Kellen Clemens started for the first time in his NFL career and he almost led a historic comeback in Baltimore. But the Jets couldn't finish the deal as Ray Lewis intercepted a tipped ball in the end zone in the final seconds and the Green & White dropped a 20-13 decision to the Ravens to fall to 0-2.
Trailing by two touchdowns in the final quarter, Clemens, the gunslinger from Oregon led his troops back. The Jets actually had a few chances to tie the game after the two-minute mark, but Justin McCareins dropped a sure touchdown pass and then his deflection led to Lewis' pick.
"There were some great opportunities to score and we didn't quite capitalize," Clemens said. "We were just a little bit off on each play."
Clemens progressed as the light turned into darkness and had the Ravens on the ropes, connecting time and time again with Jerricho Cotchery. Clemens passed for 260 yards and 165 of those went to Cotchery on seven receptions.
"We had a lot of guys step up and make great plays," Clemens said of the final charge. "It was great to see us respond to the adversity we had been going through for the major part of the game. It is good to see us compete that way. Unfortunately it didn't go our way at the end, but it's nice to see the competitiveness of this team and the way we responded down the stretch."
The Green & White were competitive throughout, but they were victimized by a lack of big plays early. For the second consecutive week, the defense did not force a turnover and did not register a sack. The offense got hot in the fourth, closing the gap to seven points on Clemens' first professional TD pass. Chris Baker's 3-yard reception held up under review, creeping the Jets ever so closer with 3:12 remaining.
Thomas Jones supplied the offense's second-longest play up until midway through the final stanza, a 21-yard gain on a short pass that resulted in their first Mike Nugent field goal, and a pass interference penalty set up Nugent's second three-pointer.
"It was a tough game," Jones said. "They fought hard and we fought hard, and they came out on top. I think we showed a lot of character in the second half."
Both teams' starting quarterbacks suited up and did not see action. Chad Pennington was on the sideline with a right ankle injury and Steve McNair, who has a sore groin, was also a spectator.
The spotlight on the backups didn't bother Kyle Boller as he played composed and efficiently executed a sound offensive game plan. Clemens didn't look overwhelmed against Rex Ryan's blitzing defense, which features the likes of all-world LB Ray Lewis and sensational S Ed Reed, but he was sacked four times and the offense was neutralized in the first three quarters.
The Ravens used a notorious Jets killer to get on the scoreboard first. A sprint boot was called as Boller rolled right following a play-action fake to Willis McGahee and he found the former Bills RB wide open for a 2-yard score. It was McGahee's first career touchdown reception.
Unfortunately for the Jets, they offset a great special teams play with a poor one. Mike Nugent nailed a 50-yard field goal to cut the Ravens' lead to 7-3 early in the second quarter, but his ensuing kickoff resulted in a 61-yard return from rookie speedster Yamon Figurs. That set up a short Matt Stover field goal and made it a 10-3 game.
"Jonathan Vilma was on kickoff coverage this week," said head coach Eric Mangini. " We are going to get 11 guys to cover kickoffs. It doesn't matter who it is. If they are on our team, they have a shot to be on the kickoff team next week."
After an exchange of missed field goals from Stover and Nugent, the Ravens widened their lead to close the half. An instant replay reversed an apparent incompletion and TE Todd Heap scored on a 4-yard pass from Boller. It was an incredible reception from the veteran pass catcher as he somehow got his right hand on the ball, brought his left hand in to cradle and dragged his feet inbounds.
The Heap score culminated Boller's brilliant first half, which saw the former California Golden Bear complete 17 of 24 for 125 yards.
Clemens got off to a rocky beginning. Reed intercepted his second pass attempt, but the Ravens may have gotten away with an infraction on the play. Wideout Lavernaues Coles was knocked to the ground by a Ravens defensive back and looked around for a yellow flag that never came.
"I thought he did some really positive things throughout the game," said Mangini of Clemens. "I thought he showed great toughness, I thought he showed excellent poise."
Despite the loss, the Jets displayed a number of encouraging signs late — none more than the play of their quarterback. They return home next weekend and will host the Miami Dolphins at the Meadowlands.
Facing perhaps the league's best defense, Jones delivered some punishment of his own. He displayed his bruising style, attacking defenders with authority on each rush. He was one of the Jets' best players on a gorgeous Maryland day, rushing for 67 hard-fought yards and adding 20 more on two receptions.
Cotchery's third-quarter catch of a high Clemens pass was an amazing grab and it got the his club to the Ravens' 37. It's too bad the Jets couldn't capitalize as they moved backward from there with Clemens getting rocked for a couple of sacks.
"He is just a special guy," Mangini said of Cotchery. "I admire his competitiveness, I admire his toughness. You just love to coach guys like that."
After Baker's touchdown, the Jets attempted an onside kick. Nugent got a great bounce and Brad Smith got his hands on the try, but he couldn't come down with the ball.
Justin Miller, who had a calf injury that slowed him down during the summer, left the field midway through the second quarter. The Jets' lone 2006 Pro Bowler got injured on a 22-yard kickoff return. He limped away and was escorted to the locker room by team medical personnel.
Willis Still Willis
McGahee was productive, but he didn't get off like in years past. His long run was just 9 yards and he totaled 97 yards on the ground, the first time in six games that he didn't rush for 100 yards vs. the Jets. Those five 100-yard games, of course, came when he was a member of the Bills.