The 6-6 Jets head South to Tampa to take on the 1-11 Bucs as the march towards the playoffs continues. To keep it rolling the Jets are going to have to do it without QB Mark Sanchez whose knee sprain suffered on the scramble in Buffalo has forced head coach Rex Ryan to err on the side of caution. Kellen Clemens takes over as signal caller in a must win for the Jets, plain and simple.
The Jets currently find themselves in a 6-6 logjam with the Dolphins, Steelers and Ravens. Gang Green and the other .500 AFC East clubs are chasing the 7-5 Jaguars who beat the Jets weeks back in a game that looms large with tie breaker implications going against the Jets should both teams finish with the same record. That said, the Bucs game is huge with banged up Atlanta on deck. After that the undefeated Colts and first place Bengals await. There’s no room for error this weekend. 8-6 is essential if the Jets want to keep it going past Christmas.
Clemens replaced Sanchez in the third quarter last Thursday against Buffalo and was rusty. The fourth year QB lost his footing on a few occasions, fumbled a snap, and was stripped on a rollout near the Jet goal line. Sunday will be Clemens first start since the final game in 2007, a win over the hapless Chiefs. “Yeah, I’m coming off a one-game winning streak,’’ Clemens said. “That’s 23 months ago … it seems like a long time ago.’’
Fortunately for Clemens the gameplan may be the same. Ground and Pound. Buffalo was ranked 32nd in rushing defense going into last week. The Jets, the number one rushing team in the NFL at 168.6 yards per game lived up to their average in week 13. The RB combo of Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene rushed for 168 yards combined. Tampa comes into the game ranked 31st. Clemens will need to manage the game, make solid decisions, move the chains at times, and like Sanchez, not make unforced errors. The truth is though, Sunday will again be about the run game.
Can Clemens lead the Jets to a win? He says that he just has to do his job. Nothing more. This IS a 1-11 opponent. Coach Rex Ryan is showing faith in his backup. “I have a lot of confidence in Kellen Clemens; this football team has confidence in Kellen.’’ The colorful rookie head coach also provided insight as to how Sanchez took the news of the benching. “He’s mad as a hornet at me. But that’s good. I was mad at him (for not sliding Thursday) and now he’s mad at me, so we’re even.’’
Buccaneers rookie head coach Raheem Morris inserted Josh Freeman into the starting lineup during the middle of the season.The rookie QB led the Bucs to their only win, a 38-28 victory over Green Bay four weeks back in which 2009’s 17th overall pick in the April NFL draft tossed three TDs. Last week Freeman threw for 321 yards no TDs, and five picks in a loss to the 4-7 Panthers. WR Antonio Bryant had 116 of those receiving yards, and appears to have shaken off the injury bug that has plagued the clubs top wideout all year. TE Kellen Winslow Jr provides Freeman with another threat in the passing game and the once oft injured RB Cadillac Williams who gained 92 yards last week can get loose from time to time. The Jets defense however, is ranked second in the NFL giving up just 276 yards per game (Green Bay is first at 273 yds given up on average). The front four will need to contain Williams while the Jet ground game tries to control the tempo in the first half.
CB Darelle Revis is coming off yet another sensational performance in holding hot WR Terrell Owens to a mere 30 yards. CB Lito Shephard kept speedy Lee Evans to just 40 yards and was aggressive playing the ball, almost turning a few Ryan Fitzpatrick throws into ints. LB David Harris is heating up again. Last week in Toronto, Harris had 11 tackles and was a force all game. If the Jet top defenders like Revis, Harris, LB Bart Scott can continue to have the presence they lacked during their November swoon, yet have regained in wins over Carolina and Buffalo the load will be even lighter for Clemens. At 6-6, this is no time for the Jets to take a step back. One false move in Tampa and 2009 is history.
THREE KEYS TO THE TAMPA BAY GAME
CLEMENS DO YOUR JOB: He said it. I just have to do my job. He’s right. 150 passing yards, no bad ints backed up deep, and that could be enough. Remeber, he relieve Chad Pennington in 2007 and almost rescue the Jets in Baltimore early in the season.
ANTONIO BRYANT: and CADILLAC WILLIAMS Bryant’s their one big play threat.
Finally he’s healthy. Darelle Revis has shut everyone down in 2009. He’ll need to do it again. Keep Bryant quiet and Williams modest and keeping the Bucs from stealing this game becomes that much easier.
EDWARDS, CATCH THE BALL: Kellen Clemens will need the WRs to hold onto catchable balls Sunday. The throws will be few and far between. Some may be deep shots, most third downs and manageable yardage. Clemens confidence will grow as the chains move. Extra focus is needed by Braylon Sunday. A long drop or a key third down muff this week could be costly.
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