Steelers' Holmes shines under NFL spotlight


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A Michael Vick No. 7 Philadelphia Eagles jersey did what the Tennessee Titans' defense couldn't do Thursday night.

It covered Santonio Holmes.

We can spend the weekend debating the merits of Holmes' postgame attire and his showy public support of the NFL's most notorious dog-killing felon, but this point is inarguable: The Steelers' young wide receiver has turned into a star.

Seriously, Vick might want to be trendy and start wearing Holmes' No. 10 jersey.

"Santonio is a different player," teammate Hines Ward said this week. "The light has come on for him."

Certainly, the bright lights are shining on Holmes these days. I'm talking about the brightest lights that the NFL has to offer.

They zeroed in on Holmes in Super Bowl XLIII in February when he made a spectacular catch for the winning touchdown in a 27-23 victory against the Arizona Cardinals. That 6-yard reception with 35 seconds to go, along with his eight other catches for 125 yards that night, earned him membership in one of the most exclusive clubs in sports -- the Super Bowl MVP club. He became just the 38th member.

"I don't think there's any question that game made him a better, more confident player," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said.

The bright lights were back on Holmes when the Steelers and Titans opened the new season at Heinz Field. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger aside, he was the best offensive player on the lawn. On a night the Steelers did squat with their running game, they needed all of his nine catches for 131 yards and a touchdown to squeak out a 13-10 win in overtime.

Super Bowl hangover?

What Super Bowl hangover?

"My confidence is sky-high," Holmes said, echoing Arians. "I have no fear of anyone or anything on the field. I'm on fire right now."

It certainly looked as if the Titans' defenders were afraid to get too close to Holmes because of the potential for serious burns and permanent scars. Safety Michael Griffin was nowhere near him on his 34-yard touchdown catch late in the second quarter. Cornerback Nick Harper wasn't much closer when Roethlisberger threw an 11-yard slant to him on third-and-1 in overtime three plays before kicker Jeff Reed booted the pig through the uprights for the winning field goal.

"He didn't even practice for 2 1/2 weeks [because of a minor back problem]," Arians said of Holmes. "I was a little worried the speed of this first game would be a problem for him. Shows what I know."

Good thing Roethlisberger knew better.

"He's my guy and I'm his guy," Holmes gushed. "He always comes to me and says, 'You've got to make plays for me. I'm going to keep coming to you.' "

Can you blame Roethlisberger?

After the two took their place in Super Bowl lore with that play for the ages to beat the Cardinals?

If your glass is half-empty, you're probably thinking Roethlisberger is cursed to be playing behind an offensive line that did nothing against the Titans to ease the simmering concerns about it. The pass protection was mostly OK -- when your quarterback heaves it 43 times, you're going to give up a few sacks and hurries -- but the run blocking was abysmal. The line couldn't budge the Titans' pile all night. The Steelers ran for just 36 yards, a lame 19 on 13 carries by Willie Parker.

But if you are a half-full person, you have to be thinking Roethlisberger is blessed to have such terrific receivers. Besides Holmes, there's Ward (8 catches for 103 yards against the Titans), who is headed to the Hall of Fame. There's tight end Heath Miller (8 for 64), who might be the most reliable player in the NFL. There's running back Mewelde Moore (4 for 28), always a favorite target on third downs. There's even rookie Mike Wallace, who appears to have moved ahead of Limas Sweed as the No. 3 wideout and caught a 22-yard pass to set up Reed's winning kick.

Choices, choices, wonderful choices.

Roethlisberger needed to use all of 'em to beat the Titans.

He completed 33 of those 43 passes for 363 yards, giving the Steelers a 300-yard passer and two 100-yard receivers in the same game for the first time in five years.

Of course, it's nice to think the Steelers won't have to throw the ball 43 times every game. If they do, they won't win another Super Bowl. As Ward put it, "We're always going to be a running team." The good news is the line will make adjustments and be better, hopefully before the next game Sept. 20 at Chicago. The better news is few defenses in the league will be as formidable as the Titans' defense, which Roethlisberger described as "Baltimore-esq."

Still, isn't it great to know the Steelers have Roethlisberger for those games when they can't run the ball? "When rubber meets the road, he's at his best," coach Mike Tomlin said. "In those moments, he sees [the field] with great clarity."

And isn't it comforting to know the Steelers have those receivers? Especially Holmes, who looks to be the franchise's next great one? I'm thinking Roethlisberger will play an awful lot of pitch-and-catch with him this season.

It seems only right that the No. 10 Steelers jersey is going to be a really big seller.

No. 10 is a really good player.

"I have no fear of anyone or anything on the field. I'm on fire right now." -- Santonio Holmes


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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