You can point to any number of players and factors that doomed the Jets in Sunday's embarrassing 45-19 loss to the Eagles: Mark Sanchez had only 150 passing yards, two interceptions and a 67.8 rating. The Jets ran for only 94 yards. The defense gave up 420 yards and five touchdowns in the Jets' worst loss since a 45-3 rout in New England last December.
But if you want to find the perfect microcosm of all that went wrong, look no further than Santonio Holmes.
The veteran receiver has mostly played the role of hero since coming to the Jets from the Steelers in a trade before the 2010 season. There were a half-dozen wins last year in which he made the critical play late in the fourth quarter or overtime. And he played a major role in the Jets' three-game winning streak coming into Sunday's game.
But two huge mistakes early in the first quarter, and a hey-look-at-me moment of selfishness in the second quarter, perhaps were the best indicators of how bad this game was for the Jets.
The first: The usually sure-handed Holmes fumbled after a short reception, and the Eagles' Juqua Parker returned it 47 yards for a touchdown.
"It was a costly mistake by a veteran receiver who definitely takes care of the ball every time he puts his hands on it," Holmes said. "I didn't do it today."
The second: Just a few minutes later, on second-and-10 from the Eagles' 14, Holmes broke free down the right side and attempted to catch Sanchez's pass near the 5-yard line, but the ball tipped off Holmes' hands and was intercepted by Asante Samuel. The Eagles then drove 77 yards for another touchdown to put the Jets in a 14-0 hole less than 13 minutes into the game.
"It was a great pass," Holmes said. "I was trying to play fast, turn upfield, because I beat the corner [Samuel]. I took my eyes off the ball and [Samuel] made a great play."
And the third: As bad as the Jets were in falling behind 28-0, there still was time for a comeback, and Holmes' 25-yard touchdown catch in a deep route over the middle was just what the Jets needed. His touchdown cut their deficit to 28-10 with 4:42 to go before halftime. Still plenty of time to come back.
But Holmes couldn't leave well enough alone. After his score, he placed the ball on the ground, put one foot on it and began flapping his arms to mock the Eagles' own "fly, birds, fly" celebrations.
Because Holmes used the ball as a prop, he was flagged 15 yards for taunting, and the Jets had to kick off from their 20.
Holmes said afterward he was aware of the taunting rule and why he drew a flag.
"I'm a veteran. I've been in the league for six years," he said. "Yes, I knew why."
So then why do it? Especially when you're a team captain. Especially when your team trailed by 25 points before the touchdown. Especially when you've just handed the other team 14 points all by yourself.
Holmes was reminded of Bills receiver Stevie Johnson's taunting post-touchdown celebration against the Jets, when he mocked Plaxico Burress' self-shooting incident. Any consideration of just handing the ball to the referee?
"Nope. Not at all," he replied.
Look, every athlete has an off day, even the great ones. And Holmes can't be expected to make every catch. But he's got to be more mindful of his role as captain, especially in a spot like that. The fact that the Jets weren't burned by the penalty on the Eagles' next drive is immaterial. The fact that Holmes willfully disregarded the rules to draw attention to himself was the bigger issue.
On a day that his team needed him to come up big, he failed, leaving the Jets' playoff hopes hanging in the balance heading into their final two games. Hardly the result Holmes was expecting. In fact, judging from his postgame attire, which included a black-and-gray sequined logo of Superman, he was anticipating a far better showing.
If Holmes is going to be the reliable captain the Jets need, he's going to have to do a better job of leading by example. Sunday, he didn't get it done.