Consistent Holmes plays for keeps
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Maybe it was a harbinger. Santonio Holmes started this season the same way he ended the previous one. Nine catches for 131 yards and a touchdown.
True, an overtime triumph against Tennessee didn't carry the same toe-tapping, championship, Super Bowl-MVP tune for the receiver known as Tone.
Yet it opened 2009 on a note that continues to resonate:
The consistent Holmes of Feb. 1, 2009, let alone much of last season's playoffs, appears here to stay.
"I've shown steady progress," he said yesterday after practice, "and I've learned from one of the greatest receivers, Hines Ward."
"A once great receiver, Tim Brown [of Oakland], taught me: It's not what you do in one year; it's the consistency over your career. That's what I try to tell him," added Ward, whose XL experience he can relate to Holmes' XLIII. "Winning the Super Bowl MVP is a great honor. Nobody can take it from you. But it means nothing if you don't go out and prove it year in and year out."
So Holmes went out this year and topped 1,000 receiving yards in just 13 games, with three more to go beginning at 4:15 p.m. tomorrow against Green Bay at Heinz Field. He ranks third in the NFL in receiving yardage with 1,080 and 12th in receptions with 70, including six consecutive games with six catches or more. If he averages 106 yards per game down this stretch -- not asking much more of a guy averaging 121 the past two contests -- Holmes would surpass Yancey Thigpen's club record of 1997.
Holmes whistled in disbelief at that robust 1,398-yard figure.
"I was in eighth grade. I was a Steelers fan already then," he recalled. "That'd be a great accomplishment, to be the all-time, single-season Steelers receiver."
"The light officially came on for him," added Ward, who with 57 more yards will join Holmes as only the second 1,000-yard receiving duo in Steelers annals, behind Ward and the currently incarcerated Plaxico Burress of 2001-02. "It's right at the same time of my first 1,000-yard year, the fourth year."
Holmes came close to the plateau each of his previous three seasons. As a rookie in 2006, after the Steelers selected with the 25th overall pick an Ohio State star with nary a 1,000-yard collegiate season, Holmes collected 824 yards while starting only four games. He fell 3 yards short of the same mark last season despite missing a game while being rendered inactive. In between, in just 13 games in 2007, he amassed 945 yards. All without never more than his previous career high of 55 catches last year.
It was toward the end of last season when Holmes started polishing his own star. He had that winning catch at Baltimore with the clock showing :43 -- a meaningful number, indeed. He had a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown that transformed a one-touchdown deficit into an AFC divisional playoff romp against San Diego. He scored on a 65-yard pass that gave the Steelers a 13-0 lead in an AFC championship defeat of Baltimore. Then, on a Raymond James Stadium stage broadcast to the world, he accounted for 73 yards on the Steelers' final drive, not the least of which was that toes-down, arms-outstretched, 6-yard touchdown to wrest a sixth Lombardi for the franchise, wrap an MVP for himself and raze Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII.
Most of the offseason, whenever a pen was handy, he scribbled down1,200for his yardage goal for his follow-up year. That seems well within reach, although his excitement over attaining the century plateau was dampened by last week's 13-6 loss at Cleveland. Already, he has accomplished his goal of averaging six catches per game.
For a player with 16 touchdowns in his previous three seasons and just a trio this year, he admitted "big plays have been down this season." Perhaps a return to punt duty, starting at Cleveland, could jump-start that long-running ability. Still and all, three of the Steelers' seven longest plays have come via Holmes.
Considerable credit for this season, he said, is owed to the same device Ward owns -- a hyperbaric chamber that oxygenates the body.
"Oh, man, I was in there the past three nights, at least two or three hours," Holmes said. "I've tried to spend a lot of time in there, healing up the body quicker. It definitely works."
Will a healthy Holmes earn an inaugural Pro Bowl berth? "I'm going to vote for him a couple of times," rookie receiver Mike Wallace teased. "Hopefully, he'll get in."
Ward, a four-time Pro Bowler, wondered what earns players such status anymore: "Is it pearly stats or is it pearly [play]?" No matter what, he added, "He's having a great year for us."
"It's really up to the fans and how I get looked it," Holmes added of a potential Pro Bowl berth. Besides, his ultimate goal isn't Miami Jan. 31; it's Canton, Ohio, someday. "The Hall of Fame is definitely the primary goal. Whether I play eight years. Whether I play 12 years."
NOTES -- Center Jeff Hartwig returned to full practice yesterday after having limited participation a day earlier, the result of fluid drained from his knee. Every other Steelers player practiced except safety Troy Polamalu (knee), guard Chris Kemoeatu (wrist) and receiver Limas Sweed (illness), who missed a third consecutive day. Those three were ruled out for tomorrow, while Hartwig (knee), defensive end Brett Keisel (neck) and Ward (hamstring) were listed on the injury report as probable.
First Published December 19, 2009 12:00 am