Questions Surrounding QB Position Continue as Losses Mount
Chad Pennington knows the drill. He went through it himself when he was the back-up behind the ageless Vinny Testaverde. As his interceptions mount along with losses, Jets fans have been calling for Kellen Clemens to get a legitimate shot as the starting quarterback.
"As a quarterback, a lot of times the result of the football game is what you're determined by, so when you've experienced a few losses, no matter what your performance is, you get judged by that," said Pennington. "I understand that. I just really focus on myself right now and see what I can do to help us win, to get better, to create a spark and create some energy because that's what we need."
That is precisely what the critics are saying about Clemens - if he can provide a spark for a listless team that has lost three straight games. After dropping the first two against New England and Baltimore, the Jets held on against Miami, but lost a very winnable game at Buffalo a week later. Following that, they faced the Giants in a 'road' contest at the Meadowlands and blew a 10-point halftime lead, losing 35-24 to their stadium partners. Last Sunday, Philadelphia came in and won a yawner, 16-9. Now the Jets must head into Cincinnati with a 1-5 record and their season may have already slipped away from them in the competitive AFC.
The biggest knock on Pennington is his arm strength. Never one to be confused with a John Elway, the starter since 2002 is more of a touch passer that needs time to find an open receiver and relies on a strong running game. The offensive line has had its share of problems over the first six weeks, thus making it more difficult on Pennington. In five games, he has thrown six touchdowns and six interceptions, with most of them coming at the most inopportune times.
The one game that he didn't play in was during Week 2. After suffering an ankle injury in the season opening loss to the Patriots, Pennington was unable to go the following Sunday against the Ravens. Clemens had his first NFL start against one of the better defenses and after a shaky beginning, nearly led the Jets all the way back in a 20-13 defeat. Ray Lewis, the Ravens' All-Pro linebacker, picked off a tipped pass in the end zone in the final seconds to secure the victory. His stats from the game (23 for 35, 185 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions) give an indication that the second-year player out of Oregon deserves a good look at some point this season.
It all boils down to head coach Eric Mangini, who has stated that there will be no change at the current time. "It's a situation where it comes down to the full group," Mangini said after the Eagles' loss. "That had nothing to do with the (75-yard) touchdown on (a) missed tackle on a slant by two defensive backs. There are things we have to do as a group to improve and it doesn't come down to one player. There is plenty of improvement for all of us."
Clemens is staying sharp in the event Mangini calls his number. "My approach each week is the same," the 2006 second-round draft pick said. "I go out and try to prepare the best that I can and try to be ready if I am called upon. That's the role of the back-up quarterback and I'm just trying to improve each week."
If the Jets are still struggling by the Bye week of November 11, the roles of back-up and starter may indeed be reversed.