Late in the fourth quarter, receiver Patrick Turner ran onto the field, tapped Holmes on the shoulder and told him to come out. The decision was made by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, a person with knowledge of the decision-making process said, because he had no choice.
"I looked out there, and I was wondering why he wasn’t out there myself," coach Rex Ryan said. "I didn’t bench Santonio. You’ll have to ask him."
Holmes, who signed a five-year, $45 million deal in free agency, offered no answers, calling it the "coach's call." But it was Holmes' demeanor through through the course of the game as well as an argument with teammates in the huddle spurred the benching, several players said.
Holmes was yanked before the Jets' two-minute drive ended in Turner's 10-yard touchdown with 1:15 to play, giving the team a glimmer of hope.
Holmes had been "moping" through the course of the game, not listening to quarterback Mark Sanchez, according to players. One veteran player approached him before he was yanked by the coaches and told him to get off the field if he wasn't going to help the team.
"The worst thing that can happen, the worst thing, is when your teammates start to question your passion for the game," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "That’s the worst thing. And I think in that huddle, that’s what you saw. When guys looked in his eyes, and he didn’t have that fire in his eyes, guys were turned off about that."
Added Tomlinson: "The demeanor is, 'I quit,' or whatever it may be. ... Tone’s demeanor, the passion, whatever it was that made guys say, 'Hey, you need to pick it up.' "
According to one player, who asked to remain nameless, it wasn't just this game.
"He quit," the player said. "It's happened for the past two to three weeks. It's happened all season."
The tension came to a head with a fourth-quarter argument in the huddle. Holmes and a teammate began arguing, and Sanchez and the others tried to defuse the situation. That's when Schottenheimer made the call to yank Holmes, and Holmes said he did not ask why.
Holmes finished the game with no catches, for the first time in his six-year career. "It's Week 17; shouldn't happen," he said.
Tomlinson acknowledged that Holmes' lack of catches likely played a role in his behavior. He said Holmes is not a bad guy but reacted in a way that he shouldn't have, and he planned to talk to him about it.
"He didn’t catch a ball?" Tomlinson said. "Well, you all have experience with receivers. T.O,. give me the damn ball, so you know. When receivers don’t catch a ball they don’t feel part of a game. That may have something to do with Tone’s reaction. But even if you don’t get a ball and you’re mad about it, there’s a better way to handle it. And that’s how my conversation with Tone will go.
[b]Holmes was asked if he was confident in Schottenheimer.
"Right now?" he said. "Let’s hope for the best."
Asked to clarify what he meant he said, "It wouldn’t be my decision to make that choice whether he returns or not."
And what about Holmes' future with the team?
"Thank you guys," he said, abruptly ending his press conference.