FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) - Santonio Holmes tried to hold back. Really, he did.
The prospect of facing the New England Patriots' young secondary has the New York Jets wide receiver excited. He just didn't want to admit it _ at first.
"If I could really speak my mind, I would," he said Thursday. "But, just off the strength of me being a professional, I don't worry about those guys. We have to worry about what we have to do here."
While coach Rex Ryan insists they're still a run-first offense, the Jets should have several opportunities to air it out Monday night against a secondary that ranks last in the league in pass defense _ surprising for a unit coached by Bill Belichick.
"Regardless of who's on the field, what guys are playing, it's his defense that he's been running for a number of years," Holmes said. "He's going to continue doing the same thing, regardless of whether someone wants to exploit his team as the 31st or 32nd team in the NFL that has the worst passing defense. He doesn't care. His record speaks for itself."
True, but what about the possibility of being matched against Devin McCourty? Can any rookie really shut him down?
"Negative," Holmes said, perking up. "That was proven Super Bowl Sunday two years ago, when they had a rookie follow me around the whole game.
"I wouldn't do it if I was them."
In the 2009 Super Bowl, Arizona used Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on Holmes, who earned MVP honors by catching nine passes for 131 yards and the winning touchdown for Pittsburgh with 31 seconds left. That strategy didn't work too well for the Cardinals, did it?
"No, no," Holmes said with a laugh. "Not at all."
The Patriots have McCourty, two second-year players in cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety Patrick Chung, and a fourth-year safety in Brandon Meriweather in their starting secondary.
"That's our job," Holmes said, "to go out and exploit those guys."
New England's overall defense ranks second-to-last in the league, an alarming statistic Ryan refuses to buy into.
"It's misleading because they're creating turnovers," he said. "The numbers say one thing, but their defense is much better than what their numbers say."
New England has 15 interceptions, including five by McCourty, and recovered five fumbles. But the Patriots have not allowed fewer than 24 points in their last four games.
"There's a lot of room for improvement," Belichick said.
Holmes wasn't around for the teams' first meeting in Week 2 while serving a four-game suspension, but has since become a favorite target of Mark Sanchez. Holmes has four touchdowns in his last three games.
"He can only help us," Sanchez said. "He's tough to cover."
Especially when he's running slant routes, something the Jets have been using a lot lately with Holmes and Braylon Edwards. New York could also get Jerricho Cotchery back after his missed two games with a groin injury.
"They do a good job on those routes," Belichick said. "Edwards and Holmes are both very good after the catch. They can take a short pass and turn it into a long gain with their speed and Holmes' quickness."
Edwards had five catches for 45 yards and a touchdown in the Jets' 28-14 win earlier this season, while Dustin Keller caught seven passes for 115 yards and a score.
"If we just go out and execute the way we practice and be consistent, we can take advantage of their weaknesses there in that secondary," Edwards said. "If guys aren't on the same page, then it's going to be another situation where we're fighting at the end to get a win."
That has been a disturbing trend during the Jets' four-game winning streak. They have won two games in overtime and another in the final seconds. Their 26-10 win over Cincinnati on Thanksgiving wasn't comfortably decided until the fourth quarter.
"We don't want to start slow and we don't try to start slow," Edwards said. "For whatever reason, we've learned to finish games strong and that's why we've been winning those games at the end."
Sanchez was particularly hard on himself after the win over the Bengals, saying he took a step back after several solid performances.
"I just passed up easy completions," Sanchez said. "I didn't make very good decisions when I got out on the perimeter. Those kinds of things, especially down the stretch against teams like New England, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Miami, they'll get you beat bad. We can't afford to have that."
Ryan agrees, of course, but is confident Sanchez will be fine, starting Monday.
"That wasn't a great performance by Mark this past week, especially by his standards," he said. "I expect him to be right at the top of his game."
Notes: The Jets brought in Kris Brown this week to take a look at the free-agent kicker in case Nick Folk's struggles continue. Folk has missed five of his last 10 field-goal attempts, and had a successful extra-point hit an upright. Folk insists his confidence is not shaken. "If I were in their shoes, I probably would have done something similar," he said. Ryan called Folk "an excellent kicker," but was concerned about the extra point and his short kickoffs.