Whatever happens in the quarterback competition Monday night at Baltimore will be a big part of head coach Rex Ryan's decision of whether to start Kellen Clemens or Mark Sanchez in the season opener at Houston. But it won't be the only part.
This morning's last-play-of-the-game drills will also be a factor. For the record, each QB had two shots at the end zone. Sanchez threw two touchdown passes, both to Brad Smith, with the first offense. Clemens had no TDs with the second O.
"I think you've got to look at everything, I really do," Ryan said at this morning's news conference. "The things you see on the field from a leadership standpoint, even the drills that we do. Talk about that last play of the game, that's pressure as well, putting our guys in different situations."
Ryan is still not ready to crown his starter, but both candidates for the No. 1 job continue to grind away at all tasks set before them.
"I know Rex said he wants to make a decision next week," Clemens said. "I don't have a specific date. But we'll continue to compete. Ultimately it's his decision and we'll support that decision when it's handed down."
Sanchez remains respectful of all involved but still confident in the progress he's making as a pro QB.
"We looked back at our completion percentage, efficiency, interceptions and stuff like that through the first three phases of camp each week. The first two weeks my completion percentage was down and this week it's up in the 60s so that was a great improvement," the rookie said. "I've really been starting to peak coming into this game. That's the way I wanted to end up camp and that's the way things have gone."
It's been an even competition, with both men fighting through slumps and getting on hot streaks. None of the coaches or players are speculating on how the competition stands. Now come the Ravens, and while it's not the title fight that will declare the champion all by itself, it will carry a lot of weight toward who's going to wear the title belt heading into the season.
Said Ryan: "I really think at the end of the day we're going to make the right decision for us."
Thursday Morning Notes
Here's how the last-play period unfolded:
The first round is fourth-and-goal at the 5, six seconds on the clock and the offense trailing, 16-10.
Sanchez, with the ones, has lots of time. He rolls right, then left, finally firing a low ball that Brad Smith snags just over the goal line. Sanchez runs down for congratulations and looks as if he's almost going to jump into the official's arms.
On Clemens' turn with the twos, he rolls right and appears to have Marcus Henry open in the end zone. But Drew Coleman comes off his man on the outside just in time to pick off the fastball, fall to the front of the end zone and cradle the precious pickoff.
Erik Ainge also gets his turn with the threes, and out of an empty backfield he finds Huey Whittaker past Marquice Cole for the TD in the corner of the end zone. But the official on the play throws his flag, citing Whittaker for stepping on the end line before making the catch — illegal touching, no TD.
Round 2: Same situation except that the ball is on the 15.
Sanchez rolls left and finds Smith in a crowd, again in the 'zone, this time with a higher throw into the wideout's gut. Smith takes the ball to the hoop — that is, the goal post, and does a finger roll over the bar despite the late defense from former Louisville cager Kerry Rhodes.
Clemens rolls left, starts to get pressure and has to unload, throwing the ball through the end zone for an incompletion.
Ainge starts to roll when the official blows his whistle, signifying that Ainge would've been sacked.
In earlier drills, Sanchez hits Jerricho Cotchery on a 40-yarder, CB Rashad Barksdale comes up with an interception of a Clemens pass intended for Wallace Wright, and Ainge threads a red zone pass to Henry for the 15-yard score.
Update, 2:10 p.m.:DT Sione Pouha, starting for the still rehabbing Kris Jenkins, got his ankle rolled during a 9-on-7 drill. Said Rex Ryan: "I think he's going to be fine," but no word on Pouha's availability for Baltimore.