Kerley becoming third-down machine for Jets
He was the go-to guy for Geno Smith and the New York Jets on third down. Over and over again.
The whole stadium seemed to know it, too. The New England Patriots still couldn't stop him.
''It's just stuff that we had practiced over and over again,'' a modest Kerley said Thursday. ''So, it wasn't like it was a surprise.''
Six of Kerley's career-high eight catches came on third-down plays that were converted for first downs, including a 12-yard touchdown, in the Jets' 30-27 overtime victory Sunday. It was the most third-down conversion catches by a Jets receiver since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, according to the team.
Kerley is tied for second in the NFL with 15 third-down receptions, just two behind Tennessee's Kendall Wright. And that's despite missing the Jets' first game against the Patriots in Week 2 with a concussion.
''Man, he just knows how to get open,'' fellow wide receiver Stephen Hill said.
On the Jets' opening possession last Sunday, the Jets had three third downs and Smith found Kerley each time:
- Third-and-10 from the Jets 45: 11-yard catch.
-Third-and-6 from the Patriots 28: 13-yard reception.
- Third-and-7 from the 12: Touchdown.
''Every third down, I feel like the ball's coming to me, as with every play, but more emphasis on third down,'' Kerley said. ''So, I just made sure I made the catch, secured the position and got the yards.''
It's that simple?
''That simple,'' Kerley said.
Going into the game against New England, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg had an idea that Kerley would be effective in third-down situations. It was a plan that worked to near-perfection, including a third-and-21 play early in the second quarter when Kerley caught a pass for a 22-yard gain.
''That was something that Marty talked about and we featured all through the week in practice,'' coach Rex Ryan said. ''Kerley was a huge part of what we were going to do on offense. He made a lot of great plays during practice, then when we got to the game, it was no different.''
There were two other third-down plays that featured Kerley: third-and-8 late in the first half when the ball fell incomplete; and third-and-22 early in the third quarter, when Smith dumped the ball off Kerley for a 5-yard gain.
''Jeremy's a valuable player for us,'' Mornhinweg said. ''He's done well and he's worked hard to get to where he's at.''
Kerley, a fifth-round pick out of TCU in 2011, was the Jets' leading receiver last season with 56 catches. He was also the first player in team history to score on a reception and punt return in the same game. Kerley also leads the team with 24 receptions this season.
Yet, he remains somewhat anonymous to many casual football fans.
''I don't worry about that,'' he said. ''That's life. I'm always underrated. It's all good.''
Kerley is a quiet guy with the media, cordial but not overly animated or chatty. The spotlight, it seems, is something he'd rather reserve for someone else.
''He's the same way you guys see him,'' Hill said. ''He's cool, chill and that's how we are, man. We don't like to be all loud.''
Except in key situations on the field, of course.
Kerley and Smith are clearly developing chemistry, the result of a lot of work together off the field. The two, as well as other receivers, spend several hours together every week going over film and defenses, as well as their own tendencies.
''It has really helped us out because we're now beginning to see the same things and get on the same page,'' Smith said about Kerley. ''It helps us out on the field because it's kind of like a symbiotic relationship: He's thinking one thing and I'm thinking the same.
''When we're on the same page, it's kind of hard for defenses to stop us.''
With the addition of three-time Pro Bowl returner Josh Cribbs last week, that could leave Kerley to focus fully on the offense. He has served as the team's primary punt returner the last few seasons, but he'll be prepared to resume that role whenever he's asked.
''I'm a tank,'' Kerley said. ''I don't care what's thrown at me. I'm ready for everything.''
Kerley was limited in practice Thursday with a minor hamstring issue. It was only a precaution, he said, and should be fine to play Cincinnati on Sunday.
After all, there might be a few third-down plays on which he'll be needed.
''I can't speak on whether it's easy or not, but the way he gets open, he creates mismatches,'' Hill said before smiling. ''I love his routes and I always talk about how I don't like him because I love his routes and I want to run routes just like him.''