Mark Sanchez got the play call from the sideline and looked at his New York Jets teammates, a bit surprised.
The rookie quarterback was being asked to air it out on his first play in the NFL.
“I said, ‘Here we go, man!’” Sanchez said. “‘Let’s go! Let’s do it! Dial it up!’”
Sanchez, who came in with 28 seconds left in the first quarter, completed a 48-yard pass to David Clowney on his first snap and engineered an early scoring drive in New York’s 23-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Friday night.
“When Mark came in, he looked like he’s been looking in practice,” said Rex Ryan, whose head coaching debut was spoiled by the loss. “He stepped in and it wasn’t too big for him.”
The play was drawn up by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who also surprised Ryan with the bold call.
“I had no idea,” Ryan said. “I was shocked by it, like, `What the heck was that? Let the guy warm up a little bit.’ It just shows you the kind of kid he is, a cool customer.”
Sanchez, the former Southern California star selected with the fifth overall pick, had a rookie moment, though, seconds before zipping the ball down the right sideline and into Clowney’s hands.
“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, grinning. “I said, ‘Green-30,’ and boom, my mouthpiece came out and the defense was laughing. I thought, ‘What an idiot.’”
Seven plays after the pass to Clowney, Thomas Jones took a handoff and leaped over the pile from a yard out, the ball crossing the goal line before Todd Johnson knocked it out of Jones’ hands. St. Louis’ Steve Spagnuolo, a winner in his head coaching debut, challenged the call, but it was upheld by video review.
Sanchez, with several family members in attendance, completed three of four passes for 88 yards. Kellen Clemens, competing with Sanchez for the starting job, completed all four of his pass attempts for a total of 24 yards and was sacked once in two series.
Ryan, disappointed with the loss, said he wasn’t yet ready to name a starter for the team’s next game at Baltimore on Aug. 24.
“We’ll just continue to compete and improve until (Ryan) is ready,” Clemens said. “And, hopefully after that, we’ll have a clear No. 1 and 2.”
Trailing 20-16, St. Louis took advantage of a muffed punt return by the Jets’ Paul Raymond to get the ball deep in New York territory. Rookie Keith Null, who came on in place of the injured Brock Berlin, put the Rams back ahead three plays later on a 13-yard touchdown pass to Sean Walker with 7:32 remaining.
“It’s good to win a football game,” Spagnuolo said. “It’s good to win anything that you compete in, so we’re happy about that. We’ve certainly got a lot of work to do. This was only a beginning.”
Spagnuolo, who interviewed for the Jets job, won in his return to the Meadowlands for the first time as a head coach. Spagnuolo was the defensive coordinator for the Giants the last two seasons.
“I have great memories here,” Spagnuolo said. “I was not wrapped up in that. I just kind of get into a little bit of zone.”
Erik Ainge, 10 of 17 for 148 yards, put the Jets ahead 20-16 with 10:27 left when he playfaked and found Clowney wide open down the middle of the field for a 50-yard touchdown.
St. Louis scored first, taking advantage of a turnover when Leonard Little had a strip-sack of Clemens and James Hall recovered. Four plays later, Josh Brown kicked a 48-yard field goal, the first of three on the night, to give St. Louis a 3-0 lead.
Samkon Gado avoided a tackle attempt by James Ihedigbo and zipped 77 yards into the end zone 25 seconds into the third quarter to give St. Louis a 16-10 lead.
“I saw the safety and I gave him a little move,” Gado said. “I’m not really known for my moves, but after that, it was just me and the end zone.”
Ryan’s defense gave up a couple of big plays, including Laurent Robinson’s 50-yard catch from Marc Bulger, but was aggressive early with three sacks. Bulger was 4 of 4 for 77 yards in three series.
NOTES: It was the first preseason meeting between the teams. … The Jets played without six starters: CB Darrelle Revis (left hamstring), NT Kris Jenkins (left calf), FB Tony Richardson (hip pointer), C Nick Mangold (right knee), LG Alan Faneca (broken finger) and RT Damien Woody (head). … The Rams were without WR Donnie Avery, who’s out four to six weeks with a stress fracture in his left foot. DT Adam Carriker also missed the game because of an injured ankle. G Jacob Bell left with a head injury, but Spagnuolo said he’d be fine.
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