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Ainge Makes the Most of His Second Chances


2008 Preseason Week 4 - Jets vs Eagles Photos

It was an ominous play for Erik Ainge, fumbling a snap in the red zone on the Jets' first possession of the third quarter in Thursday's final preseason game at Philadelphia.

The rookie quarterback, in his first extended preseason run, was about to have a positive, 61-yard drive aborted because of a mixup with his center.

Never mind.

Ainge was able to get into — or rather, under — the fray and recover the ball to preserve the drive.

And on the next play he looked calm as ever. He took three steps back, surveyed the field, then threw effortlessly and accurately to David Ball in the back of the end zone, hitting the receiver for a 6-yard score that gave the Jets their first lead of the game, 17-13.

It was the first preseason touchdown for both players. And though it didn't spark the display that Brett Favre-to-Dustin Keller in the Redskins game did, it was a play of some significance.

The former Tennessee star, on that two-play sequence, showed the poise and talent that made him alluring to the Jets in the fifth round of April's draft. Rather than stand back dejected while his line fought for the fumble, he got into the scrum. And on the touchdown throw, he had enough precision and zip to get the ball between two defenders and hit his receiver between the numbers.

"I was excited to be able to get out here and get a chance to play and get into rhythm," Ainge said in the locker room, "and show my teammates and everybody else that I was able to come out and play good."

It was a night of second chances for Ainge, and he made good on them. Although he took late snaps at Cleveland and against the Giants, he got his first real taste of NFL action at Philadelphia with more than two quarters of play. He made his first 16 preseason throws, completing 10 for 131 yards and the touchdown — good for a 109.1 passer rating.

On the Jets' drive following the Ball touchdown, Ainge averted disaster again.

On first-and-10 from the Eagles 37, he threw over the middle for wide receiver Marcus Henry, but the underthrown pass wound up in the hands of cornerback Therrian Fontenot.

After shoving Fontenot out of bounds on the return, Ainge remained on the sideline, his head slightly hung and looking understandably disappointed.

Again, never mind. There was reprieve in the form of a yellow flag.

Safety Quentin Demps was called for illegal contact, negating the turnover and giving the Jets a first down at the 32. Six plays later, Mike Nugent booted a 34-yard field goal that extended the lead to seven points.

"Erik did a couple of good things," head coach Eric Mangini said. "He made the tackle on the interception. I thought that was encouraging — not the interception, the tackle."

Then, in the fourth quarter, after the Eagles had tied the score at 20, Ainge led the Jets on their game-winning drive. Again, with a little help from Demps.

After an incompletion brought up fourth down, Ben Graham boomed a 60-yard punt that curled left and forced Demps, the return man, to attempt the catch while drifting toward the sidelines.

He muffed it. The ball deflected off his shoulder pad and hit the ground. Before he had a chance to scoop it up, there was Ahmad Carroll diving in to corral the ball and give the offense another crack at scoring, that time from the Eagles 17.

A first down the hard way.

And Ainge made it count. He connected with Henry on a well-thrown pass on an out route for 13 yards. The ball was thrown up high, giving the 6'4" receiver a chance to go over the 5'11" Fontenot for the catch. Two 2-yard runs by Jesse Chatman and the Jets were in the end zone and ahead again, 27-20.

Maybe Lady Luck was in attendance. Whatever the case, Ainge certainly made a case for himself, and just in time.

"As of Monday's practice," he said, "it's going to be Favre's show from here on out."

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