ST. LOUIS Long after his team's latest loss, Kellen Clemens slouched in front of his locker and leafed through a stats packet that told a common story. On Dec. 7, the St. Louis Rams claimed the former New York Jets and Houston Texas quarterback off waivers to serve as a backup to Sam Bradford and A.J. Feeley after injuries sidelined both players. Clemens flipped through the papers and was quick to analyze what went wrong.
"What were we on third down?" he said to a man nearby.
Clemens scanned a page. The Rams were 2-for-13 in third-down conversions.
"Won't win too many games doing that," Clemens said.
The Rams lost their fifth straight game Sunday, the latest a 20-13 defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals at the Edward Jones Dome. Clemens played for the first time since completing 1 of 2 passes for 6 yards as a member of the Jets against the Buffalo Bills on Jan. 2. His presence was a sign that what's left of the Rams' season has become about preserving the future.
"Unfortunately, we're pretty much graded with pass or fail in this business," Clemens said. "When you're on the wrong end of it like we were tonight, it's not good enough."
Earlier, though, Clemens had higher hopes when he jogged onto the field to lead the Rams' first drive. He was signed to help fill a position strained by injuries. Bradford aggravated a high left ankle sprain sustained against the Green Bay Packers in Week 6, and Feeley fractured his right thumb against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 13.
When Clemens approached the huddle Sunday, his situation was unfamiliar. He had spent recent nights after leaving Rams Park studying the roster to learn teammates' names. By kickoff, he knew all offensive personnel but struggled to identify some faces on defense.
As Clemens directed the Rams' offense to its second straight 13-point game, Bradford walked the sideline wearing a blue hoodie and a matching cap. Bradford has struggled in new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' system, throwing for 2,164 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions. Meanwhile, he passed for 3,512 yards with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last year in former coordinator Pat Shurmur's West Coast scheme.
The decision to start Clemens on Sunday was made with Bradford's health in mind. The former NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year did not take repetitions in practice late last week, and he looked stressed in throwing for 193 yards and an interception in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday. As a result, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo spoke with the second-year quarterback and told him to avoid further injury.
"We feel really good about it," Spagnuolo said of Bradford's progress. "We're going to be really careful. He understands that, and yet he's battling to get back, because he wants to be back with his teammates."
Even with Clemens' late addition, Spagnuolo was pleased with the journeyman quarterback's performance Sunday. Clemens completed 25 of 36 passes for 229 yards and one touchdown. The coach credited Clemens' ability to manage the huddle and grasp the two-minute offense with little time to prepare.
Clemens' stop in St. Louis represents his latest opportunity in a nomadic career. The Jets took the Oregon product in the second round of the 2006 NFL draft. He started eight games as a rookie in New York but received little time on the field the next three seasons. Prior to Sunday, he had thrown for 1,686 yards with five touchdowns and 11 interceptions since entering the league.
"There are a couple things where we had a couple communication quips," Clemens said of Sunday. "But for the most part it was a smooth operation."
But the Rams' execution this season has been far from smooth, and if Bradford does not return until next fall, he could play under his third offensive coordinator in as many years. There are questions if Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney will survive a failed season that included NFC West championship aspirations. In addition, McDaniels has been rumored as a possible candidate to become the Kansas City Chiefs' next coach after Todd Haley's firing Monday.
Those are scenarios that will play out with time. But the sight of Clemens not Bradford leading the Rams' offense Sunday was another sign of how weak a unit that entered 32nd in points per game (11.8), 30th in total offense (283.8 yards per game) and 28th in pass offense (184 yards per game) has become.
After leaving his locker, Clemens walked into a small room of media and said, "For those of you who I haven't met, which is pretty much everybody, I'm Kellen. Nice to meet you."
His introduction was an appropriate, if unfortunate, reminder of how the Rams have nothing to play for but the future.