ST. LOUIS — The Kellen Clemens era in St. Louis got off to a rough start against the Seahawks on Monday Night Football.
The Rams’ quarterback, pressed into action after Sam Bradford suffered a season-ending knee injury last week in Carolina, threw two interceptions in the first half and had a passer rating of 15.6 going into the fourth quarter.
But Clemens gave his team a chance. He drove the Rams 96 yards over the final 5 minutes and 42 seconds of regulation, but his fourth-down pass from the 1-yard line that was intended for Brian Quick missed its mark and Seattle escaped with a 14-9 win at the Edward Jones Dome.
“I think in this business, unfortunately, your grade scale is pass or fail,” Clemens said. “… So, unfortunately, I think this was a fail. It’s a business of wins and losses. We have to get better.”
The Rams fell to 3-5 with their second straight loss despite a stingy effort from their defense, including three sacks apiece from Robert Quinn and Chris Long, and a career-high 134 yards rushing from rookie Zac Stacy.
“We felt like we had a chance,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said.
They did. Thanks to their 30-year-old quarterback from Oregon.
The final numbers for Clemens weren’t pretty.
In the 13th start of his eight-year career, and first since Jan. 1, 2012, Clemens went 15 of 31 for 158 yards with two interceptions and a passer rating of 36.8. He ran twice for 11 yards, including a 6-yard scamper in the third quarter in which Seattle safety Earl Thomas nearly knocked him onto the injured reserve list alongside Bradford.
But let’s be honest here. You feel better about the Rams this morning than you did 24 hours ago, don’t you?
Maybe all the supportive commentary coming from Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Rams players about their new quarterback wasn’t just rah-rah lip service.
Clemens’ number came up in a difficult spot, facing arguably the best defense in the NFL on a national stage, and he still gave his team an opportunity to win.
“I thought he managed the game pretty well,” Fisher said. “I’m not going to fault him for those interceptions. (Austin Pettis) fell down and it looked like (Jared Cook) got confused and stopped because the ball was supposed to go in that area and it did. So it wasn’t easy for him. That’s the second-rated defense in the National Football League, but he took us to the last play of the game. I’m proud of his effort.”
Clemens ran around and made plays, just like his teammates said he was capable of. He escaped pressure and bought extra time with his legs. He threw the ball away when he didn’t have a play to make downfield. Receivers dropped some passes.
Despite his numbers, Clemens didn’t make many mistakes. He was, however, intercepted by linebacker Bruce Irvin downfield late in the first quarter when he may have been able to check down to Stacy for a short gain.
Then, on the next series, he overthrew Pettis downfield and was intercepted by Richard Sherman, who promptly returned the ball 38 yards and set up Seattle’s first score.
Clemens didn’t win the game, but he won over his teammates.
“I feel like he proved a lot of people wrong outside of this locker room,” wide receiver Chris Givens said. “Inside this locker room, we knew what we had in Kellen. We knew that he was going to come in the game and play his heart out and put us in a position to win and he did that. You couldn’t ask for any more from Kellen.”
“He did a great job tonight,” Stacy said. “He put us in the right position to be successful. He’s obviously a vet in this offense. He knows the offense and he made plays. We’re going to stick behind him. He’s going to keep improving, he’s going to keep working and so are we. He’s our quarterback. We trust him. We’re going to have his back.”
Clemens did everything he could to pull this one out. His teammates know that. His coaches know that. He may have made believers out of the rest of us, too.
“Everybody believed in Kellen,” Quinn said. “We love Sam, but it’s just a part of the sport. Guys get hurt and the next guy steps in and has to play his tail off. The whole team was behind Kellen. He made some huge plays, but we just came up a few plays short tonight and lost to a pretty good team.”
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @natelatsch or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.