Ratliff-to-Clowney. Will it be a future long-distance connection in Jets history or a training camp footnote? That remains to be seen, but on Thursday night the former characterization seemed much more likely.
Brett Ratliff found David Clowney pulling away from Cleveland's young defensive backs for a 71-yard touchdown strike in the second quarter. Then for those who missed the replay on WCBS-TV, the pair did it again on a 70-yard connection.
We'll bring more research to you as we get it, but two 70-yard TDs for one QB-receiver tandem in one game is rare even in the big-play NFL. This was the first time since 1992 that anyone has done it in the NFL preseason. And the last time the Jets did it in any game was when Joe Namath found Rich Caster for 79- and 80-yard TDs in the fourth quarter of the classic 44-34 win over Johnny U and the Colts at Baltimore in 1972.
Here are vignettes of Ratliff and Clowney after *newyorkjets.com *talked with the pair this weekend.
Ratliff: "It's Pretty Sweet"
Not many people have the kind of day or week that Brett Ratliff just floated through.
"It was quite a week," said the man who answers to the nicknames "Rat" and "Ratty." "Especially in that 24 hours, my first NFL [game], big game, it was my birthday and then I had a baby on my birthday. It was all in 24 hours. It was a good couple of days."
The baby thing was an amazing twist for the quarterback who arrived as an undrafted free agent from Utah in April 2007 and whose greatest recognition as a pro before the past week was when his picture was paired next to "the other Brett," Favre, when rumors of the Jets trade interest surfaced the previous week.
Ratliff and his wife, Shailey, were expecting their first child any day when he headed off with the Green & White for their preseason opener at Cleveland on Wednesday.
"As soon as I got back here," he said after this morning's training camp practice at Hofstra University, "I was going straight to the hospital. I took the team flight back, we got to the complex around 3:30 in the morning and I got to the hospital around 4. She arrived later that night."
"She" is Ellenor Shai, whom the Ratliffs have quickly nicknamed "Elle."
"The stats on the baby? Seven pounds, three ounces, 20½ inches," he rattled off. "Born 8-08-08, at 9:04 [p.m.]. My birthday, too. It's pretty sweet."
And the most important part of the present. But the game Ratliff enjoyed was pretty impressive as well. Keeping in mind that we're talking about a preseason opener with his numbers coming with his fellow second- and third-teamers against the Browns' twos and threes, his stat line is still amazing: 14-for-20 for 252 yards, two TDs, no INTs, no sacks, seven first downs and a 145.8 passer rating.
And in his first offensive play in an NFL game (he didn't get a single pre- or regular-season snap last year), he fires off that 71-yarder.
"The first play, we were just watching the safeties, seeing how they were biting down," Ratliff explained. "We did play-action, and Clowney is just as fast as fast can be. The safeties came down a little bit on the run, he beat them over the top and I put it out there and let him run."
On that play, two minutes into the second quarter, Clowney had two Browns nearby whom he had to beat to get the ball to the left pylon for the score. On the 70-yarder three minutes into the fourth, Ratliff was the one in danger of being caught, by the Cleveland rush, but again he said, "it was kind of watching the safety, David got outside, I put it out to him again and he was able to get it again and go down the sideline."
Head coach Eric Mangini has seen the growth in Ratliff's game.
"You saw the physical attributes. He's got size, a strong arm, and he's a smart guy," Mangini said earlier in camp. "That quarterback room sets a pretty high bar for work ethic, and he's right there with them. He's impressive in terms of just continually absorbing the chunks of information and getting better. The guy that's here now versus the guy that was here a year ago, it's night and day."
Night and day is also how Ratliff works in trying to put together the perfect gift for him and his wife. As he said of the pro debut, the TDs, the arrival of a Hall of Fame mentor and the birth of his first child:
"Great birthday present."
But what can he do to possibly top it next Aug. 8?
The Notch on Clowney's Belt
David Clowney is another first-year receiver who's been, as Mangini has said "popping off the screen" at practices. Unlike Ratliff, he was with the Packers last year. Like Ratty, he made his NFL debut at Cleveland with a big-play bang.
"It's fun going out and helping the team win," said Clowney, something he in fact did by producing two of the Jets' three TDs in their 24-20 win over the Browns. "I'm definitely trying to do that and trying to get a roster spot for myself."
And just as Ratliff credits Clowney's speed for making it all possible Thursday, the wideout says "right back at ya" to his QB.
"That's all Brett Ratliff," he said of the four receptions on the night, all producing first downs, for 163 yards. "As a receiver, you can't make plays, you can't get anything done without your quarterback."
But Clowney knows he's got a skill — as in 4.3-speed-in-the-40 skill. Asked if, while both those long balls hung in the air, he was saying to himself, "Those are mine," he didn't disagree.
"Definitely. I consider myself a deep threat, and I have since high school," he said. "My speed, that's always been my notch on anybody else."
Mangini has liked what he's been seeing all along.
"Anytime you have speed, that's a good thing offensively," he said. "The fact that you can get the ball down the field and have someone who can get the ball to where it gets the defense on its heels a little bit, you enjoy speed."
The coach also enjoys players who take advantage of the kinds of opportunities that he and general manager Mike Tannenbaum have given to such players since they arrived in 2006.
"David just wants to make sure he's not a one-hit wonder, that there are some other singles coming out here in his future," Mangini said. "He's doing everything we've asked him to do. As a coach, you're really proud of guys like Brett Ratliff and David Clowney when they marry their talent to their work ethic.
"Now it's a question of maintaining that work ethic and performing at a consistent level over time."