepped up, guys such as Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley , [tight end] Jeff Cumberland, they've all stepped up. The running backs have stepped up. Everyone is just raising their level of play.''

He's right. With other players rising up and with Smith playing with a veteran's poise, he can rely on a plucky group of young receivers, a strong running game, his powerful right arm and his speed on the ground.

With Tone Time gone, Geno seems just fine.

There's no debating Holmes' talent; he's one of the NFL's more physically gifted receivers and has a Super Bowl MVP award. But Holmes also has proved to be a high-maintenance personality, and the last thing a young quarterback needs to worry about is making sure he gets Holmes his catches.

Holmes, 29, has hinted at his frustration over not seeing enough passes go his way, suggesting a few days after a 38-13 loss to the Titans that he can do only so much. "I can't throw it to myself and can't catch it,'' he said. "Otherwise I would.''

Those comments came just a week after Holmes had a career-best 154 receiving yards against the Bills.

Holmes thought he was being lighthearted with that comment about not being able to throw it to himself, but it certainly didn't come off that way.

We've seen enough examples over the years of receivers becoming distractions to know that Holmes is surely in that group. He may not be at quite the level of Terrell Owens or Randy Moss, both of whom did their share of complaining, but Holmes unquestionably has been a distraction, both with the Steelers and Jets.

It may be no accident that Smith has excelled in Holmes' absence. In a signature win over the Falcons, he was 16-for-20 for 199 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions and led the game-winning drive. Smith was off his game against the Steelers the next week, but it wasn't because Holmes was out; it was because the Steelers' defense was back on its game.

In Sunday's 30-27 overtime win over the Patriots, Smith was 17-for-33 for 233 yards, threw one touchdown pass and had an interception that was returned for a touchdown. He also ran for a touchdown and showed plenty of grit against the reigning AFC East champs.

The Jets hope to get Holmes back, but even then, it appears his days are numbered here. He took a pay cut to remain with the team this year but still is the team's highest-paid receiver at $7.5 million. And with hefty salaries in future years of a $45-million contract he signed before the 2011 season, the Jets are likely to cut ties after the season.

At least they're getting a look at what it's like without Holmes in the lineup. And from what we've seen so far from Geno, it looks pretty good.

It looks as if Tone Time's almost up.