By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 5, 2007
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Nov. 4 -- Kellen Clemens began his tenure as the New York Jets starting quarterback against a blitz-happy Washington Redskins defense that was out to avenge a humiliating loss the previous week.
He took a blow to the head from Redskins safety LaRon Landry, received a late hit from linebacker London Fletcher that left a yellow streak on his helmet, was forced to avoid an onslaught of blitzing defenders and walked gingerly to the sideline several times.
And yet with his team on the verge of losing in regulation, Clemens showed no jitters, leading his offense 64 yards over 16 plays to set up the tying field goal. On that drive, Clemens was 5 of 9 for 44 yards, scrambled three times for 15 yards, and brought some life back to a home crowd that had been joined by several thousand empty seats.
The Jets lost the game in overtime, 23-20, but their new quarterback did enough to impress veterans on both sidelines.
"He approached it like he's been doing it all his life," Jets wide receiver Justin McCareins said. "We can't ask for a better leader."
"For him to be young and [with] the looks we threw at him, he showed a lot of poise," Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot said. "I think the Jets have got a real future with that quarterback. We were sending [blitzers], and he was reading them. He was finding the hot man, he was doing stuff I usually see a seven-year vet do. I think they've got something right there."
Clemens, a second-year player out of Oregon who had made one career start before Sunday, had passing numbers that were hardly spectacular: 23 of 42 for 226 yards, with a one-yard touchdown throw and no interceptions. But he was a constant threat with his feet, running seven times for 48 yards, including an 18-yard scamper in the second quarter that was the Jets' longest run from a quarterback in more than five years.
Clemens calmly directed a no-huddle offense in the final moments of regulation as the Jets drove for the tie, and his team would have been on the verge of a win had Jerricho Cotchery not dropped a would-be first down catch in overtime.
"He was all over the field -- he showed he was able to scramble and find open receivers, and then he could tuck and run that pill," Landry said. "He did a phenomenal job."
Jets Coach Eric Mangini, who had made the decision to sit veteran Chad Pennington last week, was judicious in his praise after the game, saying he'd have to look at tape before he could compare Clemens with Pennington.
But the young quarterback clearly breathed some life into New York's offense, which had ranked 30th in the league before Sunday. The Jets gained 338 yards, only nine yards shy of their best showing of the season, and set a season high with 23 first downs.
"I was very proud of the way he ran the huddle," running back Thomas Jones said. "He went out there and performed."
Clemens was reserved in assessing his performance, praising much-criticized offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and talking about the frustrations of New York's 1-8 record. He admitted he allowed his emotions to "run wild" at times, but said he tends to use that emotional style. He was asked what impressions he thought he had left with beleaguered Jets fans.
"I hope it's something positive. I hope they're thinking something positive about all of us," Clemens said. "We're trying, we're giving great effort, we're working hard. We're just coming up short."