Bull's-eye on Holmes?

His disputed game-winning touchdown reception against Ravens was one of his many big plays this season

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Santonio Holmes still hasn't crossed that line. No, not that goal-line. Officials in M&T Bank Stadium declared him over that plane Dec. 14, even if the Ravens and Baltimore fans aren't over his game-winning touchdown reception with the clock showing :43 -- which just so happens to be the upcoming Super Bowl's designation.

Rather, by all accounts, he hasn't crossed the line that might prompt the Ravens to put a bounty on him. Early in the season Baltimore's Terrell Suggs bragged that the Ravens put bounties on Hines Ward and rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall during Pittsburgh's 23-20 overtime win at Heinz Field on Sept. 29. During that game, Ray Lewis' hard hit gave Mendenhall a season-ending shoulder injury. Mendenhall had angered the Ravens by saying beforehand he anticipated having a big game.

"No, I doubt that," Holmes, the Steelers' second-leading receiver said, yesterday about the Ravens possibly targeting him. "I've been asked interview questions over the phone. They've asked me where do I think I stand against this defense on having a bounty out. They said I'm probably one of the last guys that [the Ravens] worry about. No one in particular said it, but that was just the quote."

So you heard it here first. Sort of.

After all, the 5-foot-11, 189-pound, third-year receiver known as Tone made that catch in the final minute of Game 14 an indisputable point. The rest, about whether he actually broke the plane on that 4-yarder and capped the 12-play, 92-yard, last-ditch drive in what became a 13-9 Steelers victory, Ravens folks may argue.

Holmes won't.

Yes, he reiterated, he did know at the time where he stood, on the precipice of the end zone. He made the reception moving forward for a reason, too.

"I felt as if [had] I caught the ball and fell backwards, one of those guys probably would have hit me in the back and jarred the ball loose," Holmes explained. "So I tried to stay away from them, avoid contact."

Asked (by a Baltimore reporter, for the record) if he thought his hands were on the goal-line when they cradled the football, Holmes said, "I didn't really pay attention. I kind of felt that I was close enough to the line. But once I tucked the ball in, I'm pretty sure that's when the refs gave me the touchdown."

Of his three catches that evening, of his 55 this season for 821 yards and five touchdowns (all second to Ward) plus a team-best 14.9 yards per catch, that one figures to get replayed a few trillion times this weekend. And that's just Baltimore television and YouTube.com watchers alone.

Holmes certainly has flashed into the public consciousness this season, either by the hot spotlight of big plays or by the glare of a pre-Halloween police matter.

On Oct. 23, Pittsburgh police pulled over Holmes' sport utility vehicle near Mellon Arena and found inside three marijuana-filled blunt cigars. He admitted to police he smoked marijuana in the SUV a day earlier. Coach Mike Tomlin deactivated him from the game that weekend against the defending world-champion New York Giants.

The next week, Holmes caught four passes, including the game-closing touchdown at Washington. In fact, he caught a minimum of four in each of the next four games.

Last Sunday, he sparked the Steelers from a 7-0 deficit with a 67-yard punt return that set a club playoff record. He added two catches for 25 yards in a 35-24 triumph over San Diego. Now comes Baltimore (13-5) again, 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Field.

"This is the road to the Super Bowl," added Holmes.

"It comes down to who wants it more, who's going to play harder, who's going to play longer, who's going to finish the game out, who's going to score points on who's whose defense.

"We want to try to come out and score touchdowns early in the game so we don't have to worry about, you know, when it comes down to the fourth quarter."


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