September 26, 2014
New York Jets wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (11) goes up for a pass into the end zone against Chicago Bears strong safety Brock Vereen (45) during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 22, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. Kerley came down
Bill Kostroun

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Two terrific catches for two clutch touchdowns - that will never exist.

That's the past two games in a nutshell for Jeremy Kerley.

As far as the record books show, the New York Jets' wide receiver never made a leaping grab in the middle of the end zone for a tying touchdown at Green Bay two weeks ago. His athletic fourth-down catch over a Chicago defender last Monday night also didn't happen.

''It's frustrating, and I wish they had counted for something, but it happens,'' Kerley said after practice Friday. ''The positive thing, I guess, is that they're there, you know? They've been put on film.''

And, they've been seen. By his teammates, his coaches, the fans - and by him.

''We know Jeremy is an excellent player, there is no doubt,'' coach Rex Ryan said. ''But, hopefully, we can get some that count this week.''

Against the Packers, Kerley's jaw-dropping 37-yard touchdown catch from Geno Smith on a fourth-down play with just over 5 minutes left was wiped out by an ill-timed, last-second timeout by the Jets, who wound up losing 31-24.

Eight days later, with the Jets down by eight and driving for a potential tying score on fourth-and-5 from the 9, Kerley went up in the back of the end zone and somehow got his hands around the football while fighting off safety Brock Vereen - but landed just out of bounds.

''There's no moral victories, but he understands that he has the capabilities to make plays like that,'' fellow wide receiver David Nelson said. ''As much as you'd like it to count, if Geno sees it, then he knows that if he puts the ball up in a situation like that, Kerley's going to come down with it. So, he's going to keep getting chances to make plays.''

That's all Kerley has done the past few seasons. He has led the Jets in receptions each of the past two years and has a team-leading 15 catches for 141 yards and a touchdown through three games this season.

''He's a unique talent,'' Ryan said about the 5-foot-9, 188-pound Kerley. ''He's not the biggest guy or whatever, but he competes like a tiger.''

Yet, ask casual football fans who Jeremy Kerley is, and you might get a puzzled look.

''He's one of the most underrated receivers in the league,'' Nelson said. ''Nobody talks about him.''

Part of the reason is because Kerley is not flashy or mouthy. He's simply quiet and consistent.

A fifth-round pick out of TCU in 2011, Kerley has 143 career catches for 1,805 yards and seven touchdowns. He returns punts, he can line up in the backfield in the wildcat or run the option and he's as clutch as they come on third down - ranking among the league leaders in that category during the past few seasons.

''When it's third down,'' Kerley said, ''it starts clicking in your head, like, `Man, it's time to do something to make sure we stay on this field.'''

But talk about the NFL's top receivers and Kerley's name likely won't come up.

''Guys like myself who are labeled as `inside receivers' that have to step up if someone gets hurt or whatever and they have to take the outside reps, they get looked at as, `Oh, they're still an inside receiver taking outside routes and they don't necessarily know how to play as a No. 1 receiver,''' Kerley said. ''So, myself, I feel that I'm underrated in the sense that it doesn't matter where I'm at on the field.

''I can play just as good as anybody out there.''

Kerley is supremely confident, something that has carried him throughout his football career, back when being a professional football player seemed like a pipe dream to others while growing up in Texas. He wouldn't listen to any of that.

He also was certain he'd rise to the occasion when Ryan was hard on him in his first couple of seasons, urging him to be better.

''I've always known what I can do,'' Kerley said. ''There was a time when I don't think people sincerely knew my heart or how big it was. You've got to build trust. You've got to build accountability.

''And I think now that I've done that, people can sit back and say, `Well, that guy is reliable. That guy is an every-down target that we're glad to have on our team.'''

The Jets certainly know now, and they'll have to make a big decision after this season when Kerley becomes a free agent. He knows that's looming in a few months, but he insists he isn't thinking about his future beyond Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions.

''I love being a Jet and I consider myself a lifetime Jet,'' he said. ''I'm not worried about all of that. That will all take care of itself. My job is just to go out here and help put my team in good position by my play, and that's what I try to do day in and day out.''

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