The alibis outlined for Kellen Clemens are certainly within reason. In fact, this column advocated restraint when assessing his admittedly unimpressive relief appearance last Thursday in Toronto.

I argued that the negative reaction to Clemens, in some corners of Jets fandom anyway, could be attributed to a poor performance record tainted by several extenuating factors, most importantly a porous offensive line.

Now having said all that, it really could not be overstated how huge this upcoming game is, in the career of one Kellen Clemens.

When a player slips to second string, for whatever the reasons, his opportunities become more limited, and accordingly, margin for error nearly nonexistent.

The line between trusted alternative option and total washout is perilously thin. While gaining future employment may not be at stake for Clemens, his chances of starting again anytime soon may depend on this Sunday afternoon.

For everything that may have been set against his favor back in that tumultuous 2007 season, Clemens will be holding an excellent hand against the Buccaneers.

Now, the capabilities of his line are indisputable. The Jets boast an excellent troupe of trench-men, one of the best collections in the league. His wide receiving core is solidly above average. Though Braylon Edwards has been infuriatingly inconsistent, keeping the group from being called excellent overall, he is still a big play threat on every snap.  Meanwhile, the turgid version of Thomas Jones from two years ago is a distant memory, obviously held back by substandard run blocking. All told, Clemens has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal compared to opposing quarterback Josh Freeman.

Rex Ryan has high expectations for Clemens this Sunday, casting aside his past. “I remember playing against him when I was in Baltimore,” started the Head Coach. “For three quarters they struggled offensively, but then they lit us up in the fourth quarter. He made some nice passes that day. That was how familiar I was with Kellen. It was based on that. I never went back and looked at the other tapes. I know we have an outstanding offensive line now. We have an excellent group of receivers, great backs. I expect Kellen to play great. I expect him to have a big game for us.”

He may not be asked for much. But this is definitely Clemens’ time for shine. Should he struggle, recovery may be an impossibility.

This is life as a backup. A status Clemens can still escape. But the clock is ticking.  

Clemens will be flying solo this Sunday against Tampa Bay.
Clemens will be flying solo this Sunday against Tampa Bay.

Josh Freeman endured a total red-zone meltdown last Sunday, but the mountainous signal caller will still present plenty of problems for the Jets’ defense. Rex Ryan is cognizant of the potential pratfalls entailed with underestimating Freeman.  “He did struggle in the red zone in particular,” Ryan acknowledged. “He threw the five interceptions. All that’s true, but he [did throw] for 370 [yards]… he had a huge day statistically, but he did make those mistakes and that’s what happens a lot of times with young quarterbacks. He’s got a big arm. He’s a big man. He’ll take it off with it, so that’s something you’ve got to be ready for.”

The Buccaneers’ future impresses with his rare mix of size and athleticism. Add a high level of intelligence into the mix, and it’s no surprise Tampa tabbed him as the focal point of their franchise moving forward.  “I was really impressed with Freeman when we went on his interview,” said Ryan. “He’s a smart guy, very bright and physically, he fills a room.”

When the Jets avoid turnovers, they are a fearsome foe. No surprise, considering the team’s reliance on a superb running game and defense. But the Jets’ tendency toward self-destruction is a major reason why their statistical performance and record do not correspond.

The turnover rate through this stretch run will speak volumes about the Jets’ postseason hopes as the season winds down.

“The facts are what they are,” admitted Ryan. “We’re 5-0 when we win the turnover battle and 0-4 when we lose it. That’s got to be a point of emphasis any week and it should be every single week. “

Lito Sheppard has provided outstanding support for Darrelle Revis when he has been healthy enough to lineup at game time. But nagging maladies dogged him through October and November, spoiling what could have been a resounding bounce back campaign. Instead of illustrating the mistake Philadelphia made giving up on him, Sheppard has confirmed many of his critics. Though Sheppard’s play has been high level, his health has held him back, not exactly a new development.  “I’ll tell you, it’s been a frustrating year for Lito,” said Ryan, regarding the oft-injured cornerback. “He started the season off playing terrific, then he gets the injury. [He] probably came back a little too early, so he gets another injury on top of it, a more severe injury. We’ve been wanting to make sure he was back before we really felt comfortable putting him out there and trying to ease him in. There’s no easing in anymore. He played a tremendous game [last week]. In fact, we gave him a game ball last week. He gave up one completion.” 

Training camp optimism has given way to this cold reality: The talented Lito Sheppard hasnt been healthy in 2009.
Training camp optimism has given way to this cold reality: The talented Lito Sheppard hasn't been healthy in 2009.

The Jets would greatly benefit if Sheppard can maintain his health for the remainder of this campaign.

On the injury front, Dwight Lowery will be out this week with an ankle injury. Mark Sanchez and Robert Tuner will also be missing. Turner has a knee injury.

Alan Faneca and Wayne Hunter are both questionable, listed as having illnesses.  


Now a few thoughts about commercialism, individualism, and athlete

Nothing in life is quite so suitable for surface waves than the grand pastime of sport.  Since games exist in a simplified realm determined by irrefutable scores, the entire operation seems impervious to deep analysis. While this assessment could not be further from the truth, the overwhelming, first glance evidence supporting opposite possibilities represents a definite line of demarcation, separating informed thoughts from rabble rousing rhetoric.

Take armchair psychoanalysis as a perfect example. 

Those seeking a career in the field of psychology must put in thousands of hours studying to qualify as professionals. Yet, when it comes to the quarterback who struggles winning playoff games, every columnist or fan in the country suddenly becomes a master of the mental processes. One bad performance at an inopportune occasion, and the definitive diagnoses start rolling in. And if the patient is really high profile, cognitive dissonance may follow, thoughtless designations becoming the safe substitute for studying an entire career.

Thankfully, there is variety. The ball doesn’t always bounce in this direction. Countless sports books and articles have been written with such eloquence that their mere existence serves as a protest against lesser coverage. Whole message boards are dedicated to crunching numbers and finding deeper reasons for success and failure. These persist due to contributors who write and research solely through their passion.  And of course, those with the nerve to take this kind of rational tact are often assigned labels themselves, ‘dorks’ without credibility living in ‘their mother’s basement’, or some similar dank fortress.  

The most accepted American forms of escape, entertainment, and information are mired in reactionary muck. Why are these powerful channels resisting evolution? This is mystery. Sensibility would dictate that the continuing passage of time demands constant improvement from our institutions, consistently flexible, adaptable to an increasingly complicated world. But the complete stagnation is undeniable.

The landscape does need altering. Influential websites have corralled massive audiences simply by lampooning the entrenched establishment. Sure, faceless networks and personalities following a script are exceedingly easy to rip apart. But the endless barrage of criticism and continuing corporate stubbornness eventually became part of the same senseless game.

They play, while the audience loses.

The net result produces an astonishingly boring elite athlete.

The rare splinter cell who flashes his individuality becomes a curious case, instead of a new model. Michael Jordan is an all-powerful avatar.

Charles Barkley was more than willing to abdicate his expected status as a “role-model,” but keep in mind this declaration took place on a commercial. This was a projection of his identity through marketability.

The value of an individual should not be weighed in dollars, but this fallacy is a reoccurring theme. These rich, commercially willing star athletes get elevated onto a societal pedestal simply by playing a public relations puppet. And hey, no problem… not everyone needs to be a dynamite quote. But the scarcity of truly interesting characters willing to put their opinions out there is really amazing. In my view, consciously crafting these boring personas is a natural reaction by athletes, a response to the ridiculously unfair standards that they are measured by. A cocoon effect, another game being played where nobody really gains anything, besides money and the continued misguidance of public perception.

This may seem like playing it safe, but when so little of an individual is revealed, the slightest crack in the armor could propel a feeding frenzy. See Tiger Woods.  

It is not the right of a journalist to completely know an athlete, and it is not a fan’s special privilege either. And honestly, there’s nothing morally wrong with a guy pocketing a few dollars off a commercial.

The problem lies with a curious willingness from the masses to believe fantasy projections. To measure their own success through a fractured mirror.

It’s all connected, the broken television network sphere, the armchair psychoanalysis… all the useless, phony garbage that has been so effectively integrated within our consciousness.

The pandemonium surrounding this Tiger Woods scandal is equivalent to a public discovering the tooth fairy is not, in fact, real. When did carefully manufactured façades become reality, and reality so extraordinary? Before being aghast, check the sources of commonly held beliefs. The faces will change but the message will remain the same.  

Surface waves and sports… they go together great. But sports do say a lot about society. Maybe more than you think.

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