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Jets well-connected in passing game

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / November 11, 2011

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The two-week stretch in which Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez seemed to have a small soap opera going with his receiving corps all started when a few seemingly innocuous words left Santonio Holmes’s lips in Baltimore in early October.

The Ravens throttled the Jets offense in a 34-17 win Oct. 2, as Sanchez could barely get the ball to his receivers (11 of 35, 119 yards). He threw one interception and lost three fumbles. Reporters went into the locker room as if it were a crime scene, trying to figure out how the offense ended up in so many pieces.

That’s when Holmes said, “It starts up front with our big guys. They need to do a better job protecting Mark, and Mark has to do a better job of making his reads and getting the ball to his playmakers.’’

No big deal?

By the next day, the only words that mattered were: “Mark has to do a better job of making his reads and getting the ball to his playmakers.’’

It turned into a minor midweek back-and-forth - and it was Patriots week, as if the Jets needed any distractions. Sanchez said that, next time, a comment like that would stay in the locker room. Holmes had to explain that he wasn’t throwing Sanchez under the bus. If he was critical, it was only meant to be constructive.

Against the Patriots, Sanchez went 16 for 26 with two touchdowns but the Jets ate a 30-21 loss, and afterward reports swirled that the receiving corps had issues with the game plan of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Holmes, Plaxico Burress, and Derrick Mason all denied it. Then Mason was released.

At some point, they decided they needed to get on the same page or at least in the same book.

About a month ago, Burress said, he, Holmes, and Sanchez started meeting, to watch film and, more important, develop chemistry.

“I really think it’s important for all three of us to be seeing the same thing,’’ Burress said. “When we’re seeing the same thing, that means we’re all on the same page, and when we’re all on the same page we can go out and be successful and be consistent.

“Just trying to build a communication level out on the football field. That’s very important, we think. We get different opportunities to sit amongst ourselves and watch film and kind of communicate signals and things like that.

“Those things are still a work in progress, but we’re making the right strides to get to a point where we’re just out there pitching and catching.’’

It has been a way for the receivers to let the quarterback know what they are seeing on the field and vice versa, and the payoff has been a more potent passing game in recent weeks.

Burress caught three touchdown passes three weeks ago in a 27-21 win over the Chargers. Sanchez threw for 230 yards and a touchdown to Holmes last week in a 27-11 win over the Bills.

They are all developing a better feel for each other on the field.

“It’s been fun, man,’’ Holmes said. “It’s been allowing Sanchez to just go out and have fun. Now he gets an understanding of just who Plax is as a player, where he likes to catch the ball, how he likes to catch the ball on the field.

“It’s helped calm Sanchez down a lot. It’s allowed us to have more fun at practice and go back and watch film after practice together and just talk about all of the little things so that we can communicate better on the field.’’

The move to meet each day was driven by the veterans, Holmes said.

“Carrying our young quarterback under us and teaching him the things that we see that he hasn’t seen,’’ Holmes said. “The different coverages, knowing that he can take his time to allow us to get open, know that we’re going to win for him and things like that. Just allowing him to get into a comfort zone.’’

Talking player to player - not just X’s and O’s, but tendencies and habits - has allowed the unit to play loose.

“We’re the guys that are out there playing,’’ Burress said. “We have a lot of respect for the coaches and believing in the game plan and trusting the play calls, but it’s our job to execute and play football. Not worry about everything being exactly the way that it’s supposed to be, just going out there and playing football.’’

Burress, after missing the last two seasons, has had to shake off the rust. In the past two games, though, he has caught nine passes for 104 yards and those three scores against San Diego.

“I just think they’ve been around each other a little bit,’’ said Jets coach Rex Ryan. “I think the timing, especially with Plax and with Mark, it seems to be much better.

“But they do seem to be all on the same page. So I don’t know if that’s helped or not. But it seems like they’re more in tune with each other.”

What’s also helped the passing game, ironically, is a rededication to the run.

Ryan acknowledged that, early in the season, “I got enamored with throwing the football a little bit.’’

At the start of the season, Sanchez put up big numbers (335 yards on 26 of 44 passing against Dallas and 369 yards on 27 of 44 against Oakland). But after losing three straight games, the Jets dug themselves out of the hole by using their ground game. They went for 100-plus yards on Miami, San Diego, and Buffalo, and Sanchez has reaped the benefits of the balance.

“I think the one thing our coaches have done well is they’ve given some balance to this offense and made sure that Mark understands that he has a running game to rely on, he has all these weapons to throw the ball to,’’ said running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

One of the biggest signs of how much they’re on the same page came after Holmes’s touchdown last week, when Holmes and Burress went over the play blow by blow on the sideline with one of the Jets assistants. Burress had been telling the coaches that the Bills were vulnerable. They all saw the same openings.

“It’s going to come at the right time,’’ Burress said. “It always does. We’ve just got to keep working every day until we get to the point that nobody can stop us.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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