The signature moment for quarterback Kellen Clemens this season didn't involve a touchdown pass, a key third-down completion or one of his scrambles. -- No, to find that moment go back to early in the fourth quarter at Arizona, when Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby absolutely flattened Clemens on a sack on a third-and-long play. -- We're talking Wile E. Coyote flattened. -- Backup QB Austin Davis started warming up quickly on the sideline, and it looked like Clemens might be done for the day. -- "After a big hit, typically every player, there's always kind of a re-check that you just kind of do," Clemens recalled. "You kind of start: 'OK, I can move. How's my shoulder? How's my elbow?' You just kind of work your way through it."
While Clemens collected himself, offensive lineman Rodger Saffold walked up to make sure Clemens didn't have any loose body parts scattered over the grass surface at University of Phoenix Stadium.
"The first thing I heard was, 'Hey bro. You all right?'" said Clemens, with his best Saffold imitation.
Clemens responded with a "thumbs-up" gesture, not just to Saffold, but also for his wife, Nicole.
"I kind of figured the cameras might be somewhere around," Clemens said. "So, I know when we're on the road and something like that happens, my wife gets a little concerned. So, it was also to her."
Thumbs up. Clemens returned on the Rams' next possession without missing a play.
"You might really have to break him in half just to get him to take one snap off," Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. "He loves to play. And he works so hard. It means a lot to him to perform well on Sundays.
It'd almost take an army to get him out of there on Sundays."
Well, Karlos Dansby and an army.
Save for a couple of hits along the way, Clemens has enjoyed every minute of his time at quarterback since he replaced injured starter Sam Bradford. Clemens will make his ninth start of the season in Sunday's finale at Seattle. Then he knows what happens -- it's back to the bench holding a clipboard in 2014.
"I'm grateful for the opportunity," Clemens said. "We want to finish off strong against Seattle, and then I'm excited to see No. 8 (Bradford) get back out there."
When Bradford suffered a season-ending knee injury with 5 minutes to play in Game 7 against Carolina, most observers -- including many in the media -- thought the Rams would be lucky to win a game or two over the final nine contests.
"By a show of hands, who's that?" Clemens teased reporters after the Rams' 23-13 triumph over Tampa Bay.
Several reporters did in fact raise their hands. Well, those reporters were wrong. And so was Bernie Kosar, the former NFL quarterback who ripped Clemens incessantly as an analyst on the Cleveland television feed of the Rams-Browns preseason game.
Entering the Seattle game, Clemens is 4-4 as a starter playing a schedule littered with top 10 defenses and playoff qualifiers and contenders. And playing behind an offensive line that has gone through six lineup changes in the past seven games. It will become seven of eight Sunday when Saffold starts at left tackle in place of the injured Jake Long.
"I think it starts with Coach (Jeff) Fisher and his support," Clemens said modestly. "It started on Monday after the Carolina game. And I think that resonated through the rest of the coaching staff, the rest of the players. I said when I first took over, it's a great situation for me to come into."
Clemens threw two costly interceptions in his first start, a 14-9 home loss to Seattle on "Monday Night Football" on Oct. 28. But from that point on, he improved in almost every game.
"Obviously, he's gotten more comfortable with the guys," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "That's part of the deal in throwing the football. I thought last week was one of his most accurate games he's had throwing the football. ... He's obviously much more comfortable just in his weekly preparation and how he's doing. But he's played very, very well."
A 51.9 percent career NFL passer entering this season, Clemens completed 30 of 40 passes (75%) over the past two Sundays against New Orleans and Tampa Bay. In his four victories as the starter, Clemens has thrown only 78 times, or less than 20 per outing. An improving defense and stout running game have done a lot of the work.
"I tell guys all the time, Kellen's not the guy that's gonna go for 500 yards a game," running back Zac Stacy said. "But he's a great game manager. Obviously he has ties with this offense, with Coach Schotty (with the New York Jets). So he puts us in the right situations to be successful week in and week out."
And through the ups and downs of this season, Clemens has earned respect from his teammates across the board.
"You couldn't ask for more from a 'quote-unquote' backup quarterback," defensive end Chris Long said. "He's just a good football player. He's a good teammate. He's a fighter. He's a scrappy guy. And he's what you need when your backs are against the wall like that.
"Everybody could have tucked tail when Sam went down. But we kind of rallied around Kellen and he's done what he's been asked to do."
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