2007-09-21 / Sports

Jets Remain Strong While Navigating Troubled Waters

By Brian Bohl

HEMPSTEAD, NY- Generating turnovers can help overcome an inexperienced passing game against an upper-echelon defense. But the Jets' defense couldn't make the big plays to stall the Ravens and set up quarterback Kellen Clemens with good field position, contributing to a 20-13 loss in Baltimore last Sunday.

Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller must have felt like Tom Brady did the week before. For the second straight game, the Jets failed to provide a pass rush, failing to record a sack, or force an interception or fumbles.

Two games into the season, Gang Green's defense faced 134 combined plays from scrimmage. In two hours of game time, the unit has failed to force a single turnover- which includes sacks, interceptions or fumble recoveries. Not surprisingly, the Jets are 0-2 for the first since they lost the opening four contests in 2003.

"It is frustrating because we work on it a lot and we practice it," said linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who shares the team lead with 16 tackles. "Those are things that you have to keep harping on and keep working on and they will come. We have to keep working at it in the games and get the opportunity to make them."

Clemens, making his first career NFLstart while Chad Pennington rested his injured right ankle, nearly completed a comeback attempt. The 24-yearold finished 19-37 for 260 yards; mettle he demonstrated in the final quarter could sprout a budding quarterback controversy for this week's contest against the Dolphins at Giants Stadium.

Clemens cut a 20-3 deficit down to a touchdown, leading his team to 10 points in the fourth quarter. He nearly completed the comeback with a furious late push, finding Justin McCareins at the Baltimore 5-yard line with 1:55 remaining before the wide out dropped the ball. McCareins nearly atoned for the lack of execution three players later, except he could only tip Clemens' pass before Ray Lewis grabbed the game-clinching interception.

"We saw his toughness," Jerricho Cotchery said. "He got hit quite a bit, but he stood in the pocket and made some tough throws. Down the stretch he led the team. We talk about how when the starter goes down the backup has to come in and there can't be a drop off. He came in, made some tough throws and made plays."

Despite Clemens' acumen in his first real pressure situation, the former Oregon standout said he understands he is the No. 2 passer if Pennington is healthy. Coach Eric Mangini echoed that sentiment, insisting that Pennington will be the one to take the field at the Meadowlands against Miami if he is healthy enough to return.

"Chad's the starter and I'm the backup. That's been clearly communicated," Clemens said "Whoever's healthy and ready to go will go on Sunday and we trust the coaches to put us in the best position to hopefully get that first victory."

Added Mangini: "If he can, he will. We'll assess it throughout the week, but if he's able to, he will."

Even with Pennington's return, he might need the Jets defense to make some more big plays to compensate for another injury. The special teams squad already was underperforming before it was announced that kick returner Justin Miller was placed on Injured Reserve because of right knee pain. Miller was the team's only Pro Bowl representative last season and also holds the Jets' all-time record with three kickoff returns for touchdowns.

The Jets rank 24th out of 32 teams in total defense through Week 2. Yet there is some good news as Pennington tries to ease himself back in the lineup. The Dolphins' once feared attack is ranked slightly below at 25th, surrendering an average of nearly 27 points. That could be the perfect tonic to get running back Thomas Jones back to the level he was in previous seasons.

Jones recorded a paltry 2.9 yards-per-carry average in his first two games since the Jets made him its biggest off-season acquisition. The veteran running back registered just 109 yards on 38 carries- numbers that need to improve if the Jets want to take advantage of the light portion of the schedule. The next four games come against Miami, Buffalo, the Giants and Eagles; all contests they could be favorites to win.

"We are fine. We laid it on the line yesterday and I think everyone feels confident that we can work through this," Cotchery said. "We are 0-2, but we played two great teams as everyone can see and we made some huge strides. Looking at the film, we did some great things. We have to be more consistent with our execution throughout the game."

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