Tennesseean Chad Pennington isn’t the only one who will enjoy this weekend’s business trip to Nashville. Chris Baker also loves the city, in part because the Titans fans love their football and in part because Baker helped beat them when he gathered in Pennington’s 12-yard pass for the winning score with 2:10 to play in last season’s opener.
"I really enjoy playing on the road," Baker told me after today’s practice, the last of the week before this year’s meeting with the Titans. "That’s because it’s a you-against-the-world type of thing. To be behind or tied and to be able to win a game like that, that’s pretty cool."
Baker has always been one of my favorite Jets, just enough of a kid to think things like game-winning catches are still "cool," yet a man who keeps taking his game steadily to new heights each season and isn’t afraid once in a while to remind people he can be a force for their offense.
Take last Sunday’s game at New England. Baker’s game could have been phenomenal if not for the fumbled red zone reception, but let’s put that aside for a second. His eight receptions were a career high. And six of those went for first downs.
Doesn’t that sound like a lot for a Jets TE? Yes, actually, it is. Baker is the first Green & White tight to register six receiving first downs in a game since Johnny Mitchell in 1995.
"When something like that occurs, it’s always cool," C-Bake said. "Honestly, that’s what I think the tight end should be. A big part of the tight end’s job is to work the middle of the field and move the chains. That’s what I did in college."
Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is well aware of Baker’s skills, since he’s asked about them almost every other week, most recently at today’s informal news conference.
"No matter who the quarterback is, the ball tends to continue to find its way to Chris’ hands," Schottenheimer said. "That’s because he’s getting open, he’s doing a lot of really good things. He’s always had excellent hands, but he’s really worked on his route-running skills, the ability to get open in tight space, his top-of-the-route skills."
Then Coach Schott mentioned the 13-yard completion fourth-quarter completion down the boundary, over LB Eric Alexander, when Baker looked up, saw the ball at the last split-second, and seemed to drop it into his hip pocket. It was an example, he said, of Baker’s "great hand-eye coordination."
Now back to the Adalius Thomas strip fumble in the middle of the third quarter. It likely cost the Jets three points, and Baker wasn’t happy that it happened. Maybe some coaches would agree with CBS analyst Phil Simms that his grip on the ball wasn’t classic.
On the other hand, Baker’s grip has been good enough for six seasons that he has fumbled only twice before, once on a reception in 2004 and once on a muffed kickoff in ’05.
"Even my dad’s telling me the same thing: ‘Oh, you gotta hold the ball tighter there,’ " Baker said. "I think I fumbled the ball three times in my career. I had the ball in right spot and the guy made a good play. It’s in the rain. You know what I’m saying?"
Yeah, I think I do. I think Baker likely won’t fumble for another year or more. And maybe he’s ready to stop the music at LP Field with a big catch or three against the Titans on Sunday.
Here are the five Jets non-WRs with six receiving first downs in a game in the last 15 seasons:
|1993||TE Johnny Mitchell||vs. Philadelphia||7-146-3-6|
|1995||TE Johnny Mitchell||at New England||9-108-1-6|
|2000||FB Richie Anderson||vs. New England||6-88-0-6|
|2000||FB Richie Anderson||vs. Miami||12-109-0-6|
|2007||TE Chris Baker||at New England||8-64-0-6|
Tags: Brian Schottenheimer, Chad Pennington, Chris Baker, LP Field, New England, tennessee
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