Sanchez Sparkles But Jets Fall to Rams, 23-20

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Jets vs Rams Preseason 2009

Veteran Kellen Clemens had a perfect night through the air and rookie Mark Sanchez followed with a scintillating effort as the Jets' quarterback competition got off to an entertaining start tonight at the Meadowlands. The Jets' reserves couldn't hold onto a fourth-quarter lead, though, as the Rex Ryan era began with a 23-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams in the preseason opener for both clubs.

Clemens got the start behind a shuffled offensive line and the juggling cost the Jets early. Wayne Hunter, filling in for right tackle starter Damien Woody, couldn't handle veteran pass rusher Leonard Little on the edge and Little got a strip-sack of the unsuspecting signalcaller. Defensive end James Hall recovered for the visitors and they cashed in on the takeaway with Josh Brown's 48-yard field goal to open the scoring.

"I dropped back and they played a coverage that the route takes a little bit longer to develop downfield," Clemens said. "Chansi Stuckey was winning, but we ran out of time. The ball got knocked out of my hand. I had a little pressure from the front side. I do have to do a better job of protecting it and stepping up in the pocket."

A reverse got the offense jump-started on the veteran QB's second drive. After taking a handoff from Clemens, Thomas Jones dropped the ball off to Brad Smith and Smitty ran up the left sideline for 28 yards and into Rams territory. After three consecutive runs, Clemens connected with Dustin Keller for 12 before magically evading a Gary Gibson sack and picking up 2 more yards. On third-and-6 from the 20, KC hit Chansi Stuckey for 5. 

Ryan debated going for it on fourth-and-1 but ultimately took the points as Jay Feely nailed a 33-yard field goal. And after going 4-4 for 26 yards, Clemens' night was done.

The home crowd gave Sanchez a nice ovation when he entered the game with just 28 seconds left in the opening stanza. Known for an undeniable flair for the dramatic, Sanchez, on the play call by coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, decided it was time to get the folks out of their seats.

Taking his first pro snap from Rob Turner, a reserve in Nick Mangold's center spot, Sanchez calmly surveyed the field to the left and looked off some defenders. Then the Southern Cal product came back right and delivered a 48-yard dagger to speedster David Clowney in stride.

"As soon as he caught it, I was really excited and then I was looking for my mouthpiece because I dropped it mid-cadence," Sanchez said.  "I said, 'Green 30' and my mouthpiece came out and the defense was laughing. I was like 'What an idiot.' "

"I was shocked by it myself — 'Let the guy warm up a little bit,' " added Ryan of the long ball call by coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. "He's got all the confidence in the world in him. Clowney had a step on his man and it was a great throw also. But I think that just shows the kind of kid he is. This guy, he's a cool customer."

After a thrilling end to the opening quarter, Sanchez went short to Keller, who found running room and picked up 14 to the St. Louis 28. Three plays later, Sanchez had Keller free on the opposite side and the second-year tight end finished another play with an athletic run as the 26-yard connection got the Jets within smelling distance of the goal line. Thomas Jones extended the ball and crossed the goal line on second down, culminating an impressive eight-play, 93-yard scoring march.

And that would be all for Sanchez. He lost that mouthpiece barking signals on that first snap and then let his play do the talking for him, completing three of four for 88 yards. The youngster is seemingly unfazed by great expectations and continues to improve daily.

"It's still very early. It was one series and it was basic stuff out there," Sanchez said. "There's obviously going to be a lot more coming next week and maybe a little more playing time. As these things go on, you have to stay sharp and take your completions where you can and move the chains. I thought I did that tonight, but like I said it's still very early. A lot of work to do."

The Rams closed the gap to just one at half, 10-9, as Brown was perfect from 34 and 39 yards. Playing without NT Kris Jenkins and CB Darrelle Revis, the Jets were able to get Rams QB Marc Bulger for three first-half sacks. Linebackers David Harris and Calvin Pace got one apiece in the first quarter and then CB Donald Strickland got a critical sack in the second after the Rams moved inside the Jets' 10.

With the defensive reserves in to start the final half, the Jets' advantage was short-lived. Sam Gado, receiving great blocking up front, got to the second level and avoided a diving tackle attempt from S James Ihedigbo before finishing off a 77-yard scoring run in the opening minute of the third quarter.

Ainge (10-for-18, 148 yards, 1 TD ) played well for the Jets and his 50-yard play-action scoring pass to Clowney gave the home club a 20-16 fourth-quarter advantage. That lead changed hands a final time though when Paul Raymond's muffed punt set up rookie QB Keith Null's 13-yard TD pass to Sean Walker.

"I wanted the team to know how disappointed I was, that I can't stand losing and I don't want them to stand it, either," Ryan said.  "And if they do, I have a tough time believing they can play for me and they understand that. We're all disappointed and we all wanted to celebrate this victory."

Game Notes

Rookie back Shonn Greene, the third-round pick from Iowa, ran hard and finished with 45 yards on his nine carries. Clowney, a summer star in 2008, had three receptions for 102 yards.

There was an impressive list of Jets who did not dress tonight. Offensively, C Nick Mangold (knee), LG Alan Faneca (finger), RT Damien Woody (head) and FB Tony Richardson (hip) all sat out and were replaced by Turner, Stanley Daniels, Hunter and Jehuu Caulcrick respectively. On the other side of the ball, Jenkins (calf) and Revis (hamstring) got a rest and reserves Sione Pouha and Dwight Lowery came in with the ones.

The Jets got a scare when Wallace Wright was on the receiving end of a helmet-to-helmet hit from LB Chris Chamberlain late in the third quarter, but Wright walked off and then caught a 23-yard pass from Ainge on the Green & White's final scoring drive.

Saturday's a travel day for the Jets and they'll return to the practice field Sunday at SUNY Cortland. Their second preseason game, which will be broadcast on ESPN in front of a nationally televised audience, will be in Baltimore on Aug. 24 against the Ravens. Ryan hasn't decided if Sanchez will start against the Birds: "We'll talk about it. He'll definitely play more."

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