FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - With one swift motion, Santonio Holmes bolted for the spot on the field he feels most comfortable: the back of the end zone.
"There was never a doubt in my mind in the back of the end zone, knowing that's a place where I can make a living by getting my 10 toes down," the wide receiver said with a smile.
His 7-yard touchdown reception put the Jets ahead 21-11 with 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter, giving them some much-needed breathing room in a hostile Gillette Stadium environment.
The catch was jaw-dropping, but Holmes' reaction to it was tame. The former Pittsburgh Steeler had been in this position before; his winning touchdown catch against Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII made him a household name.
Yesterday's catch on third-and-4 from the Patriots' 7 was no different. And as a result, Holmes and the Jets will face his former team in the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
"Hines Ward always told me, 'Man, never miss an opportunity when you get to the end zone,' " Holmes said of his former teammate and next opponent. "If you get a chance to make a touchdown, never blow it. Use everything you got to secure the catch."
Fellow wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery helped set up Holmes' score with a 58-yard reception. With the Jets ahead 14-11, Sanchez tossed a short pass up the middle to Cotchery, who sprinted down the right sideline in front of the Jets' bench. A key block by tight end Dustin Keller helped prolong Cotchery's run from the Jets' 29 to the Patriots' 13.
"We had to answer on that play," said Cotchery, who caught five passes for 96 yards. "Me and Mark were on the same page and it just blew open. He expected me to stay on the move and after that, I was just trying to make a play. The guys did a great job of trying to rally around me and get me in the end zone."
Wide receiver Braylon Edwards also had a big game, collecting 52 yards on two catches, including a 37-yard reception. But it was his 15-yard TD in the second quarter, in which he trudged into the end zone with defenders Brandon Meriweather and Devin McCourty strapped to his legs, that provided an emotional lift for his team.
Edwards cited Dennis Byrd's emotional speech to the team Saturday as the catalyst for his spirited play.
"After he spoke, I really couldn't sleep last night," Edwards said of Byrd, a former Jets defensive lineman who was paralyzed during a game against Kansas City in 1992 but later regained his ability to walk. "I was chomping at the bit to play today. And basically what he said was, 'I would give anything in life to be able to play one more play. Not even a game.' . . . He said, 'You gentlemen have the opportunity to come together in this very moment and take hold of your destiny.'
"And that was one of those plays where Mark put the ball on me, I caught it and I just felt Dennis Byrd and I was going into the end zone. I'm not trying to get cheesy or anything like that, but it's honest. I felt his spirit, and the things he talked about last night, they really showed up on that play. I looked up and I was in the end zone."