Kellen Clemens has most likely been dreaming about starting in his first NFL game since he strapped on his first set of pads as a kid. Fast-forward to Week 2 of the 2007 Jets season and the Baltimore Ravens nearly turned that dream into a nightmare.
It was head coach Eric Mangini's gametime decision to start Clemens after watching Chad Pennington on his injured right ankle during an on-field workout with the Jets staff well before today's 4:15 p.m. kickoff.
"We talked through a lot of different things — he and I, myself and the doctors, myself and the trainers — and we took all that information in and made that decision," Mangini explained. "If we had to go to the second quarterback, Chad would have been able to play.
"I just thought that at the point where we were, Kellen would give us the best chance to win."
As advertised, the Ravens' defense didn't lay out a welcome mat for Clemens. In just his third snap of his first series, he was picked off by Ravens Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed. It wasn't until just over two minutes remaining in the first quarter when Clemens made his first connection, an 8-yarder to Laveranues Coles.
"They were everything they were talked up to be, that's for sure," Clemens said of Baltimore defense. "With Ed Reed flying around back there in the secondary, Ray Lewis and that front defensive line, they're very talented. They made a lot of plays and held us pretty much in check for most the game."
Up until the fourth quarter, Clemens endured four sacks and Ben Graham punted five times as the Jets offense failed to find the end zone. After connecting on just four of nine pass attempts in the first half, Clemens showed Pennington-like determination and was 15-for-28 with 217 passing yards in the second half alone.
"As the game grew on, I got more and more comfortable," said the second year pro. "My play in the first half was not what it should have been. In the course of the game, you try not to kick yourself too much, you learn from it as quick as you can, you look at the pictures and you move on. By the second half, things slowed down a little bit, I calmed down and we were able to move the football."
After the Jets defense forced the Ravens to punt following six quick plays in the middle of the fourth quarter, Clemens led an 81-yard drive that was capped by the first touchdown pass of his pro career.
On third-and-10 from his 19-yard line, Clemens connected on three straight passes, including a 44-yard completion to WR Jerricho Cotchery. After two incompletions and a delay-of-game penalty, Clemens then found Cotchery on fourth-and-7, bringing the Green & White to the Baltimore 1.
Three plays later, TE Chris Baker made the catch in the side of the end zone, managing to drag both feet in bounds for the TD.
"We needed to score and we needed to score quickly. We had a lot of guys who stepped up and made great plays," said Clemens, who completed 19 of 37 attempts for 260 yards on the day.
"I thought he did some really positive things throughout the game," Mangini said of Clemens. "I thought he showed great toughness and I thought that he showed excellent poise for his first time. This is a guy who's starting his first game against an outstanding defense that gives multiple looks, multiple pressures. There's some things that we need to work on, but there's a lot of positive things to build on."
The previous touchdown drive wasn't all Clemens had left in the tank, either.
After the defense forced the Ravens offense to their second three-and-out series of the half, Clemens shot out of the gate from his own 20. On the first play of the series he hit Cotchery with a 50-yard reception, sending the Jets deep into Ravens territory.
Seven plays later, Clemens hit Coles for 24 yards along the left sideline, giving the Jets a first-and-goal from the Ravens' 7. After an incompletion to Justin McCareins, Clemens was picked off on a deflected ball by linebacker Ray Lewis in the end zone to end any such comeback by the 24-year old gunslinger.
"Unfortunately it didn't go our way at the end of the game, but it's nice to see the competitiveness of this team and the way we responded down the stretch," Clemens said. "We competed all the way till the last seconds of this game and that shows a lot about the heart and the character of this team."