Santonio Holmes sat alone on the bench for the second straight week, wondering how he could save the day.
The Jets had squandered another late-game lead against an inferior team and faced the possibility of defeat, but Holmes felt it was his responsibility to make things right.
"Before every last drive we've taken, I'm always the one sitting on the sideline by myself, just thinking: 'OK, what can I do to make a play for this team?' " he said. "And the fire in my eyes and the fire in Mark's eyes, it kind of meets."
Holmes and his quarterback, Mark Sanchez, pulled off the improbable again yesterday, connecting on a 6-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds remaining to eke out a 30-27 win over Houston.
"That was a great feeling," Holmes said. "Just to know that Mark placed the ball where only I had a chance to catch it. I ran so clean to the back of the end zone, to get my feet down in the back of the end zone, I definitely had to stop and take a mental picture of it. This is something that has happened to me before."
Holmes has made big late contributions in the Jets' last four victories. Last week, he caught a 37-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds left in overtime to beat the Browns. A week before that, his 52-yard reception in overtime set up Nick Folk's winning field goal against the Lions. And on Oct. 17, with the Jets trailing the Broncos by three points, he drew a 46-yard pass-interference penalty at the 2 with 1:16 left to set up LaDainian Tomlinson's winning touchdown run.
Holmes, who had 126 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches against the Texans, already has amassed 447 yards on 27 receptions in six games after sitting out the first four games because of a violation of the league's substance-abuse policy.
Jets coach Rex Ryan doesn't even want to think about where the Jets would be without him.
"They always say big-time players make big-time plays in big situations," Ryan said. "I don't think anyone's complaining about us giving up a fifth-round pick for Santonio now."
Holmes vividly remembers the phone call that changed everything. The date was April 11, the time about 9 p.m., and on the other line were Ryan and owner Woody Johnson. That, he believes, "was the best decision that was made for myself and for this team.
"They brought me here for one reason, and that's to help this team win ballgames."
And when he couldn't play because of his suspension, he pored over the playbook until his time to suit up finally came.
"Certain players have that kind of mystique, that something about them that they make plays when it's really time to make plays," said Tomlinson, whose 19-yard reception preceded Braylon Edwards' 42-yard catch on the right sideline with 16 seconds left in the game. "Go back to the Super Bowl. When Pittsburgh needed a play, Santonio came through. When we needed a play, time and time again, he's come through. He just has that knack."
"I don't like playing Santonio Holmes," Texans defensive end Antonio Smith said. "It's like a replay of the Super Bowl and the exact same route - corner route in the back of the end zone. I don't know what it is.''