When Kellen Clemens relieved an injured Mark Sanchez with the Jets leading Buffalo in the third quarter last week, he was under strict orders to play as conservatively as possible to protect the lead.
That's why he attempted only three passes in that stint, completing one for 14 yards. But the Jets promise his options won't be as limited Sunday when he makes his first NFL start since Dec. 30, 2007, when the Jets (6-6) visit Tampa Bay (1-11).
"When he came in last week, we were running the ball well and we were up," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said Thursday. "That was the reason for the conservative play-calling. It had nothing to do with Kellen."
It also should help that Clemens has gotten the first-team reps this week, as opposed to last week, when Sanchez got them. Sanchez won't practice at all this week.
"On the one hand, I haven't been getting reps all year. On the other hand, it's my fourth year in the system, so I am very comfortable," Clemens said. "There will be some wrinkles I'm sure, but drastic changes? You'll probably have to wait until Sunday to find out."
He laughed before adding, "There won't be drastic changes."
Tight end Dustin Keller has been impressed with Clemens' demeanor in the huddle, both against the Bills and in practice.
"He's been real sharp, especially from a mental standpoint," Keller said. "He knows this offense inside and out. It's been a lot easier because he's had a few days together with the guys. He's good in the huddle. He'll talk to each guy individually and remind you what you're doing. He doesn't get rattled. Nobody knows this offense better than Kellen does."
"This is not his first rodeo," linebacker Bart Scott said. "Kellen has been in front of the lights before. He's been the quarterback of this team before. He came here to compete and he will."
It also should help Clemens that the Jets have the top-ranked rushing offense in the NFL, and the Buccaneers are next-to-last in rushing defense. So Clemens likely won't be asked to throw the ball too much. Instead, he will manage the game and perhaps take a shot or two downfield when available.
In his NFL career, the fourth-year veteran is 3-5 as a starter, and has completed 134 of 259 passes for 1,569 yards with five touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. Clemens has a strong arm and can stretch defenses downfield. While he can make all the throws, accuracy is sometimes a problem.
Schottenheimer said, "Kellen understands the way we play the game and he understands the situations we're in. The one thing he is going to do is take care of the football. On top of the time and situation and what we're going to ask him to do, he realizes the way we play football. We run the ball, play good defense, play good special teams and take care of the ball."
The Bucs' defense has shown dramatic improvement since Raheem Morris took over the play-calling duties from Jim Bates.
Over the past two games, Tampa Bay has allowed an average of 18 points per game, down from 29.4 in the previous nine games. The Bucs' net yards allowed dropped from 378 yards to 303.
But the Bucs, who still are ranked 31st against the run, face the league's top rushing offense in the Jets. They average more than 160 yards on the ground per game.
"What they do around there is they really get bigger," coach Raheem Morris said of the Jets. "They put in a bunch of tackles, extra guys in there to go block and they just keep running the football. Thomas Jones is explosive. Shonn Green is explosive. They've been playing well. They've been running the ball well and they're a good football team. It's the same old deal. You go play Miami, they were No. 3 in rushing or whatever they were. You go play Carolina, they're No. 2 or whatever they were. Now here comes No. 1.
"It's another challenge for this young football team, another challenge for us."
The Bucs are hoping to use the final four games to re-establish their identity on offense. They plan to remain in some version of the one-gap, Tampa 2 coverage with an array of blitzes.
Morris said he is considering serving as defensive coordinator next season.
"We have four games left," said safety Sabby Piscitelli. "We have four games to establish our identities. We have to go out there and challenge them. It's one of the top rushing offenses in the NFL so we have to challenge them. We have to change our momentum and roll it right into next season. You don't want to go into the offseason on a bad note."